London is an imbiber nirvana.
The city’s beloved pubs, short for public houses, can be traced back to Roman taverns. Samuel Pepys FRS, an administrator of the navy of England and Member of Parliament in the 1600s, once described the pub as “the heart of England.”
And cocktail culture is just as important to London life. The way the locals see it, the pubs are for day drinking, and proper cocktail bars are for the evening. Bars have thrived for centuries in London. It’s also the city with the most bars every year on the prestigious World’s 50 Best Bars list.
London, especially with its posh hotel bars, is the epicenter of the modern-day handcraft cocktail craze. Its bartenders have graduated from being London mixologists to running groundbreaking programs all over the world.
Make sure to visit these top cocktail bars the next time you’re in London.
The Savoy, Strand, London WC2R 0EZ
Perhaps the most prestigious bar in the world, the American Bar at the Savoy Hotel, opened in 1893 and is the oldest surviving cocktail bar in Britain. According to the powers that be, the term American bar refers to a bar serving mixed or ‘American’ style drinks, more commonly known as cocktails. Named 2017’s World’s Best Bar on the World’s 50 Best Bars list, it was also named 2018’s World’s Best at Tales of the Cocktail.
A swanky piano bar, the drinks are pricey even by British standards, but anyone with a passion for cocktails doesn’t seem to mind too much. The ‘I Love You’ is billed as a “sharing cocktail.” This lovely liquid duet comes with a rum drink made with Bacardi Heritage Rum, Cocchi Torino Vermouth, Ruby Port, Coconut Campari, Supasawa (a crystal-clear sour mixer), and Rhum Agricole alongside a gin drink made with Bombay Sapphire Gin, Old Duff Genever, Empirical Spirits Fallen Pony, Verjus, egg white, and citrus husk syrup. It also comes with a pen, stationery and an envelope. You write a letter to anyone in the world, and the bar will mail it for you. Sure, it costs £50 (roughly 64 USD), but it’s the fine and meticulous attention to detail that creates a memorable experience instead of just an ordinary drink.
The Connaught, Carlos Place, London W1K 2AL
Named 2019 Best Bar in Europe, the Connaught Bar is another posh London hotel bar. Expect to find the well-to-do and even over-privileged children on weekends after a theater matinee, but it is also home to world-class cocktails under the guidance of Ago Perrone, the hotel’s director of mixology. Must-have cocktails include Perrone’s famous reimagined Bloody Mary peppered with homemade spices and remarkable celery air, along with his award-winning Mulata Daisy, a modern take on the classic Mulata Daiquiri, made with Bacardi Superior Rum, freshly squeezed lime juice, caster sugar, fennel seeds, dark crème de cacao liqueur, and Galliano L’Autentico. Perrone’s Number 11 is an embellished Vesper Martini made on a vintage trolley and blends the bar’s own house-made gin with vodka, Martini Ambrato, Amalfi lemon oil and five bitters, including ginseng, bergamot, and lavender. Another bar favorite is the Gate No. 1, which is a blend of spirits, wines, and jam, including Old Duff Genever, Fords Gin, Lagavulin 16 Whisky, Belsazar Red Vermouth, David Douband pinot noir, milk jam, and strawberry tulsi kombucha, garnished with a dark chocolate gate. It’s the impressive attention to detail and the superior customer service that will elevate your experience here.
East Poultry Ave, Farringdon, London EC1A 9LH
Oriole Bar is not a posh London hotel bar. Instead, it’s a lovely underground space that comes across as a welcoming retro, tropical bar that serves as an oasis for those looking for stellar cocktails and live jazz music. Oriole’s vast and impressive cocktail menu finds its structure and direction through travel and history as it is broken up as Old World (Europe and Africa), the Orient (Asia, Sub-Pacific, Sub-Continent) and the New World (The Americas). From London bar pioneers Edmund Weil and Rosie Stimpson, known for the seminal London speakeasy Nightjar, they describe Oriole as “a place where the combination of beguiling décor, enthralling refreshments, and glowing hospitality, all driven by the profound desire to enchant and delight, can trigger a genuinely transcendental experience.” The glassware and presentation are daring and absolutely Instagram worthy. The popular Lambanog Mule, served in a black leather sack, is a mix of East India Gin, Lambanog coconut wine, slow-cooked chai palm, curried pineapple juice, ginger beer, and lemon juice and is a definite menu highlight.
The Stratford Hotel, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, 20 International Way, London E20 1FD
A new drinking destination on the London cocktail landscape is The Mezzanine, a chic hotel cocktail haven. The open-spaced bar is run by general manager Elias Yiallouris and bar manager Enrico Gonzato, two industry heavyweights who, between them, boast a wealth of five-star hotel experience as well as the likes of much-loved favorites like Dandelyan, and the Connaught Hotel. The drink menu is a throwback to the ‘Golden Era’ of cocktail culture and is divided among signature cocktails; a permanent selection of reimagined classics, Effervescent Cocktails; three lightly sparkling flavorful drinks, Euphoric Cocktails; a heady selection of pure indulgence, and Revelatory Cocktails; a discovery of taste and innovation. While the neighborhood is somewhat out of the way, the bar program, which also offers spirit masterclasses, houses an impressive selection of whiskeys, including rare, small-batch liquids from Japan, Scotland, and America. Menu favorites include the ‘M’ Martini, which combines a choice of Hepple Gin or Stolichnaya Elit Vodka with homemade champagne distilled bitters (either Chardonnay or Pinot Noir) served chilled in a bottle over ice, accompanied by a selection of stuffed olives, and the ‘M’ Manhattan made with a house blend of rye and bourbon with homemade bitters and Barolo Chinato (an aromatized wine made from Barolo wine and herbs and spices). This British bar is run by manic Italians and is filled with a passionate and intense energy that aptly creates a damn good time.
224 Graham Street, Hackney, East London E8 1BP
More science lab than local bar, walk into cozy Scout, and you’ll notice that you can’t find all the usual bottles of spirits behind the well. That’s because the spirits here have been mixed and fermented into a whole new creation, so there’s no need for labels. Named the #28 best bar in the world on the World’s 50 Best Bars list, cocktails here are affordable and crafted from foraged ingredients to house ferments. It’s a bit of a trek to get to this Hackney gem from Central London, but it’s worth the sojourn. Featuring London’s most sustainable cocktails from ingredients only found in the British Isles, the most recent menu was broken up into the following categories: Town & Cities, which focusses on ingredients sourced in and around London; Freshwater & Marine is inspired by the British coast, and Forest & Grasslands takes its ingredients from nature throughout the UK. Because all the drinks are the result of a boozy science experiment, they all don’t necessarily work perfectly. Their Vesper is clever but falls short of the beloved taste of the classic Martini. But when they do work, you’re in for a treat. The Roe-Say is a complex mix of salmon roe distillate, tequila, strawberry, rose, and native wasabi. And the Sweet Potato Highball is a cool chemist creation with pineapple weed, sweet potato, tequila, Norfolk heather honey and soda. The attention to detail here is like that of a master chef—if he or she had access to a boozy kitchen / laboratory.
Sea Containers London, 20 Upper Ground, South Bank, London SE1 9PD
If you’re not from London, good luck easily finding Lyaness at Sea Containers London hotel. But here’s all you need to know about Lyaness—it is updated and rebranded Dandelyan (named World’s Best Bar in 2018), which means to lovers of world-class cocktails that it is worth the effort to find. In its first year, Lyaness was named the #39 bar in the world. It is also unlike any other London hotel bar. This isn’t a prim and proper nor stuffy hotel bar; it’s chic and posh and borderline clubby inside. Overlooking the Thames, Lyaness is the offspring of award-winning Ryan Chetiyawardana AKA Mr. Lyan, whose goal is straightforward. “We’ve hoped to create a cocktail bar that goes beyond the simple focus of what’s in your glass.” Here you can enjoy well-crafted cocktails in a fun and lively setting without the fear that you have to be quiet or tame. Be as bold and daring as the drinks you’re savoring.
12 Old Compton Street, Soho, London W1D 4TQ
A collaboration with the Nightjar and Oriole teams, Swift is a two-tiered bar in fancy Soho run by Bobby and Mia Hiddleston. The top-level, which is actually street level, is bright and airy and offers light and fizzy cocktails like the popular Sgroppino, a refreshing mix of lemon sorbet, prosecco and Italicus, to go along with oysters and other small snacks. But the real drinking is done downstairs where it’s dark, and the whisky selection is ample and legendary. Named the #41 best bar in the world, Swift is located on the former site of legendary industry bar Lab. Downstairs, the Irish Coffee is constantly brewing and flowing as it’s considered one of the city’s best. A boozy blend of Jameson Caskmates, demerara sweetened filter coffee with a float of chilled hand-whipped cream and a grating of fresh nutmeg, it is a bar staple for good reason. Here the cocktails are affordable and bold like the Old Compton with cognac, Jamaican rum, strawberry, rhubarb amaro, and lemon, or the Droplet made with Bombay Sapphire gin, St. Germain, aquavit, and lime sherbet. Although Swift is a Soho bar, it is not pretentious nor costly, instead, it’s a fun cocktail haven with a local watering hole vibe.
25 Heddon Street, Mayfair, London W1B 4BH
If you want to drink at Kwānt, and you really should want to, there are a couple of things that you should know. One, it’s actually pronounced “quaint,” although that’s not necessarily essential to get in. Two, it’s a hidden, underground bar beneath Moroccan restaurant Momo just off of London’s busy and chic Regent Street. And three, it’s the latest creation of award-winning bartender Erik Lorincz, the former mixologist who took The American Bar at The Savoy to #1 at the World 50 Best Bar Awards in 2017. Kwānt was named the #47 best bar in the world and according to Lorincz, he aims to “focus on perfect service.” He also called his new bar “grown-up and sophisticated.” And who can argue with that? The look and feel of his bar is of a tropical lounge with bamboo ceilings—think very Mad Men. In fact, Lorincz is fermenting pineapples, growing micro-herbs under hydroponics and dabbling in the exotic. The Zebra made with Havana Club Selección de Maestros stirred with Porcini Campari, Cocchi di Torino Vermouth and Meo nutmeg essence is delightful. While the feel is relaxed and fondly tiki, the glassware is exquisite and the service from the white-jacketed host to the dapper bartenders is stellar. Drink prices vary from pricey to ‘for ballers’ only, but just as the Middle English word kwānt means, ‘ingenious, cunningly devised,’ hence ‘out of the ordinary,’ be prepared for an unparalleled experience.
Treehouse Hotel London, 14-15 Langham Place, Marylebone, London W1B 2QS
Drinking in London can easily be about enjoying world-class cocktails; however, that often means drinking in hotel bars or dark, underground watering holes. But now there’s a way to imbibe while appreciating unparalleled views of the city. At the posh Treehouse Hotel in Marylebone, guests and visitors can eat and drink at Madera on the 15th floor or drink at The Nest on the 16th floor and take in a 360-degree view of central London. Madera, which sports its sister restaurant and bar Toca Madera in Los Angeles, offers organic Mexican fare, yes, Mexican food in London. Enjoy from a slew of margaritas and other agave cocktails or relish the daring Papasito with Del Maguey Vida Mezcal, pineapple gomme, Campari, and Montenegro Amaro. Meanwhile, one floor up at The Nest, which gets a little clubby with a DJ spinning dance tunes, the cocktails aren’t on par with London’s finest, but the view is outstanding, and that helps create an ideal places to drink and unwind.