Best cocktail bars in London
From slinky, speakeasy-style dens to cutting-edge mixology, London's cocktail bars are world class. Here's a taste of what to expect
Looking for the best cocktail bars in London? Want to try making your own cocktails at home? Treat yourself to your own drinks trolley and explore our favourite online bottle shops to stock up your home bar. After, get shaking and stirring our easy cocktail recipes, and take a look at the Worlds Best Bars. If you want to pull out all the stops, find out the UK's best showstopping restaurants to impress.
Best London cocktail bars
This sophisticated bar combines sultry Tom Dixon-designed interiors with precisely executed, intriguing cocktails. The drinks expertise comes from London whisky specialist Milroy’s. Inside, interiors have moody metallic and muted tones, plus luxe textures and forms – think mid-century furniture, curved marble tables, sweeping banquettes, charred timber, blackened steel and low lighting.
The cocktails, which are sleek and minimalist in presentation, deliver surprising marriages of ingredients and flavours. The current Under The Lens menu is designed to incorporate science (with an ingredient from each cocktail put under the microscope to create stunning kaleidoscopic images) and split into sections that cover highballs (Apricot|Anko twists the classic whisky highball with apricot water and anko red bean paste), house ferments (such as a concentration of black limes, lime leaves and lime zest in a cordial for the floral Lime|Rosewood concoction), classic serve cocktails and signatures from menus past, including the vibrant, tart and spicy Hibiscus|Guajillo, featuring mezcal, homemade sorrel vermouth, guajillo chilli tincture, hibiscus, cacao nibs and mole bitters. panpacific.com/silverleaf
Head down to this intimate basement bar, whether you’re awaiting your tasting menu at Counter71 upstairs or just fancy an evening of sleek, American South-style drinks and hospitality from head bartender Ryan Sheehan.
Signatures include a clear, delicate tomato water and jalapeño-infused tequila cocktail. Classic creations feature the likes of the vieux carré, a complex and silky New Orleans stalwart that combines rye, cognac, sweet vermouth and Benedictine with bitters, and the London negroni, which uses spirits from Highgate’s Sacred distillery. Southern-inspired snacks soak up the booze – fried chicken clusters and tater tots are served with ranch sauce and cheesy dip for dunking. counter71.co.uk
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This award-winning Soho bar comes from husband-and-wife team Bobby Hiddleston (Dead Rabbit, Callooh Callay) and Mia Johansson (Milk & Honey), and the team behind Nightjar and Oriole. It's a two-part affair, with a buzzy, casual space on the ground floor – best for walk-ins – and darker, intimate underground lounge with sleek crescent booths, inky black tables and moody lighting. The upstairs serves lighter aperitif cocktails (try the signature sgroppino, with lemon sorbet, prosecco and Italicus), while down below focuses on more sultry cocktails, as well as whisky, of which they have a 300-strong collection.
Do check out their latest outpost in Shoreditch, where sleek black and white art deco-style interiors make a classy setting for drinking characteristically creative cocktails – try the Carmen with Olmeca Altos plata tequila, toasted blue corn and lime sherbet for a zingy twist on a margarita. barswift.com
Bar Lina, Soho
Beneath the iconic pastel-hued Italian deli, a Soho stalwart since 1944, you’ll find this elegant basement bar hidden in true speakeasy fashion. The small space is adorned in 60s-style furnishings complete with deep red velvet banquettes, soft chrome lighting and a speckled red marble bar that boasts a backdrop of aperitif bottles. The menu focuses on revisitations of classic Italian cocktails, with a whole section dedicated to the negroni (including the La Voglia La Pazzia fatwashed in coffee butter) and the spritz (try the Mambo Italiano that uses Campari infused with rosemary and honey topped up with citrusy clarified grapefruit). The signature figlet is a short, bittersweet number combining two fig liqueurs (one homemade and one bottled in Seven Sisters using Italian fig leaves) with a touch of vanilla syrup. barlina.co.uk
Coupette, Bethnal Green
This is a super cool drinking den, where banter over the bar (made from French centimes) is encouraged and staff greet you with smiles and a taster of the slushie of the day as a welcome refresher. The showstopping champagne piña colada is a must-try – a mix of Bacardi Heritage, French-Caribbean agricole rum, pineapple and coconut sorbet, topped up with Moët & Chandon brut. The owners let their creativity loose on the rotating menu, the current iteration, “Barely Legal”, taking inspiration from East London’s street art. Each page showcases a unique commission from a local muralist to complement the cocktail in question, with a handy summary ‘compass’ of flavours on the first page, categorising the menu into sweet, bitter, boozy dry and refreshing citrus. Start with the Paper Plane Cobbler, a long, refreshing take on a negroni, the bitter Aperol and sour Tamarillo Amaro balanced by sweet sauternes and guava gel. On the sweet side, Nuts For Nuts makes an ideal night cap, a rich, sweet and fluffy liquid made from peanut butter distilled gin, nut cream and blitzed pistachios, walnuts and cashews, with oloroso sherry giving a fresh edge. coupette.co.uk
London’s original agaveria adds a splash of contemporary sunshine to Kingsland Road, with peach and mustard tiles, plenty of palms and an array of art to whisk you away to warmer climes. Perch at the bar and glide your eyes over the agave list, numbered in price order to help you choose. Each of the mezcals and tequilas comes with a complementary pairing, be that a thimble of vermouth, square of chocolate or something salty. Award-winning agave cocktails include the iconic mirror margaritas, made with a house sour mix to keep things clear, both in colour and taste, allowing the spirit to shine in a clean and bright no-nonsense serve. The honey bee margarita is another stand out, the chipotle-infused honey giving a soft, salty sweetness with a hint of heat.
Current food residency is handled by Mexican street food wizards, Tigre Tacos. Crisp coated chunks of soft fish topped with zingy cabbage and pico de gallo make the baja fish tacos a must order. Portobello mushrooms, pickled carrots and crispy soy lime kale take vegetarian tacos to new heights, while tuna tostadas blanketed in crisp frilly chives make a silky, crisp, crunchy contender to mix up the textures a bit. hachabar.com
Wacky Wombat, Soho
This funky basement bar is hidden in the depths of Soho, its entrance concealed beneath glamorous Italian restaurant Daroco. An unassuming door opens into a plush circular room, wrapped in an abundance of material – velvet curtains and chairs upholstered in bold floral prints, with a spacy disco ball installation and fern ceiling garlands to boot. The wombat mascot takes centre stage in the menu’s fun illustrations, embossed ice cubes and can be seen in soft toy form manning the DJ decks when Nico isn’t in town.
Nico de Soto is known for his extravagant cocktail menus (Experimental Cocktail Club, Mace, Danico), and this one gives a nod to his travels. The highlight is the champagne highball-style Brazilian Wax in Bondi, with complex honey notes coming through from bee wax-infused cachaca and fennel and bee pollen-infused aperitivo, topped with a honeycomb lattice cookie. Der Raum has the aperitif vibes of a negroni, with a sweet coconut edge, or try the V on P, Nico’s twist on a pisco sour with notes of a lime meringue pie-style dessert. instagram.com/wacky.wombat
Head downstairs at Soho’s decadent Argentinian restaurant, Sucre, to this sultry cocktail lounge. A funky disco soul soundtrack adds to the 1970s revamp of the 18th century building. Original brickwork is accentuated with mustard bar stools, black and gold tiles, banquettes that sweep below panelled mirrors and a soft glow from individual table lamps. Tony Pescatori, of Nightjar fame, has curated a progressive menu that focusses on unique global ingredients. A highlight is the bittersweet Murano, a lighter, brighter take on a negroni, made with floral Malfy Rosa Gin and Electric Velvet liqueur for extra zing. Mama Quilla, served in a striking brass moon vessel, has the floral foaminess of a pisco sour with earthy mezcal, funky house fermented cassava wine and a hint of heat from Ancho Reyes Verde chilli liqueur. Get a taste of chef Fernando Trocca’s fare in bar snacks such as empanada parcels filled with creamy aged cheddar, chilli and caramelised onions. If you’re hungry, go for the chorizo choripan, the Argentinian answer to a hot dog, laced with chimichurri and topped with crispy onions. almabysucre.com
The Lower Third, Soho
Think of the Lower Third as a neighbourhood bar with ambition. Located on Denmark Street, it's unpretentious yet smart enough to feel special, where it’s just as easy to order a beer and a shot as it is a deftly mixed cocktail.
The bar is the first of several spaces that branch out, warren-like, into the building, a mix of smaller performance areas and larger capacity venues. Keen to pay tribute to the legendary musical heritage of Denmark Street as well as the site’s former incarnation, music venue The 12 Bar Club, there’s a commitment to showcasing new and local talent, as well as more well-known bands and artists.
Back in the bar, Shannon Tebay, previously of the American Bar at the Savoy and Death & Co in New York, has created a roster of twists on classic cocktails, with names taken from albums by major artists that have recorded on Denmark Street. Hits on our visit included Never Mind the Bollocks – a savoury, vegetal margarita with St George Green Chile vodka, blanco tequila, Haitian clairin rum and banana; and Band of Gypsys, a seductively smoky, negroni-style drink with mezcal, Campari, vermouth, coffee and tropical notes from passion fruit. If you’ve ever wondered what a piña colada made with scotch tastes like, then try the Schoolboys in Disgrace, where Monkey Shoulder and Talisker 10 Year Old make a surprisingly successful match with coconut cream and melon liqueur – the whisky adding a warm, boozy backbone to the drink. thelowerthird.co.uk
Dover Yard, Mayfair
This sleek bar is hidden away in eco chic oasis, 1 Hotel Mayfair. Natural aesthetics include low gnarled wood tables with sofas and throws in soft, muted tones. A striking bar showcases delicate racing pigeon feathers worked into a gentle wave beneath the glass. Repurposed ingredients take the limelight in the eclectic range of sophisticated cocktails. Rum-based falernum liqueur is fat-washed with left-over breakfast pastries and shaken with the bar’s own lemon sour mash, made from squeezing surplus lemon and lime husks, to create the unique Pan Brioche cocktail, reminiscent of a whisky sour and topped with a tiny croissant. Rotating seasonal classics include the vibrant Purple Carrot Garibaldi that infuses vodka with English purple carrots, while the lower-ABV Palomito is a long, bittersweet and refreshing concoction of Campari, Mancino Chinato vermouth and pink grapefruit. 1hotels.com
Bruno’s, Regent's Canal
Islington Brothers Fin and Lorcan Spiteri have opened up a canalside drinking den next to their floating restaurant Caravel on Regent's Canal. Like its neighbour, Bruno’s is hidden away in a converted barge, and the bar has an appealingly cosy, retro lounge feel with velvet armchairs and dim lighting.
As well as being an ideal staging point for a meal at Caravel – start with a pre-dinner aperitif, end the night with a creamy brandy alexander, or do both – it also works well as a stand-alone venue, slinky and stylish, with a drinks list full of nostalgic classics and peppy new creations.
Fin – previously at Quo Vadis and 69 Colebrooke Row – is behind the menu, which features house cocktails, forgotten classics and after-dinner creations showcasing sweet and creamy tipples. Standout drinks include the earthy, smoky and citrussy Chido with mezcal, smoked lime juice and orgeat; and a Count Pomelo Negroni with grapefruit syrup – a pleasingly light, zesty take on a classic. Finish with one of the bar’s pudding cocktails: their lusciously nutty hazelnut sour with Frangelico and vanilla vodka was delightful. brunosbar.co.uk
Lyaness, South Bank
When drinks maestro Ryan Chetiyawardana’s lavishly garlanded Dandelyan (including World’s Best Bar in 2018) closed at Sea Containers London, it was swiftly replaced by his next incarnation – Lyaness.
The sweeping green marble bar and sleek mid-century aesthetic remains at Lyaness, but this time the colour palate is lighter (but still statement-making), with sky-hued walls, soft-grey sofas and electric-blue banquettes, plus lots of opulent gold accents.
The latest menu at Lyaness, titled the 'Ancestral Cookbook', is built around five new ingredients, with 15 serves on offer. If this sounds simple, then rest assured, there’s plenty of Ryan’s characteristically intricate drinks wizardry going on behind the scenes, with each ‘ingredient’ the end result of various clever processes and techniques, including fermentation, freezing and even electrocution. The resulting cocktails are supremely drinkable. lyaness.com
Mexican chef Adriana Cavita has partnered with bartender Manuel Lema to open an atmospheric mezcaleria in the basement of her buzzing Marylebone restaurant. Mayahuel specialises in regional tequilas, mezcals and other unique agave spirits, served in refreshing, balanced cocktails. Twists on classics include the Jalisco tequila sour with fresh jalapeños, an Agüita margarita sweetened with hibiscus syrup and balanced with Mexican sour beer, and a Tepatío tequila old fashioned infused with applewood smoke and served with a twist of grapefruit. For something a bit different, the Citali combines Mexican corn-based liqueurs, Pox and Nixta, with bitters and agave syrup in a silky-smooth concoction. Tasting flights include the Amatatin, in which you can taste how tequilas change as they become more aged, and the Lost Explorer flight paired with dark chocolate, orange, grasshopper salt, and green olives to bring out the nuances in the agave spirits. Make the most of the Cavita kitchen upstairs and order tuna tostadas with jalapeño avocado salsa, deconstructed corn esquites and crispy, comforting beef shin and cheddar quesabirria to dip into veal bone consommé. mayahuelmezcaleria.co.uk
Nine Lives, London Bridge
This vibrant subterranean bar brings plenty of tiki-inspired fun and on-point cocktails to London Bridge, just minutes from the station. Hip interiors of rattan lampshades, lush hanging plants and upcycled bamboo furniture, as well as pulsing beats and feel-good vibes, set the scene for the bar’s latest menu, Tropicalifornication. Inspired by music albums, this ‘compilation’ of 12 cocktails is replete with vibrant serves and plenty of sustainably minded brands, including Discarded banana peel rum and Avallen calvados. Try the Way Better Than a Cosmo, which as the name suggests turbo-charges the classics 90s cocktail, using a combination of Grey Goose vodka, redcurrants, kumquats and lime to deliciously fresh and zingy effect. Also impressive is Punchline, featuring Tanqeuray, pineapple shrub, apricot brandy, chartreuse and lime for a zesty, layered cocktail with funky fruit and floral notes. Rum cocktail lovers should choose the Tropicalifornication, featuring banana and pineapple rums, bitters, lime and egg white for a smooth, opulently tropical tipple. If you get hungry, impeccably made guacamole and flavoured-packed seasonal seafood tacos are available to order from Tigre Tacos. ninelivesbar.com
3’6 at Fortnum & Mason, Piccadilly
Fortnum’s third-floor bar has been revamped into a sleek, plush cocktail den, with inky blue walls, jewel-coloured velvet sofas and a striking 3D-printed bar complete with an undulating wooden wave installation that flows across the ceiling.
Design your own cocktail, mixing and matching spirits, cocktail styles, flavours and bitters. A negroni-style drink with tequila, strawberries and rose is herbaceous, floral and delicate. Other highlights include highballs made with house-fermented sodas – try pomegranate and rosemary. fortnumandmason.com
Bar Daskal, London Bridge
This warm and intimate Iberian-inspired wine bar comes from Harts Group, the brains behind Barrafina and Parrillan, bringing Spanish wines, sherries and cocktails to Borough Yards in London Bridge. Creamy walls, stone chequered floors, cheerful Mallorcan fabrics and objects, and a bar covered in terracotta-hued tiles bring relaxed Med vibes to the space.
Spanish fortified wines and spirits take centre stage in the pithy cocktail list – try the Eduardo, featuring dry sherry, vermut and bitters for a toasty, savoury take on a manhattan. The sherry list also shines: we tried a funky unfiltered manzanilla and a complex, nutty palo cortado. bardaskal.co.uk
Eve Bar, Covent Garden
Hidden away in one of central London’s busiest neighbourhoods, Eve Bar is a slinky, neon-lit drinking den with zero-waste cocktails and superior bar snacks. Sister bar to the Michelin-starred Frog by Adam Handling upstairs, Eve leans into its biblical moniker with illuminated stained-glass windows and ornate branches, apples and foliage snaking around the space.
Its cocktail offering is intimately linked with the restaurant – ingredients that can’t be used upstairs in the kitchen are repurposed in the drinks downstairs. The latest menu, Technique, showcases this in drinks such as the Chicken Butter OF, which combines the eponymous butter (a signature of chef Adam’s) with Michter’s Sour Mash whisky and porcini – the end result is a supercharged old fashioned with opulent butterscotch notes. Another winner, Rocket Fuel, is an elevated spicy margarita, with chilli and kimchi adding tangy, funky heat.
Non-alcoholic drinks also impress – the Olive Garden with Everleaf Forest, apple and olive brine is subtly saline and flavourful. Don’t miss out on the next-level bar snacks courtesy of Frog. Dainty and refined, favourites included decadent duck egg and parmesan custards served in a billowing flourish of dry ice, and springy sourdough with more of that luscious chicken butter. evebar.co.uk
Acclaimed London bar Swift has brought its trademark art deco style and speakeasy vibes to Borough. The two-storey space is modelled after the original Soho site (there's also one in Shoreditch), with a lighter, airy bar on the ground floor, with a no-reservation policy and an aperitivo drinks offering – perfect for post-work drinks.
Downstairs, discover an intimate, glossy and dimly lit subterranean set-up. Named the Back Pocket, it’s a seated-only area with a new menu of original cocktails (although you can still find Swift classics including its impeccable Irish coffee) inspired by the history and people of the surrounding Borough area.
Drinks are free of fussy garnishes yet complex and nuanced. Highlights include the Biscuit Town – malted milk scotch, cacao, demerara, chocolate and vanilla bitters – and full of comforting creamy chocolate and biscuit notes. The Golden Hinde, featuring mead, anejo tequila and brown butter, is perfectly balanced: toasty, rich and layered. The Pilgrim marries peaty, smoky scotch and spicy bourbon with juicy, fruity notes from cherry to make a fabulous fruity whisky cocktail. barswift.com
The Lowback, Canary Wharf
This Hawksmoor bar – the first bar launch from the group in more than 11 years – is set on a floating pavilion in Canary Wharf. Inside, interiors are heavy on dark wood fittings, dim lighting and mid-century-style fixtures – the kind of bar that Don Draper would drink in. On the menu, there’s plenty to like, including bottled champagne cocktails and lots of classic Hawksmoor creations (including a stellar sour cherry negroni), but it’s the creative martini list – all chilled to 11C in flasks to ensure a perfectly frosty serve – that deserves close attention. Lovers of a savoury tipple should make a beeline for the turbo-charged Pink Gibson. Featuring Audemus Umami Gin (flavoured with wacky botanicals including capers and parmesan) and a pink pickled onion, it delivers masses of savoury briny notes, underpinned by delicate floral hints. Those who prefer a cleaner martini should try the Douglas Fir Silver Bullet, icy and aniseed herbal with its marriage of Hepple vodka, douglas fir and dill oil. Do also explore the bar snacks, which include decadent salt beef nuggets filled with melted Ogleshield cheese, and bone marrow oysters, as well as larger steak and burger dishes. thehawksmoor.com
Cellar at Kindred, Hammersmith
The hectic roundabout at Hammersmith Broadway is an unexpected setting for cocktails, but members’ club Kindred, in the elegant Grade-II listed Bradmore House, has launched Cellar, a laidback café and bar open to the public. In relaxed and casual surroundings, cocktails come courtesy of resident mixologist Julian de Feral (Milk & Honey, Lutyens and Hawksmoor) and offer plenty of accessible, crowd-pleasing twists on classics.
Try the Brambl-ita – Curado Cupreata smoked tequila with lime, spiced chocolate bitters and blackberry liqueur – for a vibrantly fruity, satisfyingly zingy twist on a margarita. Those looking for a lighter tipple should opt for the Kindred Spritz, using flavour-packed non-alcoholic aperitif Everleaf to add extra oomph alongside cherry aperitif, peach and jasmine soda and sparkling wine for a delicate, floral drink. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Cellar takes a classic espresso martini and injects it with tropical character with the addition of Aluna coconut and coffee liqueur, Cargo Cult banana spiced rum and spices for an opulent serve. wearekindred.com
Sweeties, King's Cross
Step into the Standard hotel’s sleek red pill lift and zoom up to the 10th floor for this luxe bar that combines retro interiors with playful, off-beat cocktails and unrivalled views of King’s Cross and St Pancras. In keeping with its home, a restored 1970s Brutalist office block, Sweeties takes its cue from the same decade, with opulent interiors including velvet sofas, mirrored tables, gold accents, wood panelling and patterned carpets.
The cocktail menu features ‘feel-good ingredients and mood-enhancing mixes’ designed to be energising and uplifting. We’re not sure if we felt these effects but regardless the drinks are very good. Pick Me Up – made with eight adaptogens (ingredients that help the body deal with stress) mushrooms, vodka, rum, caramel and burnt butter drank like an elevated espresso martini, layered and earthy, with rounded depth. Roots Manuva – riesling vermouth, golden beet caramel, turmeric, ginseng, ginger, orange and mead – is vibrant, honeyed and fresh, with a vegetal edge.
No Whey Jose, blanco tequila with strawberry, red rice, rose and a salted hot coconut foam, was the delightful cocktail equivalent of a Campino strawberry candy. Purple Rain – Johnny Walker whisky, amazake, salted plum, cherry bark and blossom wine – was like an extra fruity old fashioned, bursting with berry flavours, smoky and subtly savoury. standardhotels.com/sweeties
Seed Library, Shoreditch
Ryan Chetiyawardana’s latest venture is a slinky drinking den in the basement of the One Hundred Shoreditch hotel.
Whereas his flagship bar – Lyaness at Sea Containers in Southbank – showcases a high-concept approach to mixology, Seed Library is deliberately more casual and low key. Walk-ins are encouraged and the space, with its sultry lighting, wood-panelled walls, red velvet chairs and warm palette, feels retro and slightly louche, yet very welcoming.
Expect elevated riffs on cocktail classics. Sansho Leaf Martini with Belvedere vodka, Cocchi dry vermouth and green sansho oil is clean and delicate, and subtly savoury. A Coriander Seed Gimlet is gorgeously executed, clean and citrussy with a backbone of gentle, warming spice. Summer Whisky Sourz, with Dewar’s 12-year-old scotch, Fierfield Birch botanical Irish whiskey, woodruff, meadowsweet and lemon is complex and layered, with herbaceous and cereal notes. Galangal Pencillin swaps the traditional peated whisky for tequila and mezcal, and adds aromatic galangal for a vibrant, smoky cocktail.
Bar snacks are winningly hearty, and moreish – expect the likes of deep-fried chicken hearts, beef short rib croquettes and potato smileys. onehundredshoreditch.com/seed-library
Doña, Stoke Newington
There’s something soothingly womb-like and seductive about descending into Doña, with its basement setting and sumptuous, lavishly trimmed décor of wall-to-wall rich reds and pinks scattered with prickly cacti, velvet seating and a fabulous pink-fringed bar.
It’s an all-female affair – founded by friends Thea Cumming and Lucia Massey, and functions as both mezcal bar and community arts platform – there’s music and performance most nights, with an emphasis on female and queer artists, and a lively cultural programme. There's also tacos on tap, thanks to Tigre Tacos upstairs.
Thea has her own mezcal brand, Dangerous Don, and founded London Mezcal Week, so it’s no surprise Doña is a treasure trove of rare and small-batch mezcals. If you’re new to mezcal then we recommend starting with the short but hard-working cocktail list, which explores the versatility of this smoky agave spirit. Take the Fiorella: made with Quiquiriqui mezcal, dry vermouth, Italicus and Empirical Ayuuk, it has the clean, crystalline feel of a martini but with a herbaceous, earthy backbone. Or try the Monika, with Dangerous Don Café, chocolate, crème de cacao, Cocchi Americano and amaretto, which tastes like a refined, elevated espresso martini, replete with coffee, chocolate and nutty notes.
Doña also makes a cracking house margarita – we asked for a spicy version and the end result was superb, poky and zesty with a savoury, briny twang at the end. bardonalondon.com
Connaught Bar, Mayfair
Low-lit, slinky, plush luxury is the name of the game at this acclaimed hotel bar, whose tastefully decadent surrounds – metallic accents, mirrors, a mutedly rich palate and plenty of seating to sink into – is matched by impeccable service and even more impressive cocktails.
If you only order one drink let it be the martini – made at a trolley by your table with theatrical, expert aplomb (watching them pour the martini in a high, silvery stream into your glass is a sight to behold). Tanqueray No Ten is the recommended serve, along with a blend of vermouths and your choice of homemade bitters (ranging from tonka bean and lavender to cardamom, on our visit). The end result is spot on, silky textured and very generous in size – don’t drink one on an empty stomach.
Their latest menu, Formae, also has much to explore, drawing inspiration from the shapes and forms of the surrounding bar. We tried the Voronoi – a fruitier, lighter take on a margarita with Tapatio tequila, Michoacan mezcal, vetiver liqueur, lime and timur sherbet, vermouth, grapefruit hops bitters and agave water. Thought has gone into the zero-alcohol offering, too – we enjoyed the sprightly Pietra with ginseng and bergamot kombucha, osmanthus honey syrup and sauvignon blanc juice.
Complimentary buttery olives and crackers are continuously refilled by meticulously attentive staff, and winning canapés include ultra-light and crispy tempura made with seasonal veg, crispy salmon sashimi with chipotle mayo and velvety guacamole. the-connaught.co.uk/connaught-bar
KOL Mezcalería, Marylebone
Tucked away on the lower ground floor of Santiago Lastra’s refined hymn to Mexican cuisine is this slinky, subterranean bar. Inspired by the mezcalerias of Mexico, it’s decked out in soothing earthy tones and natural textures, with dark wooden furniture, rattan lamps and traditional Mexican artifacts on the walls.
The cocktails are masterminded by bar manager Maxim Schulte (former head bartender at the American Bar at The Savoy), and echo the restaurant’s emphasis on British seasonal ingredients, with lots of homemade infusions. The drinks list changes regularly, but expect the likes of the Tatanka – crab apple-infused El Destilado rum, Somerset 10-year-old cider brandy and rhubarb for a tangy long drink, and a negroni made with sloe gin-infused Corte Vetusto mezcal. Star of the evening was a complex take on a martini, featuring Volcan Blanco tequila, pine distillate, cucumber and – quirkily – a touch of crème de cacao blanc, which softly rounded the vibrant flavours of the other ingredients. It had all the boozy kick of a classic martini, but with an added herbaceous character. Alongside this, Santiago has created a list of street-food style snacks, or ‘antojitos’, including truffle quesadillas with Kentish Oaxacan cheese. As well as the cocktails, don’t leave without sampling some of the bar’s 80-strong list of mezcal, tequila and other agave spirits. kolrestaurant.com
Three Sheets, Dalston
A stripped-back cocktail bar with a succinct list of drinks, Three Sheets has raked in the plaudits over the years but still retains a buzzy neighbourhood hang-out vibe.
It was the first venture from the Venning brothers, originally from Manchester, who have worked in leading cocktail bars for years, most notably Max’s experience with Tony Conigliaro’s Drinks Factory and 69 Colebrooke Row and Noel’s time in Manchester at tequila bar Crazy Pedro’s. More recently, they've also helped found Crouch End's Little Mercies (see below) and Highbury wine bar Top Cuvée – as well as its roaringly successful shop, Shop Cuvée.
Max and Noel aren’t big on the showy side of cocktail making – behind the bar is a simple shelf of bottles containing only what the mixologists need for the short cocktail list. This no-frills approach allows the brothers’ northern charm to shine through; they chat away and recommend local haunts while shaking up drinks as though hosting you in their own home.
The pithy drinks list changes seasonally, but usually features their famous fizzy pre-bottled French 75, made with gin, verjus, clarified lemon juice, moscato and orange flower. Poured straight into your glass like champagne, it’s dangerously easy to drink (you can buy it buy the glass, or, even better, by the bottle). threesheets-bar.com
Aaron Wall and Ciarán Smith’s second Irish boozer-cum-contemporary cocktail bar continues the Gaelic fun south of the river, in Battersea. The bar crew really make this place, warming up the large space with top-notch recommendations, fun anecdotes and swift-yet-dramatic cocktail mixing against a glimmering backdrop of Irish whiskies. The extensive catalogue of spirits is used to create the likes of the Wogan, blending small-batch Irish whiskey aged in rum barrels with apricot brandy to complement the sweetness. Champagne paloma is a pre-batched number, combining and carbonating Patrón silver tequila, grapefruit sherbet and Moët in the bottle for a gluggable, refreshing finish. Boulevardier fans should choose the elegant Taoiseach, incorporating chocolaty Redbreast Irish whiskey into the mix with Cointreau, Martini Rosso and pomegranate syrup. Order the Dog House Punch to sip from tiki-style glasses modelled on Aaron’s dogs back in Dublin. Other must-orders are the velvety Irish coffee with a silky coffee cream finish, and a perfectly poured Guinness. Bar snacks include buttermilk-fried buffalo chicken nuggets, smoked salmon served on homemade soda bread with Kerrygold butter and the more substantial tender lamb Irish stew. homeboybar.com
This understated bar occupies subterranean premises on Soho’s Denman Street, next door to sister restaurant Kricket. Inside, expect pared-back yet polished cocktails served in low-lit, slinkily minimalist surrounds – think a stainless steel bar, indigo walls and walnut furnishings.
SOMA – like Kricket – takes inspiration from the Indian subcontinent, serving snappily executed riffs on classic cocktails that showcase clever spicing and an eclectic approach to ingredients. Start with the mooli, a crystalline affair of vodka with curry leaf-infused vermouth served ice-cold from the freezer and garnished with a sliver of pickled mooli. Savoury and peppery, delicate and clean, it may be a Marmite drink for some, but fans of a gibson martini should make a beeline for it. The chaat – mezcal, tequila, chaat masala, kumquat and a moreish gooseberry salt – is winningly clean, zesty and saline, while the oak is a silky, nutty, opulent marriage of cardamom, aged gin, amaro, vermouth and amontillado sherry. It's the perfect nightcap to end the evening. somasoho.com
Little Mercies, Crouch End
Modern, easy-drinking cocktails are the focus at Alan Sherwood’s (Peg + Patriot, Scout) laidback establishment.
Inside, it's calm and composed – expect a minimalist interior of exposed brick, a concrete bar, pendant lamps and inky blue walls. The cocktails here are elegant, with plenty of homemade ingredients – most recently, a negroni made with the bar's own passionfruit vermouth. There's also a fun yet innovative approach to classic drinks, think bellinis made with lacto-fermented peach, kiwi gimlets and 'Snickers' old fashioneds. littlemercies.co.uk
The busy City Road in Shoreditch seems an unlikely setting for a stylish, subterranean speakeasy bar but that’s exactly where you’ll find Nightjar. On the outside, a tall wooden door sandwiched between two cafés is the only evidence of its existence, but go inside and discover a plush space replete with candlelit tables, leather banquette seating and flatteringly dim lighting.
The bar’s characteristically detailed drinks menu riffs on old cocktail recipes (ranging from the pre-prohibition to post-war periods) but adds its own twist.
Try the Honeymoon – a short, fresh yet punchy blend of Glenfiddich 21-year-old whisky, Nightjar’s ‘forbidden fruit liqueur’ (a mix of citrussy pomelo, sherry and dry vermouth), Cynar, mead, lemon and geranium leaf. It's a complex drink, dry and delicately smoky, with subtle honey and aniseed notes.
Drink nerds should investigate the bar’s vintage spirits menu, which is full of rare, aged spirits dating from the late 19th to early 20th centuries. barnightjar.com
Ever After, Hoxton
This elegant, low-key bar sits above sister outfit Happiness Forgets in Hoxton Square. Inside, there’s bistro-style seating, banquettes and exposed brick walls, with Crittall doors opening on to a covered terrace with choice views of the square. It’s got heaters and blankets, too, should you want to people watch in winter.
Cocktails are elegant and precise – sherry cobbler gets a modern makeover as a milk punch and is beautifully rounded, with dry salinity from the sherry alongside tropical fruit notes. The bar’s house martinis are prebatched and stashed in the freezer until needed – our Plymouth gin one was deliciously silky and icy. Do check out the list of zero-alcohol cocktails, too, include the warming, smoky Dry Penicillin and a convincingly punchy and herbaceous booze-free negroni.
Come for drinks but stay for dinner, with generous sharing plates including steak tartare with crispy croutons, and roast aubergine with pumpkin purée and salsa verde, as well as simple yet luscious chocolate mousse made in big batches and scooped into bowls at your table. everafterbar.com
Bandra Bhai, Fitzrovia
If you’re looking for a secret late-night bar in central London to impress friends, then this is the place to visit. Hidden away in the basement of Pali Hill is secluded cocktail bar Bandra Bhai, with interiors inspired by 1970s India and old smuggling dens. Head bartender (and drinks wizard) Dav Eames explains to us that he recently sourced the original 70s glassware from vintage shops – a hint of the passion that lies behind the menu.
The 70s inspiration continues with drinks such as the Disco Inferno, made with cardamom gin. Indian history is also a touchstone, which is why the tequila, ginger, lemon and grapefruit cocktail Bangbang Bandstand gets its name from the joyful miscreants that used to accumulate on bandstands. Each drink has a story linked to it and three main flavours, which is apparent in our favourite, the Gaba Singh Side-Hustle which has pineapple, celery and cognac and comes served in what can only be described as pure opulence, a golden pineapple glass. bandrabhai.co.uk