From classic British cocktails to cutting-edge creations that look too good to drink, London’s cocktail scene is thriving while still holding onto its historic roots.
After all, if you visit London you expect to get the perfect gin and tonic in a cocktail bar with a touch of class and a jigger of history. But that old-fashioned vibe doesn’t mean the places are stagnating. Sure, those smooth-looking bartenders are still there, the guys steeped in so much tradition that they can’t be shaken or stirred by any request you put to them. These days, though, they know all the latest craft spirits, the mocktails, and the cocktails too, and are as innovative as any bearded mixologist anywhere.
This, then, is Chilled’s choice of the top London bars which have that classy English touch.
The bar in Mayfair’s 5-star Connaught Hotel, which opened in 1815, is noted for its Martini Trolley. It’s their signature drink but they acknowledge that the ‘perfect martini’ is different for everyone – so choose your gin, choose your vodka, though the vermouth has to be an Italian Gancia Dry, which is exclusive to the Connaught. The cocktail menu roams the world and ranges from a classic Bloody Mary to a modern Mulata Daisy, created by the bar’s Director of Mixology Ago Perrone.
The best bar in London? That’s what some say. Mark’s serves 18th- and 19th-century British cocktails like a Cambridge Claret Cup, and some of the drinks on the menu go back even further than that, but the preparation and interpretation is definitely 21st-century. Just reading the drinks list – designed by renowned bartender Nick Strangeway — is a lesson in cocktail history. Leather Chesterfield sofas give that gentleman’s club look, but make sure you get there early – you can’t reserve a table ahead.
They claim that DUKES inspired James Bond creator Ian Fleming to come up with his famous line ‘shaken not stirred’ for the Vesper that Fleming created here. The bar is in the classy DUKES Hotel in London’s élite Mayfair district, and its combination of class and modern cool has led to both bar and hotel winning many ‘best of the year’ awards.
Barman Alessandro Palazzi has been a fixture on the London cocktail scene seemingly forever, and there’s no better experience in London that to have Alessandro create a martini for you.
This piano bar in the Corinthia Hotel is known for its sophisticated West End elegance, cocktails made from all-organic ingredients, and cool late-night music: artists including Lana Del Ray and the Scissor Sisters have played here. This all marks Bassoon out as a stylish retreat in the heart of Whitehall, a 5-minute walk from 10 Downing Street. The cocktail menus have seasonal changes as well as classics like the Negroni, the Manhattan (made with a house-blended bourbon), and a lengthy martini menu.
The Long Bar is a common-enough name but this one is 80-feet long and made of eye-popping, glowing onyx. It’s a light and airy space in the luxury Sanderson, which was built in the 1950s but had a letter make-over with equally eye-popping designs by Philippe Starck. There are DJ nights and the cocktail menu has separate sub-menu listings for Martinis, Hi-Balls, G&Ts, and Daiquiris as well as the barman’s seasonal creations.
The Savoy Hotel has been one of the most famous in the world ever since it opened in 1889, and a recent refurbishment brought it into the 21st century without losing the historic opulence. The American Bar also dates back to that time and was named because it was one of the first bars in Europe to bring American cocktails to its customers. Its Dry Martini helped make its fame, and you can still have one to that original recipe today. It’s no stuffy old cocktail list, though. Its vodkas are broken down into wheat, barley, and rye vodkas, depending on your preference, while gins are listed according to flavor profiles. It’s a delight to read, let alone to sample the cocktails.
It’s a cliché to say things like ‘if you only visit one bar in London…’ but in the case of the Artesian it has to be said. It’s been voted Best Bar in the World three years in a row by Drinks International and is helmed by masterful barman Alex Kratena. You’ll find the Artesian at the Langham Hotel, which dates back to the 1860s and was a favorite of Princess Diana, Sir Winston Churchill, Noel Coward, and numerous notable Brits. The buildings were sold to the BBC for a time, but it re-opened in the 1990s after a colossal facelift, and the Artesian became one of the most talked-about bars in town. Its cocktails look too good to drink, real works of art, and endlessly ingenious. Just go.
London transformed itself from a dining desert into one of the world’s greatest food cities some time ago. The cocktail scene followed suit, and after a day spent sightseeing there’s nowhere better than these sophisticated bars for sampling the best modern cocktails with a twist of tradition.