Whether you're planning a romantic first date or a night out with your mates, you'll find the perfect setting in London's ever-growing bar scene. Of course, a cocktail culture as enormous as London's can be tricky to navigate, so we've curated a list of the top 10 bars to help you simplify your planning process. You can pay us back by buying the first round. Cheers!
The American Bar has been the home of alcoholic innovation for more than a century. (In 1903, head bartender Ada Coleman invented a cocktail called the Hanky Panky, for goodness' sake!) The bar releases a new cocktail menu every year, each one more dazzlingly innovative than the last. The 2017 menu, Coast to Coast, takes visitors on a journey from the verdant gardens of Kent (think fresh, floral flavours) to the rugged Highlands (deep, dark, and lots of whiskey). Everything about the American Bar oozes glamour, from the pianist tinkling the keys of a baby grand to the portraits of showbiz stars from bygone eras adorning the walls. The bar is walk-in only, so prepare to queue for twenty minutes or so. We promise it will be worth the wait.
Lyaness brings 21st century cool to the Southbank. With its leather banquettes, green marble bar, elegant gold trim, and unbeatable views of the Thames, Lyaness is endlessly photogenic, perfect for stylish night out. You can expect to drink well, too – after all, Lyaness is the succession of Dandelyan, which was named World's Best Cocktail Bar 2017. The latest menu plays with the theme of botany, transforming ingredients like lilac and bitter hibiscus into luxe libations. Despite its elaborate drinks and location at the ultra-posh Mondrian Hotel, don't expect to find a stuck-up crowd at Lyaness.
Until you experience the Connaught Bar's martini trolley, you haven't truly experienced a martini. A bold claim, we know, but let us explain. The Connaught Bar breathes new life into the ceremony of martini-making. Place your order and a mixologist will roll a trolley to your table and encourage you to smell a selection of small black vials. Each vial contains a potent extract, from lavender to liquorice; based on your preferences, your mixologist will create a personalised martini suited precisely to your tastes. Of course, there are plenty of other cocktails to try here, too. We love the Fleurissimo, an updated champagne cocktail featuring violet liqueur, created in honour of a visit by Princess Grace of Monaco. While we can't all be princes and princesses, there's nothing like an evening at the Connaught Bar to make anyone feel like royalty.
Go to The Gibson for the relaxed, speakeasy ambience; stay for the colourful cocktails and remarkably attentive service. This small Art Deco-styled bar in East London serves up some of the most creative drinks in town. Case in point: Winter in Neverland, a gin-based drink that includes vintage cider, mulled spice, apple and pear conserve, and Mandarin bitter. Did we mention it's served in a teapot? And the lid of the teapot is a waffle? Every item on the 48-drink menu is equally wacky and wonderful, and if you're having trouble making up your mind (we don't blame you), the friendly wait staff offers thoughtful insight to ensure you make the right decision. Then again, you can't exactly make a wrong decision at a bar like The Gibson.
Tucked away beneath Hoxton Square, Happiness Forgets is one of London’s best basement bars. Once you descend the narrow stairwell, you’ll find yourself in a cosy candlelit room that seats no more than 50 people. In a bar this small, you can’t help but get cosy with your neighbours, making Happiness Forgets an ideal spot for a romantic outing. The cocktail menu changes regularly, but a few favourite drinks have become permanent additions, like Perfect Storm (a drama-filled combination of dark rum, honey, lemon, ginger juice, and plum brandy). While Happiness Forgets does allow you to queue for a table, you’ll look particularly slick and in-the-know if you book ahead and skip the line.
Nightjar is one of London’s most beloved speakeasies, and for good reason: it was designed with a perfectionist’s attention to detail. Everything is lovingly crafted with the intention of transporting you back in time, from the unmarked front door (you’ll have to knock) to the menu (presented on a deck of cards). When the clock strikes 9:30 PM, the nightly live music begins, and you’ll be treated to a sultry evening of jazz and blues from decades past. The cocktails are divided into four historical categories: Pre-Prohibition, Prohibition, Post-War, and Nightjar Signatures. Convince your guests to order strategically so that you can sip something from each of the four eras. It’s as close as you can get to time travel.
Named after Rome’s Termini Station, this cocktail and coffee bar is proudly italiano. You’re welcome to scurry in and stand at the bar as you down a £1 espresso, but if you aren’t accustomed to that particular Italian tradition, you’ll probably decide to grab one of the 25 available seats and relax as you sip a café latte or bianco. You’ll want to savour it: the coffee side of Bar Termini’s operation is led by Marco Arrigo, the head of quality at Illy. Later, you can enjoy the assortment of Italian-style cocktails and Proseccos at unusually low prices. Order a cheese or charcuterie board and you’ll really be living la dolce vita.
The unassuming Smithfield Market entrance disguises Oriole Bar’s sumptuous interior, making for a thrillingly theatrical arrival. Of course, plenty of bars provide a splashy entrance while failing to deliver much else, but at Oriole Bar, the thrill never fades, even as the night wears on. The theme here is world exploration, epitomized by the tropical palm wallpaper and display cases filled with artefacts from around the globe. The cocktail menu follows along with this theme, serving up drinks in three distinct categories: Old World, New World, and Orient. If you want to close your eyes and pretend you’re on a tropical vacation, the Oriole Bar is for you. There’s a glossary at the back of each menu, so don’t feel intimidated by drinks that feature unusual-but-delicious-sounding ingredients like mauby liqueur and sea buckthorn jam. Go explore!
Shoreditch’s Callooh Callay Bar is a quirky wonderland. The menu arrives in an empty cassette case, and once you order your first cocktail, you’ll receive a sticker book where you can mark off each new drink you try with a specially-designed sticker. There’s no shortage of wild and wonderful drinks to experience, from the sweet and sultry Chica de Ganso (rum with black cherry emulsion, chocolate, orange, lime, and yoghurt powder) to the hearty Green Mountain (bourbon with vermouth, stone fruit, lemon, grenadine, and cider). Once you’ve filled your sticker book, you’ll receive access to the top-secret Jubjub Bar, a members-only room upstairs where guest bartenders whip up drinks you won’t find anywhere else. If you don’t have your Jubjub key yet, we recommend asking to be seated in “the cupboard,” a Narnia-like wardrobe that opens up into a small room well-suited to cosy conversation.
The Artesian Bar has received the revered title “World’s Best Bar” from Drinks International for several years in a row. So what makes this place so special? Its location at the Langham, one of the finest hotels in central London, certainly plays a role. The breathtaking high-ceilinged space accented by purple leather and cowhide can’t hurt, either. There are two cocktail menus – “Artesian Classics” and “Perception” – offering both traditional and experimental drinks, all flawlessly made. But of course, the real treat at Artesian Bar is the atmosphere and service. The warm wait staff dotes on each table, dropping by to deliver complimentary canapés at all the right moments. Despite the posh hotel it occupies, the Artesian Bar is remarkably relaxed and unpretentious, ensuring a truly exquisite experience for each and every visitor.