Bars have become so much more than just somewhere we stop on the way home. They're everything from a venue to celebrate the end of the week, or an intimate spot for that crucial third date, or simply a neutral gathering point to plot evening dining plans. The capital’s ever-expanding and diverse bar and drinks culture is something we simply don’t shout about enough. With some of the world’s best bars right here on our doorstep, we hope this list helps to showcase the fantastic establishments which make up London's bar scene.
The Savoy Hotel, 100 Strand, London WC2R 0EZ
The last few years have seen a fair amount of change at The Savoy, something which isn’t commonplace for a 125-year old bar. The bar enjoys a storied history with legendary bartenders such as Harry Craddock author of The Savoy Cocktail Book and Ada ‘Coley’ Coleman establishing its reputation. More recently Erik Lorincz led the team to capture the title of 'World's Best Bar in the 2017 World's 50 Best Bars awards.
Now under the leadership of Shannon Tebay - the first female head bartender since Ada, the team are set to uphold the standards expected of one of London's top bars. Shannon has spent a decade working at top establishments including Death & Co - and will no doubt have her eyes trained on recapturing its former top spot on the list.
The Langham, 1c Portland Place, London W1B 1JA
A perennial favourite of ours, Artesian has always featured highly on our 'must visit' list. The bar has won numerous plaudits over the years, including the hallowed title of 'World's Best Bar' which it won in consecutive years.
Whilst you can expect a generous array of spirits and a decent selection of wines by the glass, it's the cocktail list which makes the visit worthwhile. Under the stewardship of a series of all-star bar teams over the years, the menu here has been taken to increasingly creative heights. Its regular rotation ensures that it’s consistently one of our top recommendations for somewhere to start or end a night out when heading into central London.
232 Kingsland Road, London E2 8AX
With no website, minimal signage and just an Instagram account, Remy Savage and partner Paul Lougrat have created perhaps one of the most creative openings of 2021. Open daily until late (late), this Haggerston bar and workshop is fast becoming a neighbourhood and industry favourite.
The shapes in question are derived from a Bauhaus movement colour schema, and represent the focus on minimalism, functionalism and design as their driving philosophy. Shapes stocks just 20 bottles of liquor - each of which have been chosen by a blind tasting method. The ensuing menu features 12 cocktails - six classics and six signature drinks developed by Savage, Lougrat and the team. The structure of each drink is kept simple and revolves around batched cocktails.
Having worked together at award-winning London cocktail bar Artesian, where the founders tinkered with flavour to develop cutting edge cocktail menus, Savage and Lougrat are pioneering an adventurous approach which we think makes Shapes well worth a visit.
Carlos Place, Mayfair, London, W1K 2AL
Whilst we’ve promised not to single out favourites, it would be difficult for us not to highlight the incredible impact which The Connaught Bar has had on the London bar scene. It recently cemented its reputation, retaining its top position for a second year on The World's 50 Best Bars list. Under the careful stewardship of Ago Perrone, the hotel’s director of mixology and head bartender at the Connaught for a decade, the bar has maintained impressive standards.
Ordering a martini made in front of your eyes on their ornate martini trolley is more than just a strong glass of spirits, it’s a rite of passage.
16-22 Great Russell St, London WC1B 3NN
A strong contender for London's most instagrammable bar, the Martin Brudnizki-designed Coral Room was always going to be a looker. The double-height space is dressed with coral walls and adorned with inviting armchairs and scallop backed sofas. That’s not to say the drinks aren’t excellent. Any bar that manages to lure head bartender Giovanni Spezziga to run it, has something very special going for it. Under his watch, the British inspired cocktail list has grown from strength to strength.
The Coral Room menu features an attractive array of tall and handsome drinks, many including English sparkling wine alongside local ingredients ranging from Kentish Cobnuts, rhubarb, rosehip and Bramley apples, which appear throughout their ever-changing list.
Also worth highlighting is their emphasis on English Sparkling wine – boasting a selection of six small vineyards all served by the glass. We can’t think of a better place to sit back and think of England…
423 Bethnal Green Road London, E2 0AN
This London neighbourhood bar with a French accent hidden in Bethnal Green has made waves not only across the capital but internationally, too. It’s one of the few London bars to rank consistently in the World’s 50 Best Bar list since it opened in 2017.
However, it’s their great drinks, rather than glitzy accolades which have us returning. The French spirit Calvados is a key focus at Coupette, so expect to encounter it in many forms across their 24 strong drink list. Also not to be missed is their Champagne Pina Colada – a sparkling twist on the classic tiki drink.
Elsewhere there’s a surprisingly detailed list of wines by the glass, a strong selection of non-alcoholic cocktails and a short bar menu which includes sharing plates and warm bites to see you through the evening.
33 Albemarle St, Mayfair, London W1S 4BP
In the competitive world of London hotel bars, it takes a truly great team and concept to stand out amongst the competition. The team at Brown’s Hotel in Mayfair have clearly aimed for the stars, co-opting bar legend Salvatore Calabrese to oversee the refurbished space - designed as an homage to British photographer Terence Donovan.
With Maurizio Palermo and Federico Pavan at the helm, the team oversees a tight menu of ten signature drinks inspired by the subjects of Donovan’s iconic imagery. A round of drinks for two won’t leave you with much change from a £50 note but there’s something about being a short stumble from Green Park tube station, which makes this the ideal spot for a nightcap.
35 St James's Pl, St. James's, London SW1A 1NY
If there’s one hotel bar which we would recommend that every Londoner should visit at least once, it’s Dukes - a classic cocktail bar situated in the heart of St James which has built its reputation around a single drink. For over 35 years, Dukes has become the home of the Martini and its unique method of service, perfected by head bartender Alessandro Palazzi.
The experience begins with Alessandro wheeling over the Dukes Martini trolley, laden with frozen bottles of gin and vodka. Once you’ve chosen your spirit of choice, he adds a few drops of vermouth into a chilled glass and a twist of Amalfi lemon twist kisses the rim before being plunged into the drink. The Martinis average around six ounces of spirit per drink - Palazzi has instituted a two-drink maximum which, if you’d like to remember the experience, we would strongly suggest you heed.
Russell Square, Bloomsbury, London WC1B 5BE
Situated in the tranquil end of Bloomsbury, Fitz’s quickly established itself as a destination worth visiting. The hotel bar for the Kimpton Fitzroy is an elegant Russell Sage-designed space which turns Jazz-Age glamour up to ten with opulent fabrics and ostrich plumes complete with disco ball.
Their menu of original cocktails continues to thrill. Whilst the team pride themselves on being able to fix a classic with their eyes closed, you’d be remiss not to sample one of their signatures. Undoubtedly one of the best places to grab a drink near Russell Square, the comfortable setting and convenient location makes this a top recommendation for central London.
Corner of Picton Place &, 31 Duke St, London W1U 1LG
Newly revived following the pandemic, this central London bar has stayed true to its core values of a central London bar masquerading as a neighbourhood cocktail hangout. Situated on a bustling corner off Bond Street, the interiors at FAM have been transformed into a cosy space with a casual vibe – a wall of vinyl invites guests to choose their own soundtrack for the evening.
The drinks list, of approximately ten signature cocktails, has a broadly Southern American theme - including lots of Mezcal and Tequila. It’s also worth noting that in this era of inflated prices, their list represents exceptional value - all of them come in under £10. We’ll drink to that!
There is also much fuss made about the strong sense of family where the owners of FAM encourage staff to become partners in the business without the need for any financial stake. It’s cheering to see a West End bar experimenting with a different recipe.
44 Old Street, London EC1V 9AQ
The creation of Marian Beke who spent five years at the helm of nearby Nightjar, The Gibson is a consistent performer which found early success entering the World’s 50 Best Bars just weeks after opening. Since then this tiny bar has always been front of mind when we’re visiting new restaurants around Clerkenwell or Old Street.
As their name suggests you’ll be able to get a pretty perfect Gibson Martini - theirs is made with a specially formulated Copperhead Gibson Edition Gin, a savoury take which is packed with spices and 14 botanicals and distilled exclusively for the bar.
There’s also an impressive list of signature cocktails to work through - which includes a dedicated trio of specials for each month of the year. We’ve come to trust the bar team to suggest something exciting and delicious, a promise which they inevitably deliver on. When hunger pangs strike their bar menu features an equally inventive selection of dishes - don't leave without trying their Cheese Raclette potatoes with black truffle.
8-9 Hoxton Square, London, N1 6NU
Hoxton’s original underground cocktail bar and one of our long time favourite East London drinking spots, Happiness Forgets has been anything but forgetful every time we visit. Headed up by Alastair Burgess (who first cut his teeth as head bartender of Pegu club in NYC) the team here are perfectly attuned to working their way through the ever-changing menu, perfectly executing old classics with new energy whilst also not afraid to throw in an inspired twist.
Half of the tables in this tiny space are kept free for walk-ins, but we always either go early (they’re open from 5pm) or try to reserve ahead to avoid disappointment. Happiness Forgets is perfectly placed to deliver the satisfying one-two punch of pre and post drink – if you’re game.
108 Essex Rd, Islington, London N1 8LX
Launched in late 2018, Homeboy is an Islington-based cocktail bar which celebrates ‘Modern Irish Hospitality’. Here in London, this translates to a world-class cocktail menu, a perfectly formed bar snacks menu, and 'The best pint of Guinness in London'.
Founded by Irish duo Aaron Wall and Ciarán Smith, who've worked everywhere from Callooh Callay through to The Dorchester and the Waldorf Astoria in New York, the team have gone from strength to strength winning a range of international awards and even opening a second bar in Embassy Gardens, Vauxhall.
As for the tongue-in-cheek drinks list, who wouldn't want to try the Wogan, made with Teeling small-batch whiskey and apricot brandy. If you're after something a little more local to them they also do a mean Irish Coffee.
NEW - Kol Mezcaleria
9 Seymour Street, London, W1H 7BA
Situated on the lower ground floor of Kol - Santiago Lastra's boundary-pushing Marylebone restaurant, Kol Mezcaleria is a homage to the original mezcal bars of Lastra's native Mexico. Led by drinks maven Maxim Schulte (previously of The American Bar at the Savoy), the space feels casual and comforting - open late and serving London's largest selection of Mezcals alongside an array of Mexican-tilted cocktails and a a short menu of 'antojitos' - snacks from the upstairs kitchen.
Bar counter seats encourage guests to watch Schulte and the team in action. They have developed a list which majors on drinks infused with wild, seasonal ingredients sourced from the British Isles. There is also a dedicated 'agave' menu featuring a range of rare mezcals and tequilas.
NEW - Ladies and Gentlemen
2 Highgate Road, Highgate, London, NW5 1LJ
Billing itself as a 'Five-star dive bar', Ladies & Gentlemen is a retro-inspired Kentish Town cocktail bar located in a former underground toilet block at the bottom of Highgate Road. The bar is headed up by Vestal Vodka's William Borrell, himself a Kentish Town local. This moodily-lit, subterranean space packs in quite a bit - including a handful of tables, a record player and vintage hi-fi system for their suitably retro soundtrack.
Did we mention the set of copper stills which produce the bar's spirits on-site? The cocktails draw upon local ingredients - fruit from Hampstead Heath allotments as well as syrups from Kentish Town Honey. Whilst the drinks are fairly priced, it's the space which is at a premium here. We'd very much recommend booking a table where possible, otherwise an early arrival is your best bet if you don't fancy waiting it out in the pub across the road.
20 Upper Ground, South Bank, London SE1 9PD
Shortly after securing the title of ’The World’s Best Bar’ at the 2018 World’s 50 Best Bars, maverick mixologist Ryan Chetiyawardana promptly announced that Dandelyan - the ground-floor cocktail bar at Sea Containers hotel on London’s South Bank - would be closing with immediate effect.
Lyaness, his follow up project, was developed and launched in record time. The result is a minimalist, electric-blue space featuring an equally adventurous menu focused around ingredients rather than cocktails, applying a chef’s approach to flavour and drinks. These are themed around flavours such as Oyster Honey, Green Sauce Liqueur and Fruit Furikake. As you might expect, the menu here changes constantly, however there’s an excellent bar food menu including oysters, croquettes and flatbreads - so we’d suggest taking the plunge and settling in for the ride.
The Beaumont, Brown Hart Gardens, W1K 6TF
The official hotel bar at The Beaumont has some big shoes to fill. Situated in a newly refurbished part of the hotel, Le Magritte is a discreet and sophisticated establishment which follows the great tradition of American bars which became popular in London and Paris a century ago. With space for just 30 guests, this intimate nook is run by Antonino Lo Iacono (previously of Rules, Dukes, and most recently of Mark’s Club in Mayfair) serving perfectly prepared classic cocktails in this upscale location. Inspired in part by 1920s New York, it features an enviable selection of bourbons, American whiskies and classic cocktails.
Adjoining le Magritte is a chic, sheltered terrace overlooking tranquil Brown Hart Gardens. With 1920s-style rattan armchairs and café tables enfolded by lush greenery, the Terrace serves drinks alongside a menu of light dishes from early until late. An exceptional selection of Cuban Cigars, including classic line, regional and limited editions, is also available - for those looking for the 'full American' experience.
129 City Rd, Hoxton, London EC1V 1JB
We've often said, if a restaurant makes it to ten years it’s often considered impressive; for a cocktail bar as edgy and creative as Nightjar this marker is nothing short of heroic. Heading into its second decade, this Old Street staple looks like it’s (thankfully) here to stay.
Hidden behind an unassuming wooden door this subterranean 1920s-style speakeasy on City Road has built a loyal following and a reputation for a flamboyant and over-the-top drinks list. Nightjar was one of the first London bars to truly embrace a seasonal drinks menu, a tradition which persists to this date. The venue has also matured somewhat, to reflect the new local audience and now also hosts Sunday Jazz brunches, a New Orleans house band and even a (drinks-focused) bookclub.
8 Holyrood Street, SE1 2EL
One of London’s first zero-waste bars, Nine Lives was a leader in its field when they opened - eschewing plastic straws and quick-to-perish ingredients – an approach now mirrored in top establishments across the capital. The bar has benefitted from the regeneration of London Bridge station and now features a new outdoor space complete with popup kitchen serving Southern Californian fare and a resident DJ - which really comes into its own in the warmer months.
The sustainable approach sees the team drawing on local and seasonal ingredients in their signature drinks including Bermondsey Street bee honey, fresh Bramley apple juice, and herb cordials. That said, if you're after something more classic, the friendly bar team will be more than happy to stir something up for you.
343 Cambridge Heath Road, E2 9RA
Hip-hop and low-lit late-night bars might be something you’d commonly expect to find in the streets which criss-cross lower Manhattan, however since 2013 this Bethnal Green neighbourhood cocktail bar has built a cult local following which after eight years has drawn international recognition - it was ranked 73rd in the 2021 World’s Best Bar awards.
Long before the current crop of nightlife came to roost nearby, the team at Satan’s Whiskers took over an old Caribbean restaurant, transforming it with eclectic décor and warm, but minimalistic lighting. The focus here according to the owners is ‘no-nonsense cocktails’ from a daily-changing menu and the window-rattling soundtrack ensures even the most loyal local drinker has a reason to return regularly.
NEW - Scarfe's Bar
Rosewood London, 252 High Holborn, London WC1V 7EN
Our recipe for a perfect hotel bar very closely resembles Scarfe’s Bar. Tucked into the Rosewood London, this elegant space features an ever-changing cocktail menu, an extensive collection of rare spirits, plenty of comfortable armchairs and secluded corners - and complete with a roaring fireplace and three-piece jazz band that plays regularly.
The bar takes its name from renowned British artist and former Sunday Times and New Yorker illustrator, Gerald Scarfe - whose own collection of amusing and often irreverent cartoons adorn the walls. The bar’s current list of 18 signature drinks tends towards the higher end for their choice of ingredients - and is reflected in the price (which ranges from £18-£22).
With swooningly high ceilings, bookcase-lined walls and handsomely-lit tables, Scarfes is our definition of the perfect destination bar in the heart of London.
NEW - Side Hustle
Nomad - 28 Bow Street, London, WC2E 7AT
Side Hustle at The NoMad London is not what you might expect. Set in the former Bow Street Police Station, Side Hustle is a casual but sophisticated pub imbued with a distinctively Mexican personality. It follows then that the cocktail menu, which has been created under the direction of Bar Director Pietro Collina, has been built around a large selection of agave-based spirits (sound familiar?).
However this isn't another Mezcaleria in disguise - the space is well proportioned, with ample seating along a marble-topped bar with room for casual drinkers to stand and grab a quick pint of ‘Mariachi’ lager made exclusively for the bar by London craft brewery Two Tribes. Reservations are welcome and there's a playful Southern Californian menu from Angelino chef Ashley Abodeely, which is the perfect foil for the characterful drinks which you'll find here.
NEW - Smokey Kudu
Arch 133 Queens Road, London, SE15 2ND
Smokey Kudu is an embodiment of the small and perfectly formed neighbourhood bar. Hidden in a cosy spot underneath Peckham Queen's Road station, this handsome space is the first bar from dynamic Peckham restaurateur duo Patrick Williams and Amy Corbin - whose Kudu Collective is slowly helping to transform Peckham's dining scene. Amy has used her sharp eye for interior design to imagine an ornate space - complete with horseshoe bar, vintage chandeliers and velvet curtains. Guests soon forget they're sitting beneath the Overground railway line.
To drink, there's a smart and simple seasonal drinks menu helpfully divided up into categories such as Fresh, Spicy, Boozy and, not to forget, Smokey. For those who don't venture south often, our advice is to book a table at their restaurant Kudu down the road and make a night of it.
152 Old St, London EC1V 9BW
This '2 for 1 play' in Old Street is run by a world-famous bartending duo and is now the second-best bar in the world (according to the 50 Best Bars list). Years in the making, Alex Kratena and Monica Berg have carefully planned and designed what we consider to be one of London’s most innovative bars. On the face of it, Elementary is an all-day casual bar with focus on simplicity, stripped back and simple with swift service, bottled cocktails and a short list of small-batch beer and low intervention wine on tap.
The real magic however is found behind the curtain, here you’ll find Tayer a U shaped bar seating 20. Home to an incredibly progressive approach to mixed drinks, the menu features drinks which are created from scratch through infusion, fermentation and distillation - all done in house. This workshop-style approach is reminiscent of something you might find in Downtown Los Angeles, but it also feels like it has a place in Shoreditch.
510b Kingsland Rd, Dalston, London E8 4AB
One of our favourite Dalston neighbourhood bars was opened in 2016 by brothers Noel and Max Venning. Café by day, the space comes alive by night.
The weekly-changing drinks menu spreads nine drinks into categories of One, Two and Three Sheets. Arranged according to strength the menu starts with aperitif-style refreshments before progressing to intermediate-level tipples including their take on a Cosmo and Vodka Soda +. If it’s classics you’re after, you might be best to ask as the Venning’s creations are anything but typical.
If you’re permanently located somewhere between ‘One’ and ‘Two’ sheets, then their short selection of Italian wines and craft beer will appeal. If you do go the ‘Three Sheets’ route, take comfort in the knowledge that the team also serves a range of meats and cheese from Borough Market’s Ham and Cheese Company to soak up the alcohol.
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