Albany Street, Regents Park, NW1 3UP
This hotel-based London outpost of the internationally acclaimed Dry Martini bar group is dazzlingly decked out with a rather random mix of jewel-coloured sofas, patterns and neon, offset by chequered floors and eclectic modern art. You may need a drink to deal with the decor, but you’ve come to the right place as the list comes courtesy of world-class mixologist Javier de las Muelas. The signature dry Martinis are generously served and made to order (choose from an impressive collection of 101 gins), but more original creations are also well worth a punt. Try the spicy Moonwalk (Glenlivet 12-year-old, pineapple, lemon, fig syrup and hot chilli pepper droplets) or the sage- and rosemary-infused Spanish 43 made with 43 Liquor and topped with Freixenet Cordon Negro cava. To eat, Dry Martini serves tapas (of course), and you can also come here for a Mar-Tea-Ni afternoon tea.
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Heron Tower, 110 Bishopsgate, London, EC2N 4AY
Its awkward seating arrangements may not be London's most accommodating, but bum deals are rare when it comes to head honcho Richard Woods’ singularly experimental creations at Duck & Waffle. Obscure ingredients boldly go where no mixologist has gone before: charred dandelion-root 'expresso', burnt toast, 'damp gin,' asparagus ends and cut grass are not for the timid. But if you duck the venue’s over-zealous waffle ('urban foraging vs urban decay'), you'll be amply rewarded. The likes of Pine Needle Lemonade, Avocado Aperitivo (Patrón Reposado, chocolate, toasted walnut, avocado skin infusion) and Hay! (Jack Daniel's, maple, salted caramel and hay infusion) just about justify their vertiginous cost at this hotspot’s perch atop Heron Tower. To eat, nibble on BBQ spiced pig’s ears, bacon-wrapped dates or crispy polenta with Parmesan and truffle. Just add some truly astounding City views and you’ll gather this is no lame duck.
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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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3-4 Archer Street, London, W1D 7AP
Aimed at Soho’s early-evening aperitivo market, Archer Street also offers a full quota of upmarket drinking possibilities from mid-afternoon onwards. Grab a
tuffet in the pale-wood ground-floor bar, where Billecart Salmon (from £14) is the sole Champagne marque in the house and wines start at £25 for an old-vine Carignan. A warmly inviting basement,
done out in Cairngorms ski lodge moderne, boasts stripy sofas, hidey-holes and a handsome distressed bar whose jewel-bright, velvet stools are perfect if you plan on sipping a Ketel One rhubarb
and raspberry sling, Champagne julep or a house martini that matches Domaine de Canton ginger with its Tanqueray 10 and Lillet Blanc. DJs appear nightly and staff are liable to burst into
synchronised singing/dancing by way of a camp floor-show.
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13 Well Court, off Bow Lane, London, EC4M 9DN
Like a parlour set from a Merchant Ivory film, this low-ceilinged Edwardian basement room (without a view) proudly boasts one of the world's largest assemblies of gin and rum – spirits distilled in London or shipped from the colonies to nearby wharves (check out The Pantry for bottles to take home). How many gins? We stopped counting at B for Bathtub and Boodles from a list that spans workaday and rare (read pricey) vintage distillations. Merchant House’s sterling stirs revive or reinterpret various heritage cups, coolers, Collins, grogs and beer cocktails such as Hodge (gin, gingerbread syrup and stout). Other good calls include numerous new-wave Martinis, Daiquiris and Zombies, plus more esoteric ideas such as Fields of Gold – a tot that calls for poitín, oat milk, orgéat and buttered genever. Food is limited to oysters, charcuterie, cheeses and a few dips.
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257-259 Pentonville Road, London, N1 9NL
Like the mainline railway terminus across the road, Big Chill King’s Cross has also recently been remodelled – and it often feels just as crowded. The spirit of the festival (now sadly defunct) that gave the venue its name lives on at this popular diner-bar-danceteria, whose rejigged ground floor mixes 1960s urban loft with NYC nightclub circa Run-DMC. Explore a ramble of loosely themed retro rooms both downstairs and up, culminating in a sprawling south-facing all-weather roof terrace served by a hatch bar. Here you can chill over sundowner Spritzes, Mules, Old Fashioneds, coffee Martinis and Sours such as Gingerbread (laced with Jameson’s Irish whisky). Portobello and Truman’s are among the London draught beers. Peckish? Snack on burgers, wings, nachos, soups or salads. And after stomping the red-lit dance floor until 3am to old soul, hip-hop, funk and millennial grooves, return later to cure the hangover with BCKC’s Anglo-American brunch staples.
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8 Lancashire Court, London, W1S 1EY
On the first floor of swish modern British restaurant Hush, The Aviator is its newly rebranded 1960s-style cocktail bar. The design – all jewel-tone leathers and velvet plush – comes courtesy of Russell Sage (not perhaps on his finest form), resulting in a look resembling an airport Executive Club lounge from the Pan Am era. ‘Destination’ cocktails are themed by country and detailed on mocked-up boarding cards; many are delivered with a theatrical flourish. Smoking Señorita (Spain) – a suave take on a Manhattan, featuring Nomad Outland whisky and oloroso and cream sherry – arrives in a cloud of smoke, from under a cloche. Rihannatini (Bahamas) – a mix of rum, Frangelico, coffee and Kahlúa – comes with mascarpone mousse and a mini chocolate pot. Service is certainly business class, as are some of the small-plate dishes (we recommend the scallops on cauliflower purée), but other bar snacks are more charter flight (chewy wraps containing dry duck meat) – at non-budget prices.
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29A Wentworth Street, London, E1 7TB
Squeezed into a former schmutter merchant's low-beamed storeroom, this is just the place if you want to wet your whistle in style off Petticoat Lane. As sharp as a mohair and silk suit worn by Marvin Gaye, Little Stevie Wonder or any similarly snappy 1960s dude who features on the retro cellar's Megawatt Northern Soul playlist, DSC’s cocktails measure up nicely: bespoke mezcal and poitín Old Fashioneds, elegant Daiquiris and rye Manhattans all represent off-the-peg perfection. Meanwhile, Two Smoking Barrels (Lapsang Souchong-infused brandy, whisky, Chartreuse elixir and bitters) for two to share is the sort of lethal slug that sartorial perfectionists Ronnie and Reggie Kray might have knocked back had this place existed in their heyday. Note that prices are more Cockney barrow boy than Bond Street boutique.
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100-106 Leonard Street, London, EC2A 4RH
As a lively Shoreditch social, this Book Club goes from strength to strength. By day, The Queen of Hoxton's multi-faceted sister doubles as crash pad/proxy office/cultural space/ cafe-bar/all-day diner catering to slackers, surfers and jobbing creatives here for breakfast, hairs of the dog and an all-day menu of comfort food. Come nightfall, free thinkers and enthusiastic drinkers get oiled on craft brews, cocktails, punch jars and fair-value vino. In the basement, regular uproars often involve big-noise DJs such as Roots Manuva and Norman Jay ‘MBE’. Literary salons; poetry slams; stand-up comedy; drama and dance tuition; leftfield films; art installations; hip-hop pub quizzes; bake-offs; craft workshops; ping pong: to paraphrase Samuel Johnson, ‘if you're tired of The Book Club you're tired of life’.
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9 Conduit Street, London, W1S 2XG
Take your pick of three highly individual, amusingly designed lounges at this Mayfair must-do from Mourad Mazouz (of Momo fame). With its theatrical rococo découpage forest backdrop, The Glade could be a set for South Pacific as choreographed by the Bolshoi Ballet, while The East Bar (a futuristic cocoon) might have been lifted from a Kubrick sci-fi movie. However, we find ourselves repeatedly drawn to The Parlour, a raffishly postmodernist drawing room that wouldn’t look out of place in ex-Sex Pistol John Lydon's LA punk château. Disport and pose while you scrutinise a cast of eccentrics and fashionistas as you knock back dependably good drinks from a constantly evolving list. House wines and sips such as Nolet and the Whale (vodka, Aperol, peach and almond syrup) won't break the bank, although the same can’t be said of the patrician French fizz and pukka comfort food.
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15-16 Gerrard Street, London, W1D 6JE
Arranged over three floors of a dodgy-looking townhouse, this neat Chinatown cutie is from Eric Yu, he of 68 and Boston and Marylebone newbie, Burlock. All peeling parlours and louche dens, the look is high-class 1950s knocking shop masquerading as a Hong Kong herbalist's consulting rooms. Seasonal prescriptions rely on homemade tinctures, syrups and restorative fine-leaf infusions from Opium's Apothecary bar and teashop: signatures of note include The Devil Doctor, Golden Lotus, The Dragon & The Unicorn and Gunfire – an incendiary bullet of spiced rum, lemon oil and black tea that will blow your wig off. Head down a corridor to discover Peony, an enigmatic saloon high on absinthe, mezcal and rye. Cha and steaming baskets of plump dim sum act as damage limitation. As Glaswegians say, you’ll be ‘in a worse state than China’ (ie blotto) if you get hooked on Opium’s charms.
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10-50 Willow Street, London, EC2A 4BH
Nobu’s strikingly modern new Shoreditch hotel has a choice of two drinking options. If you’re hoping for meaningful conversation, aim for the ground-floor Lobby Bar, a positively Zen proposition compared to the nightclubby tumult of the hotel restaurant’s bunker behemoth lounge bar. Done out in Nikkei-NY-Lon-style – all sleek natural woods, and a butch zig-zagging bar – this also includes a rather austere terraced courtyard. There is, however, nothing austere about the range of haute French fizz that kicks off with Veuve Clicquot by the flute, and a long list of classy wines; quality saké, exclusive to Nobu; and notable Japanese whiskies. Un-greedily priced cocktails on an East-meets-West theme are grouped by intensity and style. Try the light and refreshing Romeo & Juliet (a cucumber rose and lime Ramsbury Wiltshire gin cooler). Bar food comprises Wagyu sliders, and as you’d expect of Nobu, fishy fabness: lobster tofu or rock shrimp bun, say.
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153-155 Hoxton Street, London, N1 6PJ
Avant-garde cocktail king Ryan Chetiyawardana (of Dandelyan fame) has reconfigured what was White Lyan as a two-in-one space with a zippy drinks-led diner (Cub) on the ground floor and Super Lyan in the basement. Dark, moody and superficially sleazy, with a lap-dancer’s metal pole adding to the room’s low-rent mien, the new bar marks a change of mood from the owner’s previously ascetic approach – even formerly banned cocktail components such as ice and fruit are back in fashion among a dozen deeply doable drinks. Star turns include Man on Fire – a refreshing, smoky Dewar’s 12 and Del Maguey mezcal sour made with lemon, pine honey and chilli-infused Chilean liqueur Ancho Reyes, served over an ice rock of Gibraltarian proportions. Top marks too for the bourbon-based Pillow Manhattan enhanced by ‘leathered cherry’, and an off-menu twist on a Vieux Carré that sharpens up the viscous New Orleans classic with a jigger of Calvados. Less ‘Super’, to our tastes, is the pre-batched Nitro Martini: dispensed from a gleaming chrome spout, its fizzed-up mix of bergamot, maple, Jack Daniels and cold-brew coffee falls flat. Fellow punters, however, argue in its favour: as ever, Chetiyawardana’s stirs stir up keen debate.
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The Langham, 1c Portland Place, London, W1B 1JA
Under Alex Kratena and Simone Caporale, Artesian was repeatedly voted The World’s Best Bar. Can successors Dino Koletsas and Gabor Fodor now reclaim the crown? They’ve certainly produced some quaffable, high-end drinks on their 17-strong ‘Artesian Moments’ menu.
The collection was realised through a survey of the general public, which asked them to submit the flavours and feelings that they associate with pivotal moments in their life. Over 500 responses later, the team have created a menu of cocktails which are all named after ‘that moment when…’
Reminisce by sipping on ‘…you went to big school’, which is made with a blend of Blanche de Normandie, almond lemonade, apple and meadowsweet, or mourn past loves with ‘…your heart was broken’, which sees Craigellachie 13YO paired with cacao, saké, racilla and verjus. Such concept-heavy cocktails and kooky presentation can veer into the kitsch, but expert mixes and a strong selection make a visit to this bar another moment which you’re unlikely to forget.
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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.
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15 Bruton Lane, London, W1J 6JD
With every junior royal, rich Russian and gossip-column rake on speed dial, those purveyors of Sloaney good times Charlie Gilkes and Duncan Stirling (Cahoots, Bunga Bunga, Bart’s) are high-society lynchpins worth cultivating. As avowed theme-bar aficionados, the boys play a blinder with this convincingly staged interpretation of Phileas J Fogg’s madcap Mayfair mansion, stuffed to the gunnels with camp caboodle from the eccentric Victorian explorer's derring-do foreign forays. The whole fantastical set-up is a hoot: Eton boys in dapper period livery dispense plates of top tucker with 'tipsy teas' (ie. gin or Champagne cocktails in teapots), while Passepartout (Fogg's imagined French valet) preps hooch-charged puncheons, crustas, cups and long-lost recipes with colonial roots. Other wheezes include a summer garden veranda, guest bartenders, vaudeville turns and talks from adventurers such as Sir Ranulph Fiennes. As we say, these chaps are connected.
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129 City Road, London, EC1V 1JB
Book in advance for Edmund Weil and Rosie Stimpson's highly rated and regularly rammed jazz-age hootenanny, which is home to nightly blues, swing and ragtime jams. Golden eras of the cocktail are revisited in a considered list of well-built drinks whose recipes often involve abstruse ingredients: named after 1930s jelly-legs jiggler, Josephine Baker, Nightjar's signature crusta adds Afro mbongo spice, tonka bean liqueur and passion fruit curd to its Ysabel Regina brandy base. And you’d be forgiven for wanting to purloin its chic tiki-tastic drinking vessels: porcelain wishing wells, conch shells, glass bongs, Pygmy hunting horns and ancient copper bells. Nightjar's insistence on over-elaborate presentation can sometimes leave you struggling not to tip the sip down your front.
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Level 31, The Shard, St. Thomas Street, London, SE1 9RY
At the risk of upsetting the neighbours, if you only do one bar at The Shard, make it Aqua. For panoramic views, this high-level atrium lounge – three storeys high – beats the bar at Oblix. It’s slicker and sexier than Gong and is a hotter date than Hutong, above. The interior is decked out like a Manhattan-style loft; if you can discern the menu in the gloaming, try one of the gin- or tea-inspired cocktails. Start pleasantly with Devonshire Cream Cup (gin, Aperol, crème de fraise, lemon curd, tarragon balsamic vinegar and lemon juice, topped with Earl Grey ‘air’) before descending into wickedness with the Four Stages of Cruelty (Tanqueray 10 gin, Sauvignon Blanc, elderflower and Curious Brew beer). The bar is open throughout the day, so you can choose how to take your vista: with bright sunshine or with a myriad twinkling night-time lights.
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34 Old Compton Street, London, W1D 4TS
The Balans brand’s hallmarks include a cosmopolitan vibe, a please-all menu and an all-day offering (and, in this case, an all-night offering too). Drop by for a full English, a mid-morning snack or a casual dinner along the lines of roast chicken with shiitake mushrooms, or Cornish crab linguine – the world is your larder here. If you’ve got room for dessert, you’ll be ordering from the likes of chocolate brownie cheesecake or warm doughnuts with fudge sauce and Chantilly cream. The drinks selection is just as wide-ranging as the food, from Martinis, Margaritas and house mixes, to a clutch of affordable, globe-trotting wines. With its decent prices, relaxed atmosphere and undemanding comfort food, Balans is in possession of a strong formula which is seeing it gradually spread across the capital.
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