London has no shortage of cocktail bars, with many claiming to be the best in the world. Here, we pick out ten of our favourite spots for finding a life-changing cocktail in the capital, with a range of bars offering both the classics and new and unique selections, as well as a couple of choices for those on a tighter budget. If you’re interested in enjoying the finer things in life, you’ve come to the right place.
The Artesian (pictured above) has been voted the World’s Best Bar for two years running by Drinks International. Quite clearly, it’s getting a few things right, and one of those elements is the cocktails. Under the leadership of cocktail innovator Alex Kratena and his mixology partner Simone Caporale, the bar is well-known for its creative and eye-catching concoctions, as well as its mastership of the classics. The signature cocktail is the Super Panda, a mixture of Botran rum, mango, lime and lemon juice, almond and Kamm & Sons, served over a single ice ball in a tumbler placed on top of an inflated paper-head-lantern. As the glass squashes the paper lantern a tangerine aroma is unleashed to excite all of your senses at once.
1c Portland Place Regent St, W1B 1JA
Described by the co-owner Edmund Weil as “old school glamour, surprising cocktails, live music, top service and a very special atmosphere in a space which is never overcrowded”, Nightjar is a bar with many heads, and is a must for anyone interested in speakeasies and 1920s-style bars. To get on this list, it also needs to make great cocktails, and that is something it definitely does, with a cocktail menu that favours prohibition-era tipples (Switchels or Boxcars anyone?) and that changes each year, ensuring there’s always a reason to return. It also claims to have the largest collection of absinthe in the UK.
129 City Road, EC1V 1JB
#3 Southsider Cocktail Club
The only cocktail bar on this list that is south of the river, Southsider Cocktail Club is a new venture in Clapham, and a sister venue to 64th&Social. The bar specialises in experimental twists on classics, such as their Bloody Mary: which uses beef jerky infused Gentleman Jack whiskey, yellow tomato juice, lime juice, Tabasco habanero sauce, bitter truth celery bitters and Worcester sauce, and is served in a soup can garnished with a feta-stuffed red chilli. The best thing about Southsider Cocktail Club though is the prices. Normally, extraordinary cocktails in London cost a fortune. This is not the case at Southsider.
56 Battersea Rise SW11 1EJ
Dukes Hotel is a real hidden gem in London – you can find it off of St James Street, down a little alleyway and through a tiny courtyard. Based in the hotel you will find its famous bar (pictured above). Legend has it that it was here that Ian Fleming got the inspiration for the ‘shaken, not stirred’ line used in the Bond films, after hearing one of the waiters say the line. Whether true or not, the place still makes one of the best Martinis in London, if not the world. They are Martinis of the classic variety, simply straight vodka or gin enriched with dashes of vermouth and oils procured from freshly-peeled lemons.
35 St James’s Place SW1
#5 The Connaught Bar
It’s all about the Martini trolley at the Connaught Bar (incidentally one of two bars located at the Connaught Hotel), or at least that’s what it’s famous for, with Martinis being made table-side, and with a choice of bitters, by one of the bar’s master mixologists. In reality, many people also come for the décor – a stunning design by David Collins which uses English Cubism and Irish 1920s art for inspiration and which often feels like being inside an ice cube – and the range of mint juleps and daiquiris on offer. They are also prone to try innovative new ideas, as the recent addition of whisky and bespoke chocolate tasting (the latter enhances the former apparently) to the menu proves.
Carlos Place, Mayfair, W1K 2AL
#6 Trailer Happiness
Trailer Happiness is London’s first authentic tiki bar. At first glimpse it may seem a little too retro or clichéd, but that’s just because there have been so many bad imitations. A Tiki lounge can be a great thing, full of tropical music, fruity rum cocktails and cheery décor, and that’s exactly what Trailer Happiness achieves, with the emphasis most definitely on the rum cocktails. Two of their best are the Mai Tai (Appleton V/X rum, orange curaçao, orgeat syrup, bitters, fresh lime) and Cotton Mouth Killer (Elements 8 Platino, Mount Gay and Wray & Nephew rums, lime, apple, guava juice, apricot brandy, Galliano).
177 Portobello Road, London, W11 2DY
#7 Mamounia Lounge
Located opposite Harrods in Knightsbridge, this new branch of Mamounia Lounge (adding to their first restaurant in Mayfair) is a great spot for Middle Eastern cuisine, shisha pipes and exotic cocktails. With food, drink and décor all inspired by Morocco this is a top stop for trying something different. Some of the signature cocktails include the mango-based Funky Souk, the Golden Oasis, which pairs pineapple with watermelon, and the Mamounia Du Jour, which changes on a daily basis. On the weekends expect to be greeted by belly dancing!
136 Brompton Road, London SW3 1HY
The Hawksmoor is an amazing steak restaurant with bases all over London, and a signature dish that set many tongues wagging when it was launched a few years ago: the kimchi burger is an intriguing mix of ground beef with cheeses and home-made kimchi, a Korean staple made from fermented cabbage (which is a great natural probiotic by the way!) If you put the meat to one side for a minute you will also find they have quite an incredible cocktail menu with a huge amount of variety. Our personal favourites include the classy Made Man (Rye Whiskey, Fernet Branca, Yellow Chartreuse and Cherry Heering) and their nice twist on an Old Fashioned which uses a bourbon painstakingly infused with clarified butter using a sous-vide machine [link to Bonzer sous vide].
11 Langley St, WC2H 9JG
Just down the road from Callooh Callay, one of Shoreditch’s finest cocktail bars, lies another: NOLA (pictured above), a brand new New Orleans-inspired cocktail bar in Shoreditch – it’s name comes from the short-hand for New Orleans, Louisiana. As you’d expect the music is great, lots of jazz, blues and stride piano, and there’s a cigar terrace too which adds a bit of a speakeasy feel. The cocktails themselves are an interesting mix of classics and new innovations. There are New Orleans staples like Sazerac, Grasshopper and Ramos Gin Fizz, alongside flashy, rich original numbers like the Black Magic Woman, a deadly mix of dark rum and sweet Vermouth with crème de violette and Fernet Branca. If you can’t make it out to the Big East any time soon then this is your next best bet.
1st Floor, 68 Rivington Street London, EC2A 3AY
#10 House of Wolf
Describing itself as a “three-storey Victorian lair experimental dining, drinking and live entertainment… under one roof”, it’s clear that House of Wolf in North London is a little bit different. The restaurant works as a pop-up with different chefs each month and the cocktails are likely to change often too. Head up to the Apothecary bar and you will find a bartender in a lab coat serving up. As well as standard mixers and spirits, expect them to create their own fusions and potions, as well as ask you to bite into a Sichuan pepper and potentially set your mouth on fire – they want your visit to be an experience. While House of Wolf may not be everyone, due to the slightly chaotic nature of its drinks and food menu, it most certainly deserves to be on our list for its originality alone.
181 Upper St, London N1 1RQ
To see some great pictures of our Top 10 Cocktail Bars in London and find out where they are just check our special Pinterest board, giving you a guided tour of London’s finest cocktail houses: