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.
61 Poland Street, London, W1F 7NU
Milk & Honey remains as relevant today as it was in 2002, when this private members' club for grown-ups first got Soho excited. Unlike some venues, you can actually make it past reception, even if you haven't paid your £400 annual dues. How come? If you’re a non-member with a prior reservation, you simply have to accept the house rules and you’ll be welcome in the ground-floor bar until 11pm. If you want to linger longer (you will), best get pally with a member rather than face the Cinderella walk of shame long before the clock strikes midnight. Champagne starts at £55 (BYO glass slipper) and wines by the glass are easy money, but you'd be mad to miss out on Milk & Honey’s old school sips such as Boulevardier, Floradora and Prescription Julep – top picks from a tempting range of spot-on shakes, stirs and pick-me-ups.
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Fifth Floor, 240 Regent Street (entrance 30 Argyll Street), London, W1B 3BR
Although they’re increasingly common in other parts of town, rooftop bars are as rare as prolonged sunny spells in Soho – which makes Aqua Spirit’s open-air chill-out a poseur's paradise for blue-sky drinkers. Frequently themed according to the season, its terraces and cocktails are as smartly turned out as the venue’s fashion-conscious clientele: in 2016, the autumn highlight was the Hanging Gardens of Kyoto, a cute installation that followed hot on the Louboutin heels of summer's Veuve Clicquot Rosé garden. When the weather inevitably throws a tantrum, shelter indoors at the carousel bar, retreat to one of the kimono silk-lined booths and get stuck into a list of east-west Daiquiris, Saketinis and Shanghai-style classics such as Nippon Negroni, plus some Eurasian street food. Prices are more haute couture than bargain basement in this new incarnation of Dickins & Jones department store.
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One Ham Yard, London, W1D 7DT
Whether you're warming up before a trip to the theatre or simply chilling on the terrace with something suitably intoxicating, the bar at this boutique Soho hotel is a "buzzy fun place with good service". As a chic, urbane oasis, it combines spicy tones and jazzy 1950s graphics with a thoroughly upbeat drinks list – think modern wines by the glass or carafe, fizz from small producers and plenty of zingy cocktails. We like the sound of Rosemary Vesper, and Black Mamba (Portobello Road gin, homemade spiced blackberry coulis, lemon and honey), as well as the Smoke 'n' Bubbles (mezcal, agave, lime and Champagne). If you fancy a nibble, pick from various melts, sliders and small plates (beer-battered oysters, for example) – plus 'profitabombes' such as pistachio custard, white chocolate and orange brittle for those of a sweet disposition.
More detail about Ham Yard Bar at Ham Yard Hotel
20 Sherwood Street, W1F 7ED
As Dick's Bar at The Atlantic, this Soho hangout was Cool Britannia's default cocktail lounge. The achingly hip crowd may have migrated out east, but this polished birch-panelled bar at Corbin & King's original Beaux Arts brasserie is always a joy to visit – not least for its dreamy art-deco interior, divine bar and gorgeous Martinis. Discover your inner Fred Astaire (ol' twinkle-toes once drank here) as your taste buds tango with retro tipples such as Aviation and Millionaire – sips that date back to the days when aviation was strictly for millionaires. If you want to get squiffy, we also suggest asking the barman to rustle up classics such as Hanky Panky and Hotsy Totsy (a vodka, raspberry and ginger job). Be sure to check out the Crazy Coqs cabaret and bar next door, another life-affirming space worthy of a 1930s Busby Berkeley extravaganza.
More detail about Bar Américain at Brasserie Zédel
58 Poland Street, London, W1F 7NR
Compared to the original 'blind pigs' – riotous mob-run Prohibition-era rackets that flogged illegal moonshine to parched punters – the destination lounge bar upstairs at Jason Atherton’s Michelin-starred Social Eating House is hardly a den of iniquity. In fact, despite its tattooed barkeeps, this stab at a 1920s Yankee speakeasy feels positively restrained – a set for a Gatsby-style fashion shoot for Esquire or GQ perhaps? Refined rinses such as Vitamin C Vesper, Scarlet Martinez or Mexicillin (a smoky, peppy Tequila and mezcal slug) are generally more Boston gentry than Chicago hoodlum. And the only speakeasy that a Kindergarten Cup belongs in is Fat Sam's Grand Slam, as seen in 1970s kiddies’ gangster flick, Bugsy Malone. By contrast, chef-patron Paul Hood’s bar bites and jars are very much for grown-ups – think confit duck rillettes with mango, chorizo dogs, fried chicken with ponzu, and suchlike.
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66-70 Brewer Street, London, W1F 9UP
Like an upscale, arty members club that’s open to allcomers, the quintessentially cool basement bar at Hix Soho is as sharp as a Paul Smith Paisley shirt, as comfy as John Lobb ankle boots, as classic as a camel Crombie and as relaxed as your best, lived-in denims – the sort of wardrobe that understated core Hixters cleave to. Hix’s similarly stylish cocktails are a mix of familiar friends (Hanky Panky, Zombie, Gin Punch à la Terrington) and future ‘bezzies’ such as Dorset Donkey (a Black Cow vodka, cherry and sage mule). True to his West Country roots, the chef/ patron's list also includes cider-based swallows such as Temperley Sour. Prices are Soho average for above-average ‘snax’ of whipped squash with ricotta and toasted walnuts, steak tartare, chips with curry sauce, rock samphire pakoras or Essex cockle popcorn – a steal at three for a tenner.
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13a Gerrard Street, London, W1D 5PS
Like its Shoreditch sibling, Joyeux Bordel, ECC is from the same stable as à la mode Parisian thoroughbreds such as Prescription in St. Germain-des-Prés. Beyond the scruffy door, guarded by a friendly (or otherwise) greeter, you’ll discover a moody boho pile packed with Pinteresting people and arranged over the upper floors of a Chinatown dwelling: opinions of the full EEC experience are invariably divided, although few would dispute that it delivers consistently good drinks knocked out by keen-to-please/snottily superior staff (make up your own mind). Expect to shell out at least £70 for a quartet of contemporary spins on classic recipes: the line-up varies, but those we have loved include the Martini Suissesse (a blend of absinthe, vermouth, mint and orgéat that tastes like pimped-up Pernod) and Old Cuban (a rum, ginger and shampoo coupe). Steer clear of cocktails made with vintage spirits – unless you're feeling really flush and really flash.
More detail about Experimental Cocktail Club