London’s got so many bars it can be hard to know where to start – or where’s worth your time and money. So we’ve compiled our list of the capital’s top cocktail bars for any and all eventualities, from when you’re looking for white glove service, to when you just want a negroni with an impressive view.
With a joining fee of only £35, and no annual cost, Keystone Crescent is a members’ bar with a difference. Once you’re a fully paid-up member, you can descent to the speakeasy-style basement bar which, like all good speakeasies, is all plush furnishings (think luxe velvet, dark wood and hidden corners) and a nondescript entrance – this one is for insiders only. The cocktail menu is small but will nevertheless do the trick; the classics are covered, alongside a selection of eight in-house concoctions. Our shout is the potent Keep Dreaming, with Cognac, lapsang syrup, Cynar liqueur, tobacco liqueur and orange rind. Open until 4am, this is the place to impress your date with a nightcap.
Not only is Gong on the 54th floor of The Shard – so not a choice for those with vertigo – but the drinks on its cinematic themed cocktail menu are something to behold. Bulletproof, for example, made with Cardhu 12 year old, Italicus bergamot, Oloroso sherry and liquid smoke is served in a glass with a bullet embedded in its side. Feel the Force comes in two iterations – the dark side and the light, obviously – and hovers. Seeing is believing.
31 St Thomas Street, London SE1 9QU, gong-shangri-la.com
Drinks impressario Tony Conigliaro’s Dalston drinking den is uber-stripped back – a single concrete slab of a table dominates the centre of the room and drinks are made at a tiny work station at the end of it, rather than in a performative style. The effect is to focus your attention on the drinks. Pretentious? Possibly. Precocious, maybe. Like nowhere else you’ve drunk in London, absolutely.
538 Kingsland Rd, Dalston, London E8 4AH, untitled-bar.com
Black Rock’s is another spot without an obvious bar as such (see Untitled), but this time with half an oak tree running along its length, and, running along the length of that, a constant flow of whisky. It’s a sight to behold. The bar itself also boasts over 250 bottles of different whiskies, with a whisky-only cocktail menu to indulge the biggest of fans.
9 Christopher Street, London EC2A 2BS, blackrock.bar
The Chelsea Bar
The Chelsea Bar is a little known and thoroughly sophisticated enclave, tucked away inside the 11 Cadogan Gardens hotel, a short walk from Sloane Square. The hotel itself was revamped in 2016, and the Chelsea Bar followed suit a year later. Today, it’s as swish as you’d expect; all black and gold painted walls, dark leather furnishings, and seriously good cocktails that reinvent traditional favourites with rare and vintage spirits. Combine a civilised pick-me-up with a Kings Road shopping trip.
11 Cadogan Gardens, Chelsea, London, SW3 2RJ, 11cadogangardens.com
Founded in 2o16 by the team behind Callooh Callay, Nightjar and Oriole, Swift quickly rose up the ranks of London’s bar scene. Named one of the world’s 50 best bars in 2018, it definitely lives up to that accolade, with elegant Art Deco-inspired interiors paired with a punchy, well-considered cocktail menu. This spring, it’s switched up said menu, basing it around four concepts: ‘Bright’, full of punchy flavours like chilli and citrus fruit, ‘Delicate’, with light tones of cucumber and blossom flowers, ‘Stiff’, heavy with whisky and bitters and ‘Rich’, featuring more decadent ingredients like chocolate and cherries. If you’re looking for something lightweight and refreshing, I’d suggest going for the Albatross, with green tea, Altos Reposado tequila, peach vermouth, osmanthus flower, lemon and milk whey. If fortifying is what you need after a long week, then try the Old Compton; the potent combo of François Voyer cognac and Swift Jamaican rum will set you up nicely. Finally, round off the night with one of Swift’s Irish coffees, made with Jameson Caskmates whiskey, demerara sweetened filter coffee, hand-whipped cream and nutmeg. You won’t be going to bed, but it’ll be worth it.
12 Old Compton St, Soho, London W1D 4TQ, barswift.com
The American Bar at the Savoy
It’s hard to fault The American Bar at the Savoy. Currently number two in the world (according to the World’s 50 Best Bars 2018 competition), it’s second only to Dandelyan. Its walls are covered with some of Terry O’Neill’s most famous photos from Hollywood’s golden age, which in turn inspire the bar’s menu of bespoke cocktails. If you’re in the mood to celebrate – and if you’re in the Savoy, you must be – go for ‘Back To Reality’, inspired by O’Neill’s photo of Faye Dunaway in 1976, as she breakfasted by her pool after winning the Oscar for Best Actress. With Tanqueray gin, Martini Rubino vermouth, umeshu, lemon, tea tincture and egg white, it’s a twist on a classic martini, executed as only the Savoy know how.
There’s only one place to get a proper ‘proper’ martini in London and it’s Duke Bar, home of the original James Bond-famous Vesper. The bar itself has an old-school gentlemen’s club feel to it with lots of nooks and crannies in which to ensconce yourself on the velvet chairs, and imagine Ian Fleming is sitting opposite you, as he once did, sipping the drink he created.
5 St James’s Place, St. James’s, London SW1A 1NY, dukeshotel.com