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.
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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343 Cambridge Heath Road, London, E2 9RA
Satan's Whiskers is a neighbourhood cocktail bar – although few neighbourhoods can boast a drinking den that also does duty as an unofficial taxidermy museum. If you’re happy to keep company with jokey stuffed exhibits and fun skeletal sculptures, settle in and order from a regular retinue of reasonably priced rogues such as East 8 Hold Up (vodka, Aperol, lime and pineapple, served short). There’s also a daily changing entourage of twisted classics and contemporary signatures: our most recent favourite is 34th Brigade, a Calvados and apricot brandy fizz. Another notable hit is the bar's rendition of Tuxedo #2, (a take on 19th-century favourite Turf Club), as promulgated by tuxedo-wearing Harry Craddock in his 1930s bible for the bibulous, The Savoy Cocktail Book. Nibbles are grouped under ‘two fingers’ (mini Scotch eggs or merguez sausages) and ‘four fingers’ (pulled brisket rolls or baby back ribs).
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65 Rivington Street, London, EC2A 3AY
‘Oh frabjous day’ when bar whizz Richard Wynne opened Callooh Callay. Inspired by the Victorian nonsense poems of Lewis Carroll, this Shoreditch scene-stealer's drinks list is always a good read. Take a trip through the looking glass to a louche den whose mind-altering potions push boundaries, but steer clear of the baroque stuff and nonsense of the 'progressive mixology' merchants. Butch, brown and big on flavour, Count of Monkey Cristo (Monkey Shoulder whisky, Innis & Gunn ale reduction, Fernet-Branca and Amer Picon) makes for a typically engaging adventure, while Tall & Oates (El Jimador Blanco Tequila, sherry, bitters, oat horchata and caramel waffle) should make muso fans smile. Bar bites are bussed in from 100 Hoxton Street’s kitchen. And if you can crack the key code, more wondrousness awaits upstairs where guest barmen take over the quasi-clandestine Jubjub lounge on a pop-up basis.
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8-9 Hoxton Square, London, N1 6NU
Regularly acclaimed by critics the world over, this wee dive bar has won more awards than we care to count: in 2016, it even scooped 'Best International Cocktail Bar' at America's prestigious Tales of the Cocktail bash. No bad for a prosaic, no-frills, "low-rent basement" (owner Andy Bird's description). This is no achingly cool 'concept', no big-budget design team's take on a Prohibition speakeasy, 1970s disco or any other corny theme you care to mention; there’s no pretentious molecular malarkey either: what Happiness has in spades, is heart and soul. It also has a team of chipper, capable staff who are keen to craft old-school favourites and gratifying new stirs to order: try Dirty Sanchez (a tropical cobbler involving Havana Selección rum, crème de banane, port, Manzanilla sherry and pineapple juice). Like the Burt Bacharach song by Dionne Warwick that inspired the bar’s handle, this seemingly effortless number oozes class and sophistication.
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Hawksmoor Spitalfields Bar
157a Commercial Street, E1 6BJ
Every bar attached to a branch of the bullish Hawksmoor restaurant group passes muster, but the charismatic standalone Spitalfields cellar is something extra special. Once a dodgy strip joint, there's nothing remotely sleazy or cheesy about this handsome hole-up's burnished art-deco bronze and blue-tiled 1900s Steampunk interiors. Anticipate excellent, keenly priced cocktails (a frozen Margarita at £7.50) and the sort of moreish grub that is manna for savvy City drinkers – think magnificently meaty burgers, chilli cheese dogs, lobster rolls, triple-cooked chips and a chicken riff on Canadian poutine (an on-trend mix of fries, gravy and curd cheese). To drink, around £20 with pay for bar legend Harry Craddock’s Marmalade Cocktail (an ‘anti-fogmatic’ spirit-lifter involving Beefeater gin, Campari, lemon and the breakfast preserve), plus a knock-out Shadow Boxer (Chivas 12, blackberry and maple shrub, sherry and Fernet Branca).
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Nobu Shoreditch (bar)
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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Peg + Patriot at Town Hall Hotel
Peg + Patriot at Town Hall Hotel
Town Hall Hotel, Patriot Square, E2 9NF
As the Salvation Army's teetotal creed gained traction, little could the Edwardian staff charged with recording Bethnal Green’s births, deaths and marriages have foreseen that their place of work would end up peddling mother's ruin. 'Hatched' by Matt Whiley (aka the Talented Mr Fox), 'matched' to discerning drinkers' palates, and 'dispatched' (as fast as the bar can knock 'em out), Peg + Patriot's edgy concoctions are a resounding hit. Whiley’s forte lies in arranging highly unlikely marriages of base spirits and unexpected ingredients: 'parsley, butter, coriander, verjus, bitters and smoke', or 'leek, oxidised grape and pickle brine' well-starred unions, or headed for the rocks, so to speak? A twisted Gimlet's grapefruit and hops are a good match from the selection of bottled cocktails, while nibbles would befit any trad East End Jewish nuptials – think pastrami and dill pickle, or lox and cream cheese beigels.