190 Queen's Gate, London, SW7 5EX
If you weren’t aware of this iconic hotel bar’s rock & roll past, you might be surprised by its part Venetian-gothic, part vampire’s boudoir decor: in the Swinging 60s, the location was used by the Rolling Stones for their Beggars Banquet album cover; more recently, it saw the launch of rocker Liam Gallagher’s fashion line. The interior doesn’t scrimp on atmosphere: the aforementioned Stones lark about on huge, gilt-framed canvases, & upholstered alcoves provide cosseted VIP seating for visiting celebs (with a minimum spend of £350). Cocktails use premium pours, fresh herbs & home-infused liqueurs, while the bar menu stretches from club sarnies & burgers to mix-&-match tapas platters. The food is aimed at the pre/post-Albert Hall crowds & prices take no prisoners – Bistro 190 next door offers more bang for your buck.
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30 Old Brompton Road, London, SW7 3DL
They don’t make ‘em like Janet any more. This blonde New York ex-lawyer has owned her eccentric bar since 1997, creating a buzz through Facebook and her own feisty personality. The interior defies description, an art installation rather than considered design with shocking pink walls, myriad mementoes, newspaper cuttings, balloons, flags, fairy lights, gold dancing shoes and an F1 racing driver’s suit, plus a terrace for smoking and people-watching. Loud, funky music is masterminded by Janet and her student daughter, while the Hungarian head honcho serves up a mean Manhattan, hot toddies in winter and ‘house jugs’ of gin, sloe gin, cider and fresh fruit come summer. It’s defiantly non-ageist and in a city of slick cocktail bars, it’s a breath of fresh air.
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106 Kensington High Street, London, W8 4SG
Those looking for somewhere to party after the pubs close could do worse than head to the Kensington branch of Piano. Live music on a grand piano five nights a week means this first-floor joint is jumping most evenings. The musicianship is top notch, but don’t expect any arty noodling; instead, the guest tinkler knows how to keep the crowd happy, segueing from The Beatles to Stereophonics as the place becomes one extended singalong with dancing. Australian beers are on offer in addition to a decent choice of wines, while the short menu is designed for those who fancy a quick bite rather than a fill-up – think beef brochettes with home-pickled courgettes, charcuterie plates & bowls of popcorn. Be warned: getting in on Friday & Saturday nights can be a battle.
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310c Earls Court Road, London, SW5 9BA
‘Specialists in blackmail, missing persons and armed personal protection’, fantasy detectives Evans & Peel use this discreet agency front to keep their cocktail bar clandestine. Patrons must make an appointment and present their ‘case’ in the office on arrival, before a sleuth in period costume decides if they’re to be allowed into the atmospheric speakeasy that hides behind the bookshelf. This kind of role play isn’t to everyone’s taste, but we’d challenge anyone to say a bad word about the agency’s inventive take on classic drinks. Our current favourites are the Clover Breakfast Club (Hendrick's gin, English breakfast tea, raspberry jam, lime, cucumber, clarified milk and Teapot bitters) and the Islayllujah, which sees Bulleit bourbon and 16-year-old Lagavulin whisky stirred with bitters, salt and yuzu essence in a twist on the Sazerac theme. There are decent bar snacks too – try the Dr Pepper pulled beef in waffles.
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