31 St Thomas Street, London, SE1 90U
Squeezed in at the sharper end of The Shard, Gong is London’s loftiest bar. It resembles a Bond baddie’s penthouse in the sky – complete with separate Champagne bar and a swimming pool open for punters to lounge by (but not to dip into) from 8pm. From this high altitude, the city below forms a magical tapestry, and with a couple of drinks here costing much the same as the £31 ticket to the touristy viewing platform above, we rate Gong as the more civilised sightseeing option. Blue-sky thinking has gone into the bar’s 2016 ‘Circle of Life’ cocktail list. But while the drinks may be worthwhile, we’re not entirely persuaded by the overblown presentation that veers between kooky and kitsch (drinks served in Kinder Eggs or gilded birdcages, for instance). Such sophisticated mixes as Asian Explorer (Tanqueray 10, mushroom-infused Madeira, nigori saké, coconut and ginseng) have no need of flummery.
More detail about GONG by Shangri La at The Shard
Oxo Tower Wharf, Barge House Street, London, SE1 9PH
What’s not to love about the OXO Tower Bar at Harvey Nichols’ towering success on the river? Here you’ll find plausible cocktails, beef kimchi sliders, vegetable dim sum with ponzu, and grilled squid with a chilli rouille (£8.50). But the clincher is the postcard-perfect panorama of tourist London (including St Paul’s), seen across the water from the eighth-floor vantage point. Tables can be booked, with seating on curvaceous cream armchairs, but some places are saved for walk-ins until capacity is reached. The drawbacks? Well, 11pm on weekdays and midnight at weekends are ridiculously early closing times. We want to enjoy cherry Manhattans like they do in Manhattan, at an hour when others are fast asleep; and to have the option of ordering Dusk ’til Dawn (Ilegal mezcal, Cocchi, Punt e Mes vermouth and Lagavulin 16 whisky) from dusk to dawn.
More detail about OXO Tower Bar
39-45 Bermondsey Street, London, SE1 3XF
The Hide is a nondescript-looking bar tucked below the International Wine & Spirit Centre – and there’s the rub. Because it’s so close to London’s leading coven for experts in alcoholic beverages, you might expect it to be full of bartenders, emulating Tom Cruise, juggling shakers and practicing dance moves. The reality is less ritzy, though you may get to overhear the odd conversation about double parallel fermentation or suchlike. Instead, focus on the cocktail list, where you’ll find a fistful of classics made with great expertise. Most items cost under a tenner, such as the LDN Cobbler (made with Kamm’s aperitif, blackberry syrup and Roots lemonade) or the Big Lebowski (Moskovskaya vodka, almond milk, Pedro Ximénez and coffee tincture). There are also some spiffingly good wines by the glass and London craft beers to go with tacos, arancini, croquettes and sharing boards.
More detail about The Hide
102a Tower Bridge Road, London, SE1 4TP
A former public convenience near Tower Bridge has been converted into a subterranean drinking den with an art-deco look of chequered floor tiles and marquetry panelling that pays homage to the golden era of cocktail making. With most sips pegged at £9.50, you’d expect a decent drink and you won’t be disappointed: Sage of Consent, for example, packs enough punch for a rumble in the jungle with its blend of butter-washed rum, sage, citrusy bergamot, lemon juice and dark cane sugar. Alternatively, if you’re looking for something lighter, there are some cheaper aperitifs and spritzers – try the aptly named South of the River (sloe gin, lemon, sugar and Prosecco) or the more serious Chrysanthemum with its mix of absinthe, Bénédictine and Lillet Blanc. BAC is open until 2am, which sounds like a good excuse to use to use the night tube – even though the nearest station is a 15-mInute walk away.
More detail about Bermondsey Arts Club
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.
More detail about Aqua Shard (bar)