The stereotypical London drinking experience takes different forms.
Tourists might look for the traditional pub, while local professionals search out the nearest wood-lined club or hotel bar. But, there’s a growing off-beat cocktail scene in London fast distancing itself from the stereotyped London spot. A recent journey to the British capital revealed a booming collection of the newest, hottest, and most original mixology spots.
Rumpus Room, Rooftop Bar, Mondrian London
The Mondrian hasn’t been around long, but the Rumpus Room rooftop bar quickly has made its presence felt on the London Mixology scene. People come for the “South of the River” view of the Thames, St. Paul’s Cathedral and other landmarks — but they stay for the work of head barman Simon Aukett.
Manager Henry Lukas keeps the Rumpus Room chugging along. The space purposely veering away from snooty and pretentious, instead opting for a comfortable, laid back and friendly vibe. Aukett seems to have a flair for deconstructed cocktails, and the Coffee Martini splits the vodka off with the coffee-infused liqueur. Other tipples worth trying include the All British Whiskey Sour (Dewar’s 12 YO Scotch, rose hip and cider vinegar, London honey, bitters) and the stiff Long Island Old Fashioned (Plantation rum, Pierre Ferrand curaçao, Beefeater gin, Ketel One vodka, Olmeca Altos tequila, Mr. Lyan cola syrup, orange bitters.)
The Discount Suit Company
It’s a bar so secret that everybody is talking about it. Hidden away in a windowless basement a short walk from Liverpool Street Station near the hot London neighborhood of Shoreditch, The Discount Suit Company offers nothing to announce its presence except a faux-aged sign and a quiet doorman.
There’ll be a wait to get in, and, once downstairs, it’s cramped and hot. You might be asking why you should bother with all that inconvenience, but order a drink and you’ll have your answer.
The Lion’s Tail is surprisingly rich and complex, made with bourbon, pimento dram, angostura bitters and lime. For a sweeter hit, try the Pina Fumada with mezcal, velvet falernum, pineapple, honey and lemon. Another option is the Cockatoo Reine Rose with vodka, yellow chartreuse, raspberry, lemon, rose water and mint soda.
Settled in along the elite shopping corridor of the King’s Road, Chelsea, Kurobuta is a Japanese pub with food operating on a small portion, family-style principle. Imagine a sort of Japanese tapas joint.
The restaurant offers a complete selection of classic and in-house cocktails, but it’s worth sitting in for a tasting of the small, exclusive collection of imported Japanese rums waiting behind the bar. Otherwise, Kurobuta’s signature cocktail is The Green Bastard – a simple, but refreshing mix of Hendricks gin, fresh cucumber and Midori.
Located a few blocks off of Bond Street, the Marylebone Hotel just underwent a multi-million dollar renovation. The 108 Brasserie is the hotel’s main dining and mixology center stage. The 108 operates under a farm-to-table philosophy, sourcing the closest possible ingredients whenever possible, including a selection of UK spirits.
There’s a full selection of beer, ales and wine (alongside all of the traditional cocktail and highball classics), but take a look at The 108 Edition (Bacardi Gold, velvet falernum, Angostura bitters, lemon, sugar syrup, and pineapple juice) or the much simpler Italian Job (Aperol, Campari, Galliano, lemon and sugar.)
One Aldwych Hotel Private Lounge
This last entry is a bit of a dirty trick because you can’t walk just off the street in its Covent Garden neighborhood and order up a drink in the Old Aldwych Hotel’s secret bar. It’s only for hotel guests, and you don’t know it’s there unless the prim and proper doorman lets you in on the secret. Visitors find sophisticated peace and quiet, as well as the ample, comfortable furniture, and free newspapers a lovely respite.
Fortunately, The Lobby Bar – just yards away from the hotel’s secret hideaway— offers a healthy menu of original recipes. They slant more toward the fancy over the earthy, but try the smoky, full-bodied Mexican Heat with tequila Ocho, Quiquiriqui mezcal, pomegranate liqueur, guava and plum homemade syrup, and lime. It’s served in a Mexican mug over ice.
If you want something sweeter, order up a Charlie with Dalmore 12, cherry liqueur, sugar syrup, and cherry purée. It’s topped with Champagne and served over dry ice. If that’s too much drama for you, they can hold the dry ice.