What makes a good bar? This is the question that we pondered a few weeks ago when we first started drafting names for our list of the best cocktail bars in London. It’s a tricky one, and there are plenty who haven’t managed to get it quite right. In a business as ruthless as this, they didn’t last long.
Is it the barman, the essential piece of the puzzle that sets all the pieces into place. He is crucial, there’s no doubt about it. Bad service is never more off-putting than when you’re paying a premium as you will in one of the capital’s many best joints. Likewise, a friendly smile and a bit of light banter as you order your drink goes a long way. Even so, the barman is a thing of the past now, and many of the busier establishments will have half a dozen staff.
Is it the decor then? A dingy bar certainly does rather dampen the mood, and there are few things worse than going to a “trendy” bar that has decided to go for some interesting touches. Particular horror stories we could include would detail horrific overuses of satin as a wallhanging, and some very badly thought out plans for seating that basically asked the drunk and the dizzy to climb tiny stepladders. Likewise, a stylish and elegant decor can make that glass of whisky all the more comforting.
Maybe it’s the prices. When cocktails are pushing £10, getting tipsy is often going to set you back a fair amount and really partying will leave you rushing for a second mortgage. No amount of sugary sweet drinks can wash away that bitter taste in your mouth, the one you only get when you rather suspect that you’re being ripped off.
In reality, it’s none of them. They are the proverbial icing on the cake, the extra touches that elevate the positive aspects of your experience and make them even better. You need a solid base though: a tub of icing on its own doesn’t quite have the same appeal. The clue is in the title: it’s the cocktails that make or break any venture like this. To make our list of the top 10 London cocktail bars, the venues had to show a consistent excellence in all of their drinks. No amount of fancy trappings would do if they couldn’t mix a rosemary martini!
Achingly hip and rather tight on space, this small London chain almost didn’t make the list. The staff, the interiors and the general atmosphere are all great, but nothing special. What saved it, you may be asking yourself? The cocktails. Flavoursome and inventive, beautiful combinations like lavender and honey speak of mixologists who know how to work a floral palette with considerable grace and subtlety, a rare art indeed these days.
Dirty Martini is located at: 10C Hanover Square, London
To find out more please visit: http://dirtymartini.uk.com/
The Bar at the Dorchester.
A great setting and a great mastery of flavours bring this London favourite to our list. The interior is dark and sombre in a way that few others can replicate, providing a perfect tonic from the endless ranks of wood and steel that seem to dominate every bar in the capital. The drinks are clean and exceptionally well made, if a little traditional. The prices are eye watering at times though, with some cocktails costing upwards of £15 a pop.
The Dorchester is located at: 53 Park Ln, London W1K 1QA
To find out more please visit: http://www.dorchestercollection.com/en/london/the-dorchester/restaurants-bars/cocktails
Another hotel bar, but this is one that seems to revere light. The modern, simple interior speaks volumes, and the cocktails follow suit. The classics are all made to perfection, but there’s something a bit mischievous about the bar staff. Catch them in a quiet moment of inspiration, combining 2 obscure liquors into something fresh and original, and there’s a feeling of co-conspiracy about the whole thing. As capable of being bold as they are at revering the traditions that brought them much success, this duo have transformed Langtry’s once downtrodden bar into something special.
Artesian Bar is located at: 1C Portland Pl, London W1B 1JA
To find out more please visit: http://www.artesian-bar.co.uk/
Up the stairs, there’s a world of carnivorous feeding: a frenzy of rare beef and gorgeously cooked meats heading off to heavy wooden tables already laden with fatty treats. It’s a place where people come to enjoy themselves, calories be damned. It’s the kind of place that’s clearly run by the type of people that would excel in a bar setting, something they themselves worked out a short while away. The bar beneath the much vaunted Hawksmoor restaurant prides itself on the same values on the eatery above, and boy does it show.
Hawksmoor is located at: 7 Langley St, London
To find out more please visit: http://thehawksmoor.com/
Normally, bars next to sex shops are probably best avoided. It goes without saying really. On that logic, many have skipped straight past El Camion and instead planted themselves at a mediocre chain. It’s their loss. Run by a man considered by many to be one of Britain’s most influential barkeeps, it offers inventive twists that are sure to dazzle. The kick of a well made espresso martini is just one such offering.
To find out more please visit: http://elcamion.co.uk/cocktail-bar/
The American influence is felt strongly here and it’s a welcome change. The slight mysteries of gin give way to the more robust flavours of hops, malt and barley. Things are a lot stronger, and conceived in a way that seems to empathise their down to earth roots. What this bar jargon means to you is good drinks that don’t muck around. A welcome addition to anyone’s picks of the top London cocktail bars.
To find out more please visit: http://nola-london.com/
Walking into this gilt collection of treasures, one would not feel out of place if one were royalty. One can quite imagine this being the favoured watering hole of some rogue prince, a dashing fellow in crisp linen and silk. The prices would be fitting anyway.
Let’s be clear, what you get here is some of the finest cocktails in the capital in terms of construction. Like the michelin starred French eateries selling perfect dishes that have graced the tables of the rich for centuries, The Rivoli makes its trade from flawless execution. It’s not particularly bold or inventive, and it comes at a heavy price: the menu starts at £17.
The Rivoli is located at: 350 Brockley Rd, London SE4 2BY
To find out more please visit: http://www.theritzlondon.com/Rivoli.html
The American Bar at the Savoy
Bow ties instead of neckties. Waistcoats over shirts. Manhattans.
The American Bar is located at: The Savoy, Strand, London
To find out more please visit: http://www.fairmont.com/savoy-london/dining/americanbar/
As the name suggests, this bar’s view is dazzling. Enjoying a well crafted cocktail, resting on a wrought copper bar and staring out across the capital’s skyline is rather pleasant, we have to admit.
Paramount is located at: Centre Point, 101-103 New Oxford St, London WC1A 1DD
To find out more please visit: http://www.paramount.uk.net/
Genuinely excellent flavours and not even a drop of hooch, it’s a bit of shock but a good one. Not the token non alcoholic token effort seen on most lists of the top 10 London cocktail bars.
London Cocktail Club
Creativity and inventiveness bloom between these modest walls. We would mention some of their crazy concoctions but half the fun is seeing them firsthand, so we’ll simply say this: try it. You’ll be back.
London Cocktail Club is located at: 224a Shaftesbury Ave, London
To find out more please visit: http://www.londoncocktailclub.co.uk/
Hipsterish to the point of almost being painful, this is a rare gem. Taking an ironic look at the cocktail scene in general, it actually succeeds in both feeling like lighthearted satire and still fulfilling its original purpose as a good place to get a drink.
Callooh Callay is located at: 65 Rivington St, London EC2A 3AY
To find out more please visit: http://www.calloohcallaybar.com/