22-24 Bride Lane, London, EC4Y 8DT
A promising waft of fermenting gin greets punters as they descend the stairs into this specialist bar down windy Bride Lane. Which ?is exactly what you would expect of a distillery – yes, the dramatically illuminated copper stills sparkling behind a glass wall are for more than display purposes. True to the name, this place really does produce City of London gin, having resurrected the Square Mile's distilling tradition after an absence of nearly two centuries. There are various ways of discovering the 200 brands available – via an educational tour, a tasting session or simply through an expertly made classic cocktail or G&T. A sophisticated speakeasy vibe prevails in this stylish, subterranean drinking den, and its table service, capacious armchairs, bookable seats and curtained-off corners beat a scrum at the bar any day of the week.
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49-50 St John's Square, London, EC1V 4JJ
The ‘B’ word (that’s B for ‘boutique’) looms large at the Zetter Townhouse hotel, not least in the Zetter Townhouse Cocktail Lounge with richly decadent colour schemes, assorted sofas, armchairs and “slightly sinister” artworks conjuring up the salon of some Victorian adventurer. The brainchild of cocktail whizz Tony Conigliaro and chef Ben Boeynaems, the space is suitably evocative and indulgent – just right for what follows. How about The Clipper (whisky, samphire syrup and a dash of absinthe) or Priory Sour (whiskey, this time, with beurre noisette and malted barley)? Alternatively go for a Lime Blossom fizz if you prefer something a little more effervescent (all the cordials and infusions are made in-house). The menu is short and to the point – assorted sharing boards, mugs of soup, nibbles and small plates such as potted smoked mackerel with pickled cucumber.
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7 St John Street, London, EC1M 4AA
‘Quick and easy, unfussy and unpretentious’, gregarious Vinoteca’s winning formula matches the oenophile virtues of a top-notch wine emporium with a penchant for smart brasserie cooking. Wine flights and by-the-glass selections are unmissable, and the full list of around 250 bins is stuffed with helpfully annotated bottles from every corner of the winemaking globe – although judicious food-matching suggestions are the mini-chain’s ’biggest USP’. British cheeses and European charcuterie are mainstays of the menu, but the regularly changing line-up runs from crispy confit duck, pear, orange and walnut salad (recommended with a glass of Weissburgunder 2011) to Cornish hake with cockles, arroncina beans, lemon and samphire – perfect with a Kumeu River Chardonnay 2007 on the side. Light airy interiors, funky lighting and retro posters create just the right mood, and the bill is always easy on the wallet.
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25 Exmouth Market, London, EC1R 4QL
Ensconced in the basement of a Clerkenwell pub, this cosy, quasi-clandestine cocktail bar feels like an Edwardian gent’s study. As with its Bethnal Green sister (5CC at the Well & Bucket), the space is small at around 30 covers; so best make a reservation – particularly at weekends. Figure on paying around £10 for quality drinks from an evolving list that includes various mezcals. Try the pomegranate, pineapple and basil-infused mescalito classics such as Mary Pickford, Martinez and a selection of fruit Daiquiris, gin fizzes and vodka coolers – rhubarb and ginger, for example. Martinis built on vintage premium spirits, such as a Booth’s gin bottled in 1970, might attract bonus-wielding City types: think £45 for a Martinez. And expect to shell out £100 for a dozen Maldon oysters and a bottle of Henri Giraud Esprit de Giraud Champagne. Wine from £4.50 a glass will suit the less flash.
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26 Farringdon Street, London, EC4A 4AB
Harrild & Sons is that rare thing in the City, a bar that is suitable for both loafers and suits. Occupying a former printworks, it's now done up as a new-wave boozer in brick and raw timber with a heavyweight coppertop bar, skylit dining room and small-scale beer garden. Hip, hoppy craft beers from names such as Mikkeller and Burning Sky, plus a dedicated G&T menu, mark it out as a modern sort of place – though Harrild & Sons generously retains fair pub prices for the basics, while the big spenders can head downstairs to the 5cc drinking den, where top-flight whiskies and ace cocktails await: the H&S Collins with Scotch, ginger beer, lemon marmalade and wheat beer, for example. The food is gussied-up pub grub – Wagyu burgers, crispy duck salad, grilled lobster and chips.
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55 Britton Street, London, EC1M 5UQ
By rights, The Jerusalem Tavern should be full to bursting with camera-wielding American tourists, but this higgledy-piggledy historic pub remains proudly off the beaten track. The tourists’ loss
is the local workforce’s gain; this is a boozer to be proud of. Admittedly, its olde-worlde credentials are a little deceptive: there’s been a pub by that name in the area since medieval times, but
they’ve only been pulling pints in this 18th-century building since the 1990s. Suffolk brewery St Peter’s runs the show with a keen eye on quality control – their own beers (six at a time on the
taps) are as fresh and well kept as you would expect. Prices are favourable, so enjoy the likes of honey porter, IPA or English lager with upper-crust pub grub including Scotch eggs and sourdough
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50-52 Long Lane, London, EC1A 9EJ
The name is inspired by a Beastie Boys track, but a Michael Jackson album is your clue to uncovering this Smithfield diner’s hidden secret – an ‘off the wall’ liquor lair below stairs (imagine a wood-panelled box room tagged with graffiti). Gin is the craic here, with more than 50 brands (and counting) in cocktails or in your ‘perfect serve’ G&T which, according to Janice, could well be Opihr with Fevertree tonic water, cardamom and orange. There’s also an extensive range of craft beers ranging from Hackney Hopster to Fuller’s Wild River (also available in taster flights), while 18 accessibly priced wines promise the likes of Portuguese vinho verde and Argentinian Malbec. Janice’s favourite snacks are yours for the asking for a modest outlay – think deep-fried sprats, chicken crackling and lardo on toast with peppers and pickled chilli.
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59 West Smithfield, London, EC1A 9DS
Lovers of all things Gallic should swing by Club Gascon's ‘annex' , a sophisticated cocktail bar offering French small plates. The menu is proudly regionalist, with a great line in charcuterie, artisan cheese and all manner of ‘piggy' and ‘ducky' delights: pick from snacks of pig’s trotter cake and truffled cheese baguette, or go for heartier options, such as oyster, mushroom and black pudding salad, or foie gras with mussels. The ‘express lunch’ menu remains a steal for a dish of the day, plus a starter, glass of wine and pudding such as baked brandy custard. Other deals, including monthly wine dinners and oyster evenings, are also well worth considering. “Great for date nights”, says a fan.
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