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.
‘Manhattan meets Mayfair’ is how Avenue’s owners describe its 2014 makeover, which sees blonde woods, taupe and teal leather warming up a previously stark space. The glamorous long bar and lounge
suggests Upper East Side – a grown-up port of call offering craft beers, wines from a Coravin preservation system and cocktails created by iconic bartenders, past and present. Dip into New York’s
archive for Bronx twist (a Tequila martini drunk by Broadway babes at the Waldorf Astoria) or Old Cuban – a noughties Champagne mojito from Pegu Club’s Audrey Saunders. Elsewhere, sidecar, Dottore
(an apricot take on Salvatore Calabrese’s modern breakfast martini) and various creations such as white lady by legend Harry Craddock (late of The Savoy) are fine British heritage calls. To eat,
nibble on devilled eggs, sliders, BBQ pork and corn muffins, pretzels with hot sauce or watermelon rind with pickle.
Is there anything better than a Martini from Dukes Bar? We think not. This classic hotel lounge inspired James Bond author Ian Fleming, who created the Vesper Martini here. A mix of Gordon’s gin, vodka and Lillet vermouth – shaken not stirred, of course – it appeared in the 1953 novel Casino Royale and the rest is history... White-jacketed head bartender Alessandro Palazzi is almost as legendary as 007 in bartending circles and his Martini trolley is a wonder to behold, though we advise slow sipping of his knockout mixes. All Martinis are made to order at your table, and with up to 200 served daily, you know you’re in safe hands. If you’re feeling adventurous, try Palazzi’s signature 89 Jermyn Street – a blend of tonka bean-infused vodka, rose, amber vermouth and chocolate bitters inspired by Bond's favoured cologne, Floris No 89. Also boasting a bijou Cognac and cigar ‘garden’ with potted palms, Dukes Bar is licensed to thrill.
Dukes Bar at Dukes Hotel
During the 1930s, several bars opened in London’s luxe hotels catering to high-society’s thirst for US-style cocktails, but this renowned establishment is one of the few survivors. It received a sensitive refurb in 2018, leaving an enlarged, tastefully tweaked main bar alongside the heroically eccentric original lounge. In both you’ll find signed photos of celebrated guests down the decades – everyone from François Mitterrand to Dolly Parton. Similarly absorbing is the new St James’s-themed drinks list by legendary manager Benoît Provost. We enjoyed a take on the Queen Mum’s trademark gin and Dubonnet that added pear liqueur, Bénédictine and lemon to refreshing effect, and The Godolphin, a Woodford Reserve bourbon, berries-infused red-wine and cinnamon Sour. Five-star comfort food helps cure hunger pangs – juicy chorizo and pepper brochettes, say – backed up by a stellar wine cellar. On balmy evenings sip a glass in the cute cobbled mews leading to this unique institution.
The American Bar at The Stafford
Not often does a restaurant bar stand up to the main event in its own right, but aptly-named Pukka Bar certainly does not get lost in the mother ship that is Chutney Mary. Situated at the front of the building, the large room plays host to Indian carvings and dark wood, softened by silver and copper hues and modernised with contemporary light fixtures. Comfortable sofas beckon for a morning coffee or sharply sweet Watermelon Cosmopolitan by night, while an 18-foot-long table provides a more formal setting for business meetings. Cocktails are exotic twists on the classics: our Mango Mojito was syrupy-thick yet minty fresh, while the bitterness of an Old Fashioned was appeased by soft peach. A mixologist is on hand to guide you, or create your own ‘flavour profile’ if you want to go off route – it’s hard to be disappointed. Bar snacks are on a par with the main restaurant, so signature venison samosas are miniaturised but retain all of the flavour of rich minced meat encased in paper-thin pastry, while bitesize squid bhajias are crispy and aromatic. A masala steak sandwich or tamarind duck salad are great for lunchtime, or there’s plump and fragrant Calcutta prawns arriving with lemon quinoa – an inspired alternative to rice. Mango tart to finish was the perfect palate freshener and cut through any lingering heat. With afternoon tea available and a good selection of European beer, Pukka Bar’s relaxed, all-encompassing outreach may even appeal more to some than the main restaurant.
Pukka Bar at Chutney Mary
An exercise in art-deco opulence, The Rivoli Bar's elaborate jewel-box interior will make minimalists break out in hives with its gilded ceiling domes, tone-on-tone marble, camphor wood walls, swirly chandeliers, Lalique glass and leopard-print stools. A byword for luxury, the Ritz's aristocratic charms come at a correspondingly kingly cost: you’ll need to shell out handsomely for a shot of Churchill’s Courage (a Manhattan involving butter-washed bourbon, maple syrup and white port), an Iron Lady (a Champagne cocktail with Bombay Sapphire gin, quinine bark and lime) or the Modern Traveller (Plymouth Gin, spiced water, fig liqueur, Cassis and lemon juice served in a glass pipe). Oligarchs and the landed gentry can swan it with big-ticket bubbles, beluga caviar and luxe seafood platters, while the lower orders get small change from £100 for a bottle of house white Burgundy and a burger.
The Rivoli Bar at The Ritz London
Said to be based on Coco Chanel's private salon at her Rue Cambon HQ, this bijou cocoon offers couture cocktails with a Gallic accent. Lounge on leather banquettes as belle époque staff dressed like characters from a Guy de Maupassant novel rustle up a ‘Dragon’s Son’ (Metaxa 12 Stars infused with Nuit d’Eté, Sauternes infused with Bulgare tea, Taylor’s 20, sugar syrup, Campari and homemade sloe gin mousse), a Pin ‘Oak’ 10 (Vida Mezcal infused with peppermint, Lapsang Souchong star anise, rhubarb liqueur, rhubarb bitters, lemon juice, orange juice, honey syrup and la Fée Absinthe) or a sour yet flowery ‘Enchanted Rose’. Also expect wines by the glass, beers, and some Franglais snacks – fried baby calamaris with wasabi tartare sauce, lobster thermidor croquettes and beef tartare, truffled egg yolk and beetroot crisps. Vive l'entente cordiale!
St James Bar