Every one of the bars and pubs in London with al fresco drinking featured in SquareMeal’s list of London’s best bars and pubs for alfresco drinking have been tried and tested by critics and our own customers. For more drinking inspiration, see our recommendations for the best bars in London. Each SquareMeal listing features an independent review, as well as reviews from those who have visited, together with unique special offers such as free drinks and discounts.
Brasserie Max (bar) at the Covent Garden Hotel
Covent Garden Hotel, 10 Monmouth Street, London, WC2H 9HB
Popular with magazine girls, PRs and shopped-out fashionistas, the bar/brasserie at Firmdale's Covent Garden Hotel exemplifies the owners' singular signature style – imagine Montparnasse belle époque meets Amanda Holden. It's handy for all-day eats and hangover cures, although cocktail hour (and later) is the best time for pukka ‘premium classics': Vesper, sidecar and a Manhattan built on Pappy Van Winkle bourbon come in at £13. The same spend gets various ‘bellinis' including Thai Tom (lychee liqueur, passion fruit, orgéat and fizz), while a blend of Bombay Sapphire gin, crème de fraise, strawberries, ginger, lemon and orange juice is nice enough, but hardly merits the moniker ‘wow'. With salads, sandwiches, dumplings, assorted platters and numerous global grazing plates on offer, it's as well the seats are so accommodating – you may be here for some time.
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The American Bar at The Savoy
The Savoy, Strand, London, WC2R 0ET
The American Bar opened in 1893, when glamorous 'American-style' mixed cocktails were all the rage, and has played host to a procession of legendary bartenders – not least Harry Craddock, author of the iconic Savoy Cocktail Book back in 1930. Today you'll find Erik Lorincz behind the stick, heading up a team that's won pretty much every bar award going. The theme for their 2017 cocktail menu (it changes every year) is a regional tour around Britain, featuring creative mixes such as Arthur's Seat with Royal Brackla 16 Year Old whisky and the herbaceous Heathland History, with Gin Mare and mushroom-infused vermouth. Attention to detail is what really sets this bar apart, from its vintage decor and bespoke glassware to bartenders who remember your name and favourite drink. Shut your eyes; soak up the delicious buzz, tinkling piano and clinking of ice in cocktail shakers – and be transported back to the golden age of cocktails.
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Upstairs at Rules
£50 - £79
35 Maiden Lane, London, W2CE 7LB
The tasselled lampshades, mahogany panelling and plush carpet may feel vintage, but this little bar has only been around for a decade – considerably less time than the venerable Rules restaurant below, founded in 1798. No matter; the mood here is precisely what you'd expect of a bar attached to London's longest-running restaurant, with impeccable old-school service and dependable classic cocktails, including the Sazerac and Clover Club. Happily, head bartender Mike Cook is no slave to tradition, so expect modern mixes such as Dick Bradsell's Bramble too, alongside a list of eight signature serves, including the sparkling Normandini (calvados, peach and sparkling Crémant wine) or Eau de Savoja made with rare 1960s Amaro Savoja. There's a knock-out selection of whiskies too, ticking off American rye and bourbon as well as some iconic single malts – great with bar food such as venison carpaccio.
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Beaufort Bar at The Savoy
£30 - £49
The Savoy, Strand, London, WC2R 0ET
If the Savoy’s American Bar is Frank Sinatra doing it his way, the Beaufort Bar is Billie Holiday singing the blues: seductive and smooth, with an edge of darkness. There aren't many bars in London that match the sheer glamour of the Beaufort, with its sleek black and gold decor, complemented by silky service. Its latest menu pays tribute to the long history of the Savoy, with drinks including the Garden of Memories, a fresh mix of Tequila, Suze, passion fruit, St Germain and lime, inspired by one of the hotel’s most lavish parties, when its courtyard was flooded and dinner was served on gondolas. A few of the Savoy’s famous guests have inspired cocktails too: The Grass is Always Greener is a homage to crooner Tom Jones; while Under the Stars is a Woodford Reserve Old Fashioned twist for Fred Astaire, who once danced on the roof of the hotel. A jaw-dropping range of rare and vintage spirits is also on offer for those with deep pockets.
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ME London Hotel, 336-337 The Strand, London, WC2R 1HA
Impossibly glamorous (and sometimes impossible to get into if you haven't booked) the exclusive rooftop bar at ME London piles on the wow factor with its minimalist monochrome decor and views over the City skyline. On warm days, the prime spots are the white leather sofas by the rooftop edge: perfect for alfresco posing. House cocktails run from the Mexican (a refreshing blend of El Jimador Tequila, cucumber, mint and agave) to South Pacific (Leblon cachaça, kiwi, elderflower and apple juice), while the Champagne list is reassuringly extensive (and expensive), with bottles of Bolly for £100 and jeroboams of Cristal 1999 weighing in at a cool £5,000. Meanwhile, aficionados can pair Cognac or whisky with a Montecristo No.4 from the cigar menu. Daytime eats include risottos, salads and burgers, with dainty tapas on offer when the lights go down.
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The Martini Bar at Christopher's
Christopher's, 18 Wellington Street, London, WC2E 7DD
The smart bar at Christopher's (once London's first licensed casino) is a safe bet for a decent Martini in theatreland. The stage is set with a seductive backdrop of muted masculine tones, gleaming metallic fittings and lighting that makes everyone look A-list. Perch at the sleek onyx sharing table or settle into a moss-green banquette to review the stars of the show: a selection of classic, contemporary and decadent Martinis, all properly made with your gin or vodka of choice. We're rather fond of the namesake Christopher's, made with Snow Leopard vodka, Lillet Blanc, Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur and plum bitters. The bar team here knows its stuff and US classics such as Manhattan, Bronx, Brooklyn and Sazerac are perfect with a menu of stateside staples (sliders, tacos, Cobb salad, Philly steak sandwiches).
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Scarfes Bar at Rosewood London
252 High Holborn, London, WC1V 7EN
Named in honour of political cartoonist Gerald Scarfe, whose colourful works hang on the walls, this bar has character in spades. There's a real buzz about the handsome room, with its velvet armchairs, standard lamps and shelves of antique books, while a swinging soundtrack and staff in tartan 'trews' makes it feel like a party in a Victorian parlour.
The leather-bound ‘bartenders book’ is a delightful tome, containing 16 'house creations' and a brief but impeccably curated selection of wines, Champagne, port and sherry. There are a couple of craft beers too, but the pièce de résistance is a list of spirits that reads like a who's who of distilling – the whisky selection is a notable highlight. Properly mixed cocktails meanwhile, pay homage to iconic noughties celebs including the Tequila-based Back to Black, inspired by Amy Winehouse, and the High Wasted: a whisky and tobacco sip dedicated to Simon Cowell.
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Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels Seven Dials
£30 - £49
8-10 Neal’s Yard, London, WC2H 9DP
From the team behind Soho's Experimental Cocktail Club, this chic little wine bar boasts a Parisian sibling in St-Germain-des-Prés – and its brilliant list is a love song to regional French oenology (with a few detours to Spain and Italy). We have fond memories of a textured Sardinian white from Cantina Poderosa and a rustic Côtes du Roussillon – made even better with charcuterie and a bowl of perfectly crisp baby squid with zingy espelette pepper from the pitch-perfect menu. Elsewhere, the drinks list features a mystery glass (guess the wine and win a bottle) as well as interesting grower Champagnes, wild cards from Corsica and the Jura, plus big-hitting Bordeaux and Burgundies. The cosy interior is spread over two floors (upstairs is more airy) with plump cushions, divans, low tables and sparkling candlelight conjuring the feel of an elegant modern salon.
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Corinthia Hotel London, Whitehall Place, London, SW1A 2BD
Like its orchestral namesake, Bassoon strikes a smooth tone, thanks to a combination of great drinks, slick service and sophisticated surroundings – a cubist homage to the jazz era courtesy of the late David Collins. The glossy bar counter extends from an ebony baby-grand piano that plays live music most evenings, while perfectly pitched cocktails range from the delicate Bocal (Grey Goose La Poire, pomegranate, lemon and elderflower liqueur) to punchy El Estadista, a mix of whisky, sherry, curaçao and house-made grenadine. Classic Martinis and Champagne cocktails lend support, along with particularly impressive selections of whisky, Cognac and rum to go with swanky prawn tempura, Wagyu beef cubes and Grouville Bay oysters. Such style doesn’t come cheap: if you stray towards the vintage Champagnes and beluga caviar, your plastic will take a serious hit – though we doubt that's a problem for the Corinthia's well-heeled guests.
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Hawksmoor Seven Dials Bar
11 Langley Street, London, WC2H 9JG
Hawksmoor's butch London steakhouses are bankers for beefed-up cocktails that consistently cut the mustard. The woody basement bar beneath its Covent Garden outpost recalls an officers' mess when hearts of oak still ruled the waves, so grab yourself a swivel stool and settle in for ship-shape toddies, grogs, cups, cobblers, shrubs and punches served by live-wire staff. A navy-strength gimlet should fend off scurvy, while the main ingredient of shipwreck sour (cider brandy, Cognac, ginger wine, lemon and egg white) claims to be a happy by-product of a maritime misadventure off the Devon coast. Tiki-style rum numbers appear in a section entitled ‘disco drinks', while three bottles of Manhattan (£17.50) for two to share could do some serious damage on the dance floor. London ales and porter, lobster rolls, hot dogs and big juicy burgers with to-die-for triple-cooked chips are further reasons to drop anchor here.
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Good Godfrey's at The Waldorf Hilton
The Waldorf Hilton, Aldwych, London, WC2B 4DD
Back in the Roaring Twenties, Howard Godfrey was leader of the Waldorf hotel's house band, entertaining flappers at wild parties in the Palm Court. The bar named after him strikes the right note with its polite service and menu of classic cocktails, and although the mood is rather restrained, it's a dependable choice for pre-theatre snifters in a smart setting. Skilfully?made drinks from a list dotted with historical snippets include the Vieux Carré (rye whiskey, cognac, vermouth and Bénédictine) and the Refined Madam (Tanqueray 10 gin with rose liqueur, cardamom syrup, lavender bitters and lime juice). Whisky-lovers will appreciate the good choice of global brands, though wine and beer selections lack imagination. To eat, classic Waldorf salads and international snacks (falafel, Thai fishcakes, etc) suit the hotel crowd.
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Grays & Feather
26 Wellington Street, London, WC2E 7DD
A quirky rococo picture windowed salon and a dark post-punk Dickensian downstairs lounge in the author's 1860s former offices – that’s whimsical new wave wine bar Grays & Feather summed up. A showcase for owner/ importer Andrew Gray's passion, top notch sparkling wines are the compelling tale here. Competitively priced, his 50-strong global selection deliberately excludes Champagne in order to place emphasis on sparkling wines from other regions, but a few more by-the-glass options wouldn’t go amiss.
However, with classy crémants, elegant Italian bubbles and rapidly improving English fizz, alongside Japanese and Brazilian Bruts, Canadian cuvées, super South African Krone Borealis and an ace nutty, peppery, ripe pear and greengage-y Grüner Veltliner (representing Austria) to brighten your day, who needs Champagne? Limited kitchen space dictates a menu of cold assemblies that are not yet as consistent as the wine list: smoked salmon tartare, and smoky, spicy miso-cured aubergine work well enough, and cheese and vegetarian sharing boards are adequate, if over-priced. However, crab meat which is overpowered by nduja and spread thin on a brioche briquette, fails to pop our cork.
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£50 - £79
4-6 Russell Street, London, WC2B 5HZ
According to one reader, Balthazar could be “the best brasserie in London for atmosphere and service". Elsewhere, abundant praise for the lively buzz and "happy, friendly staff" is proof that this London outpost of Keith McNally's upscale bistro lives up to the reputation of his NYC original. By and large, the food wins approval too, with particular mentions for the "delicious afternoon tea" and "just the best dauphinoise potatoes". Order them alongside wickedly rich duck confit or coq au vin, preceded by chicken liver parfait, steak tartare or garlicky escargots. The all-day offer also includes delectable pastries from Balthazar’s boulangerie next door, omelette Arnold Bennett for brunch, plateaux de fruits de mer from the seafood bar or eggs mimosa followed by roast hake with bouillabaisse soup on the prix fixe. "It's a great place for breakfast, lunch or dinner and business meetings" concludes one ardent admirer; another simply says “sit back, enjoy the buzz and don’t worry about your wallet”.
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The Lobby Bar at One Aldwych
1 Aldwych, London, WC2B 4BZ
“THE LOBBY BAR IS CLOSED DURING THE REFURBISHMENT OF ONE ALDWYCH HOTEL. IT WILL REOPEN ON 9 APRIL 2019. ”
This luxury lounge boasts all the trappings of a smart hotel bar, so expect silky service, a stylish ambience and classy cocktails with a high price tag. Expensively put together with dramatic floral displays and objets d'art, the airy room has sleek polished stone floors and large double-height windows to create a sense of occasion, while dramatic drinks live up to the decor. Two can share the show-stopping Bewitched Passion: Babicka vodka mixed with homemade fennel syrup, pomegranate shrub and peppermint bitters, topped with Champagne and served in an absinthe fountain. If that's too OTT, go for a demure Peach Bellini or classic Sidecar. An approachable international wine list is safer still, while bar snacks are pitched firmly at the hotel's well-heeled international clientele – think club sandwiches, mini burgers with truffle mayo and platters of smoked salmon, crab and prawns.
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