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.
Knowing that it’s run by the crew behind Kate and Wills’ favourite hangout Boujis should tell you an awful lot about Eclipse South Ken. Open until the wee small hours, it’s invariably packed with
the jeunesse dorée, happy to splash the cash and groove to occasional live music or nightly DJs in high-glam, recently revamped surrounds. Spirits are sold by the bottle (don’t expect much change
from £200) and are brought to the table with a selection of mixers, while Champagnes are big names with equally big price tags. Otherwise it’s all about varied and imaginative cocktails mixed
with panache: try the signature Eclipse (Russian Standard vodka, fresh watermelon and Kaffir lime). There’s a branch at 111-113 Walton Street SW3 and another in Barcelona.
Eclipse - Old Brompton Road
Given that it’s somewhat adrift of Chelsea and Fulham’s main drinking hotbeds, on the southern flank of Brompton Cemetery, we hope this revitalised boozer doesn’t end up as a bit of a graveyard. ‘Cold beer and a warm heart’ promises a neon sign in the window, and the Pensioner is aimed at locals rather than Saturday’s out-of-town casuals en route to watch Mourinho’s men at nearby Stamford Bridge. Those who do make it all the way to the Royal Borough’s western limit will find cheerful pick-and-mix retro decor, Meantime ales on tap, Prosecco at £15, sub-£3 spirits and mixers during extended happy hours – plus cocktails such as Rob Roy and Daiquiri, affordable flatbread pizzas, a pool table and a rear courtyard. Live music, quizzes, film nights and comedy turns are also promised.
The Chelsea Pensioner
“A Mecca for floppy-haired Sloanes in Jack Wills shirts”, this teeming Chelsea hostelry has one huge selling point in the shape of a luxuriant heated garden, which gets packed to the gunnels on warm days and balmy evenings. Inside, the ‘Feeney’ sports a high-ceilinged saloon bar lit by Droog chandeliers, with sentimental artefacts and a library of antique books – a perfect setting for revellers who fancy knocking back a few house Mojitos before hitting Boujis. Otherwise, the conservatory-style dining room is a draw for lunching ladies who feed on plates of jerk chicken and pineapple salad, butternut squash and Gorgonzola ravioli or venison loin with pumpkin, passion fruit and ‘huntsman’ sauce. Pud might herald saffron and orange pannacotta, and there are plenty of organic names on the Euro-accented wine list. Alternatively, a stripped-back ‘deli’ dispenses all-day sharing platters, sandwiches and cheeses.
Following a punchy summer 2016 revamp by owners D&D, the lounge bar at Bluebird is at the forefront of SW3’s social scene. The industrial edge on the first floor of this 1920s former garage has been softened by a pleasing Raoul Dufy-esque colour palette of mandarin, pomegranate, pinks and blues. Celia Birtwell prints, jazzy rugs, mismatched 1930s-style furniture and lush green ferns do their bit too. Sit at an art deco stainless-steel island bar to sample wine from £19 and an intriguing range of well-made, reasonably priced crustas, cups, cobblers and twisted classics including Gingerbread Mojito, Beaufort Beauty (pisco, dessert wine, passion fruit and sloe gin), and aged Old Fashioneds and Negronis served from (nice touch) miniature petrol pumps. Snack on tiger prawns aïoli, barbecued quail and guacamole, or olive and artichoke tapenade with croûtons – or simply gossip over G&Ts. Buzzy, brash and brilliant, Bluebird is back with a vengeance.
The Bar at Bluebird Chelsea
Tom and Ed Martin’s Botanist has been rocking Sloane Square since 2008, so its recent Russell Sage refurb seems rather timely – note the vibrant paintings of parrots and elephants that now provide a backdrop to the restaurant’s leather banquettes and snug upholstered booths. The adjoining art-deco bar buzzes throughout the day, while adjustable glass screens shield diners from the lively after-work crowd. A versatile all-day menu kicks off with breakfast (perhaps a full English or ricotta pancakes with bacon and berries), ahead of an international line-up spanning everything from tuna tartare with avocado, radish and macadamia nuts or succulent scallops partnered by crisp Serrano ham and burnt cauliflower purée to veal schnitzel, chicken with wild mushrooms and polenta, spinach tortellini and fish dishes such as cod with chorizo and bean stew. There are also steaks and a Longhorn burger from the grill, while imaginative salads keep the veggies happy. With pre-theatre suppers, weekend brunch, a sensible wine list and exceptionally friendly staff, The Botanist is in fine form for its tenth anniversary in spring 2018.
The Botanist Sloane Square
Few bars have quite such a handle on fun as this surreptitious speakeasy, located a couple of corridor turns into Chelsea Cloisters. Slip the doorman a wink, kick back a heel and dive headlong into a world of 1930s kitsch – from the pulp fiction-inspired entrance to the ruby red wallpaper, bric-a-brac artwork and well-thumbed dressing-up box. All the classic cocktails are present and correct (think a Whiskey Sour with Bulleit Bourbon), but if you really want to let the good times roll, we recommend the tasting selection of house cocktails served in miniature teacups or specials such as Mystic Note (a gramophone filled with lemongrass-infused Tanqueray, apple juice and gomme syrup). ‘Shady associates’ Gaucho, next door, provide a succinct food menu, so if things start getting out of hand, soak up the excess gin with a steak slider or a burger and chimichurri chips.
Like its Clapham sibling, this Jam Tree has quickly taken root in its chosen neighbourhood. Technically it’s in Fulham, but the Made in Chelsea set is happy to slum it on the wrong side of the tracks for jam-flavoured cocktail jars such as Damson in a Dress or Jammy Dodger (served hot). Numerous takes on Bloody Mary and the bar’s ‘cowboy breakfast’ help habitual hangovers, while the sun-trap beer garden (complete with alfresco bar and hog-roast BBQs) is perfect for sipping Chardonnay in summer or bundling up warm, with a beer, some bowl food and mains on a colonial theme. Say ‘yah’ to Singapore laksa, shahi paneer, curried goat with rice and peas or vegetable rangdang, as well as old-school English pies and puds. Still, a 2am licence at weekends means this is primarily a serious boozing joint.
The Jam Tree
Glitzy, glassy art deco is the look at the Gaucho Grill’s standalone cocktail bar – homage to Argentina’s legendary mixologist Santiago Policastro. Under the soubriquet ‘Pichín', the ‘gallant bartender’ (crowned the first World Cocktail Champion in 1935) was the creator of renowned drinks such as El Clarito – Buenos Aires’ answer to the Dry Martini, served here in a sugar-rimmed glass. Other original recipes include his signature El Pato (the duck): referencing Argentina’s favourite hunting sport, it comprises gin, kirsch, Campari and Cointreau, plus sweet and dry vermouth. Alternatively, try something more modern such as Juan Collins, made with Hesperidina (a native orange liqueur). Latin beers and South American wines are also on offer, perfect if you fancy nibbling sliders, lobster empanadas, chicken chirricorn and alfajores (Argentinian cookies) over a tête-à-tête.
Spread over four floors, this swanky King’s Road hangout attracts its full share of slick-haired suits and glammed-up it-girls. The upstairs members’ club/restaurant caters for signed-up regulars,
while the Champagne penthouse, brasserie and street-level cocktail bar also have their own chic allure. All-day breakfasts and weekend brunch are popular draws, while main menus offer a mixed bag
of Anglo-European dishes ranging from ploughman’s, fish pie and steak sandwiches to braised ox shin with horseradish mash or nut-crusted sea bass with braised fennel and Madeira broth. Meanwhile,
drinkers get their kicks from ‘awesome’ cocktails including watermelon martinis, spiced pear mojitos and the signature Champagne punch. And if you got a £1,100 to spare, why not invest in The
Chancellor – a metre-high martini glass fuelled with a bottle of Dom Pérignon and three blazing doses of Rémy Martin Louis XII Cognac.
Made in Chelsea meets Lawrence of Arabia at this perennial party club/bar, beloved of those who like to splash the cash. If you crave the sort of high-octane mix you'll only find in Chelsea, JuJu’s slick fixes are right on the money: cocktails with names such as Chelsea Dagger, Best-laid Plans, Giant Porn Star, A Bit of Rough and Virgin Mary all cut the mustard – otherwise, get your kicks from beefy Ibiza beats, high-end bubbles (Cristal or Armand de Brignac ‘Ace of Spades’, of course) and bottled spirits with mixers from £160. Nibbles of chicken skewers, steamed dumplings, aromatic duck rolls and suchlike provide the necessary sustenance for the long, late-night haul in this secret den with its black and gold interiors, cleverly aligned furnishings, mirrored ceilings and backlit geometric reliefs cut into the walls.