When it comes to finding the best cocktail bars, London is full of movers and shakers that aren’t to be missed. From old-school tiki bars serving retro classics with glacé cherries and paper umbrellas to new-wave drinking dens manned by mixologists offering up scientific formulas, the capital has it all.
Here, we round-up the best in the boozy business, all of them tried and tested. You can thank us at the bar.
Best For: Date night
The style: Glad rags at the ready, the bar at Sexy Fish — the swanky seafood spot in Mayfair by the the owners of Scott’s, J Sheekey, The Ivy, et al. — is the kind of place you dress up for. The bar lays claim to the world’s largest collection of Japanese whisky, with no fewer than 400 bottles on offer. Naturally, these filter down into the cocktails, which are marked with a fish, crab or shark to denote the drink’s strength, with the latter having ‘bite that you might not see coming and could leave you legless.’ There’s also a cocktail with edible diamonds. Because why the hell not?
Drink: The Rocky Road Old Fashioned, including buttered whisky, biscuillate and chocolate bitters.
Berkeley Square House, Berkeley Square, W1J 6BR
Best For: Saturday afternoon
The style: Recently relaunched by Soho House after a killer refurb, Kettner’s — a London institution set in a listed Georgian townhouse — is back, bigger and better than ever. Featuring a 33-bedroom hotel, elegant French restaurant and two cocktail bars, it’s part of a new breed of multi-faceted venue offering everything conveniently under one roof. Tell only your best friends, but the happy hour — served every day from 5-8pm — is arguably London’s best-kept secret. Expect £5 glasses of Picpoul de Pinet (fancy as hell white wine) and Campari sodas as well as £8 flutes of Crement de Limoux and St Germain spritzes, it’s a steal.
Drink: The champagne cocktails are stellar choices. Try the zesty Champagne Martini, a heady blend of Grand Marnier, Ruinart Rose and clementine and grapefruit juices, or the on-trend Sparkling Sazerac, a mix of Woodford Rye, Dubbonet, Ruinart and Peychaud’s Bitters.
29 Romilly Street, W1D 5HP
The Zetter Townhouse
Best For: Mid-week tipple
The style: Packed to the rafters with all kinds of oddities and curiosities, The Zetter Townhouse in Clerkenwell is a great shout for an after-dinner digestif. The best seats in the house are those beside the cracking open fireplace. Designed by renowned Russell Sage Studio — which also kitted out the world famous Savoy, no less — it’s a louche, lounge-inspired affair.
The cocktail list is a wonderful curation or tinctures, bitters, aromatics and cordials, and the range of drinks for those wearing the driving shoes aren’t after-thoughts, either: a non-alcoholic spritz with root, gum and lichen bitters certainly makes a night on the wagon more palatable.
Drink: The Peony Martini hits the spot — gin, peony vermouth and pickled grapefruit — as does the Flintlock, a unique blend of gin, gunpowder tincture, Dandelion & Burdock bitters, and Fernet.
49-50 St. John’s Square, EC1V 4JJ
Best For: After-work sundowners
The style: Housed on the 35th floor of the ‘Walkie Talkie’ building and towering 155 metres above Fenchurch Street, Sky Garden plays host to London destination bar Sky Pod. Flanked by prime people-watching perches, the time to go is at night Wednesday to Saturday for live music.
Don’t forget to look sharp — it’s a smart suited crowd, albeit with collars unbuttoned and ties loosened. Though you’re not allowed to take alcohol onto the outside space, the views are impressive enough from behind the glass, so grab a stool and enjoy some of the best seats in the capital.
Drink: The Sweet Temptation, a winter-warming explosion of Hennessy Fine, Disarrono, cinnamon syrup, chocolate and shortbread. Then order dessert.
20 Fenchurch Street, EC3M 8AF
Best For: Post-shop pit-stop
The style: Dubbed ‘the longest-surviving cocktail bar in London’ — shaking and stirring its first drinks way back in 1893 — the American Bar at The Savoy is the slickest spot in town for old-school classics in traditional surroundings. The bar serves legendary vintage creations against the backdrop of live American jazz, and helpfully, cocktails are mapped out against a tasting graph, where indices such as length of drink and light versus dark make for ease choosing.
Interestingly, the latest iteration of the menu is inspired by the A-list portraits that surround drinkers on all sides. What do you get if you cross David Bowie and Elizabeth Taylor? First Impressions: a mix of gin, yuzu wine, white pepper, St Germain, Champagne cordial and jasmine oil — a drink said to represent their first meeting in Beverly Hills in 1975.
Drink: The legendary Moonwalk (vintage Grand Marnier, Don Perignon, sugar cube, grapefruit butters, orange flower water), enjoyed by none other than Neil Armstrong himself after his giant leap for mankind.
The Savoy, Strand, WC2R 0EZ
Mr Fogg’s Residence
Best For: A birthday bonanza
The style: Inspired by the globe-trotting adventures of Phileas J Fogg, this old boys’ club-inspired drinking den is tucked away behind an unmarked townhouse off Berkeley Square, with only a gent in a bowler hat in front of the door suggesting anything of the eccentricities inside. Therein lies a playground for adults — young toffs and Made in Chelsea types, specifically — with the bar offering no fewer than 80 cocktails, one to mark each of Phileas’ days abroad.
The best of which includes Upon Kiuoni the Elephant, a gin-based, £180 sharer drink for six, and the Bitterly British Bailout, still not cheap at £18 for one, but pleasingly strong with whisky and warmth courtesy of orange and mandarin bitters.
Drink: For something different, try the Tipsy Tea on Saturday or Sunday afternoons, with Victorian-inspired sandwiches and cakes served alongside your choice of cocktails (or Champagne). The quirkiest of treats for visiting out-of-towners, and excellent Instagram fodder.
15 Bruton Lane, W1J 6JD
Best For: Sunday funday
The style: Dubbed ‘one of mixology’s top poster boys’, drinks impresario Tony Conigliaro famously blurs the lines between booze, science and gastronomy. His Soho spot, Bar Termini, brings a taste of this wizardry to Central London with a focus on coffee by day and cocktails by night.
Classic Italian cocktails such as the signature Negroni are cheap for these parts at just £7, while more inventive creations at £11 include Death in Venice (Campari, grapefruit bitters, prosecco) and Spritz Termini (gin, rhubarb cordial, Aperol, prosecco).
Drink: The Marsala Martini (gin, marsala dolce, dry vermouth, almond butters).
7 Old Compton Street, W1D 5JE
68 & Boston
Best For: After-hours chill
The style: It used to be that you couldn’t move for cocktail bars in Soho, until late-night spots were replaced with all-day restaurants. Thankfully, some of the old classics have been giving a new lease of life while remaining true to their roots. Take 68 & Boston on Greek Street, formerly known as the Green Carnation.
The first floor is a sprawling wine bar for smart oenophiles looking to swirl glasses of something interesting and economical (most bottles are £20 a pop). The second, to the right of the entrance, is a swanky cocktail bar comprising low, flattering lighting, dark hardwoods, and plush upholstery. It’s open until 2am Fridays and Saturdays, too, making this your new favourite after-hours hangout.
Drink: Come for classics like tequila-y margaritas, but stay for the range of inventive house pours. King Square Blossom mixes gin and plum wine with vermouth and Peychaud’s Bitters to spectacularly boozy effect; while Hemingway’s Coup is a luxurious libation of Belvedere, Veuve Cliquot and crème de peche – don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it.
5 Greek Street, W1D 4DD