Our intrepid team have been exploring a selection of London’s top cocktail bars this month and have come up with a hand full of old time favourites, and some not so old. These are sure to reinvigorate your senses for both creative and adventurous aperitifs and a little nostalgia.
Cocktail Lovers: Don’t miss the Night Jar
Neighbourhood: Islington, Old Street
This is where bartenders and others in the drinks industry go to let their hair day and discover something new and you can see why. The drinks are creative, inventive and taste amazing.
We would definitely recommend trying one of the shared drinks, even when they change the menu (which is seasonal) as they are served in the coolest of ‘glasses’.
What makes the bar such a stand out is the time and creativity that the staff bring to the drinks menu. Each cocktail has its own story, from the glass it comes in, to every ingredient in the final cocktail. It really is the Willy Wonka of bar invention with edible chocolate glazed ice cones through to vases hand painted by one of the bar tender’s mothers – all of which are used to serve drinks in.
The drinks are made using top quality ingredients that are picked up at the flower and produce markets first thing that morning.
The staff are all very knowledgeable and have great recommendations depending on your tastes.
To top it off the bar has a great vibe and there is always live music. Booking a table on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays is recommended as it can get busy.
Martini Lovers: Dukes Bar for James Bond inspiration
Neighbourhood: London St James’s
This is not just any bar, but a part of London and literary history. It really is an opportunity to step back in time. It is where Ian Fleming put the martini ‘shaken, not stirred’ into the hands of his most famous character James Bond and where he created the classic Vesper martini.
This is the best martini bar in London – hands down. The drinks are not cheap, but they are worth every penny.
Here the emphasis is all on the drinks with small tables in a very typical traditional London hotel bar. It’s ‘oldy- worldy’ but in a classic way.
Picture the scene. You order a martini and one of the bartenders will push out an old school-style drinks trolley and make the cocktails there at your table. Dressed in classic white tuxedoes they are as much a part of Duke’s hotel as the drinks they create.
If you are lucky you will be there on a day when Alessandro Palazzi, the long serving bar manager, is there to take you on a personal trip down the years with his stories of creating drinks for the rich, the famous and of course Ian Fleming himself. It is an experience all of itself.
The bar also stocks some of the world’s most prestigious and premium vodkas and gins to make your perfect martini. But if you are not a martini lover there are plenty of other cocktails to be enjoyed.
This is not a good bar to bring a large group, as the tables are more intimate.
Tip: Get there earlier in the evening rather than later as the tables do fill up and you may be left waiting in the lobby of the lovely hotel.
This is a bar where it is all about the experience which takes cocktail making to another level.
The drinks are so sophisticated they could be entered as works of art. This is very much a place to go and sip a couple of drinks and take in the atmosphere and watch the craftsmen at work behind the bar.
As you might expect the drinks aren’t cheap, but they are meant to be enjoyed at leisure and the inventiveness of the bartenders ensure that they are.
Most of the drinks have a theme and are designed to appeal to provoke your key senses – sight, smell and taste. There is such theatre in the way the serves are created that it creates an entertainment just in itself.
Drinks that come looking more like a Christmas present which release incense smoke when opened.
The bar has consistently been recognised and awarded as one of the best bars in the world and not just London. If cocktails are your thing, then this a bucket list bar.
If you’re looking for an ultra-chic and modern bar then look no further.
The service as well as the cocktails are some of the best in London. This bar, too, has a martini trolley that will not disappoint.
The bartenders are again some of the best in the business. They seem to know what you want before you even realised you needed something.
The cocktail list includes modern twists on old classics. But they also pay a great deal of attention to the smaller details, particularly presentation. The ingredients used may sometimes appear to a bit left field, but they are ideally suited to the cocktails that they create. There is very much a method to the madness.
If you find yourself anywhere near Mayfair then please experience the Connaught for yourself. But warned you can easily stay here all night.
The American Bar, Brassiere Zedel
Walk down the elegant stairs in to this bar, and the accompanying Brasserie Zedel, and you feel like you’re going back to America circa the roaring 1920s. Just to add to the ambience the staircase is covered in art deco posters to help set the stage you are walking in to.
There is even an old coat and hat check-in desk complete with butlers in sharp uniforms to get you in the mood.
The drinks list here features all the old classics. Think manhattans, martinis (with gorgeous olives) and old fashioneds. They don’t over complicate the menu and it is relatively short. But that allows the bar team to really focus on what they offer and to do it incredibly well.
The bar does get quite busy, so occasionally you will need to flag down your server (and another bowl of the free popcorn). But the ambiance and the drinks make it a great place to stop for drink before heading Parisian-style steak and frites next door in Brasserie Zedel.