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.
When the weather decides to be kind, the terrace at Madison is a rooftop suntrap worth knowing about. Currently decked out with loungers, sofas & parasols in Moët Ice Impérial’s trademark
colours, this is the place to sip the ‘world’s first ever Champagne specifically created to be enjoyed on ice’. Order it by the flute (£11.50) or have it served with fresh summer fruits: the jury
is still out on this one, although there are no reservations when it comes to the rest of Moët’s bubbles or the healthy contingent of wines by the glass. Cocktails (& mocktails) du jour include
a plausible citrus mojito, bramble, virgin mule & the New Yorker (Amaretto & Campari ‘seduced’ by bitter lemon & orange juice). The real seduction, however, is the view of St Paul’s
& the fascinating optical illusion you’ll experience as you’re whizzed up in the glass lift.
The Terrace Bar at Madison
In any other location, this hotel's bland boxy bar would be unmemorable, but the 12th-floor lounge's 360-degree panorama of historic London and its modern skyline is a mesmeric sight. Against such a dramatic backdrop, Skylounge's extensive twin decked terraces are a picture-perfect spot to enjoy sun-soaked lunches and seasonal cocktails that twist the classics. Tawny port and a splash of Prosecco inform American Hustle (a Woodford Reserve Manhattan), Sky at Night (a vodka and sloe gin cup) is a fair summer cooler, while Marshmallow Alexander is a wintry sweet treat. Elsewhere, mezcal-based The Last of the Oaxacans is a fine fix for all seasons. Regular pop-up bars and rum shacks add a blast of colour, and DJs play at Ibiza-style chill-out sessions. Blankets and heaters are on hand should Mother Nature try to spoil the party.
SkyLounge at DoubleTree by Hilton Tower of London
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.
Big Chill King’s Cross
The gentrification of east London marches on apace: there are those that remember this site as a public toilet, but now it incorporates a ground floor dining room for grazing and drinking, a rooftop terrace and a street-level alfresco area. Forget the insalubrious past and stick to the present, where the temporary restaurant dips luxuriantly into northern Italian cuisine, with sharing plates of razor clams with grapefruit sauce vierge, gnocchi with Parma ham butter and crab, beef rump with bone marrow butter. Strawberries with Marsala cream and ricotta doughnuts round this off nicely. Go on a Sunday for meat-led barbecue feasting, while sipping a glass of wine or a fruity summer cocktail.
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.
OXO Tower Bar
Back for a third consecutive summer, this idiosyncratic rooftop bar is a green idyll set above the gritty streets of Dalston. OK, the grass may be fake, but the raised beds brimming with vegetables
and herbs are most certainly real, tended by volunteer gardeners and used in the bar's cocktails. Boasting a stripped-back drinks list that runs from wines and draught Meantime beers to alcoholic
iced teas, it keeps hipsters happy while they’re lounging amongst the greenery. Membership for the summer is a mere £3 and plenty of events are planned, from weekly film screenings and acoustic
nights to weekend DJs. Food is also available sporadically, courtesy of a barbecue and street-food residencies. Be warned: you may want to take your own blanket to stay warm when the sun goes down.
Dalston Roof Park Rooftop Bar
Billed as a ‘bar, club, art collective’, the Queen of Hoxton is also a great East End night out. Welcome to every design student’s fantasy world, complete with window etchings, graffiti and an edgy
discotheque downstairs – not forgetting the legendary summer roof garden and bar (now with an all-weather cover). This year’s fun in the urban adventure playground will include BBQs, screenings of
cult movie classics, a ‘headphone disco’ and a Sunday ‘sunbathers club’ compete with paddling pools and hot tubs. Otherwise, play table football in the main bar, catch some stand-up comedy or one
of the diverse live bands, and place you orders for garlic king prawns, calamari or fajita platters. The staff will even rustle up cocktails for the Mixmag and Dazed posse – perhaps a
CoCo caipirinha or pear crumble.
The Queen of Hoxton
Now open until late September, Peckham's seasonal sensation will once again be serving Campari every which way throughout the summer. Daiquiris, spritzes, sours, mules, Picpoul and Prosecco are
also on offer, but first you’ll have to find the place. Sitting atop a vaguely menacing car park that could double as a set for a grim TV crime drama, this cool social space is a fun-loving mix of
music, art, spontaneous happenings and board games. There’s also a splendid view of the Emerald City (aka Canary Wharf) twinkling on the evening horizon. Got the Munchkins? Order Frank’s wizard
street food, salads, cured meats and meaty mains. If you can brave the post-holocaust surrounds (particularly intimidating at night) you’ll not only be rewarded with great cityscapes but also a
chilled boho crowd having a blissed-out time.
Frank's Café & Campari Bar
Although they’re increasingly common in other parts of town, rooftop bars are as rare as prolonged sunny spells in Soho – which makes Aqua Spirit’s open-air chill-out a poseur's paradise for blue-sky drinkers. Frequently themed according to the season, its terraces and cocktails are as smartly turned out as the venue’s fashion-conscious clientele: in 2016, the autumn highlight was the Hanging Gardens of Kyoto, a cute installation that followed hot on the Louboutin heels of summer's Veuve Clicquot Rosé garden. When the weather inevitably throws a tantrum, shelter indoors at the carousel bar, retreat to one of the kimono silk-lined booths and get stuck into a list of east-west Daiquiris, Saketinis and Shanghai-style classics such as Nippon Negroni, plus some Eurasian street food. Prices are more haute couture than bargain basement in this new incarnation of Dickins & Jones department store.
Occupying a former Spanish ambassador’s imposing townhouse, Gaucho’s moodily lit Buenos Aires bling interior is as heavily choreographed as an Argentine tango. For drinks, stake out the steakhouse’s bars. The penumbral ground floor lounge is a cosy cocoon on wintry nights. In warmer weather, chill on the restaurant’s smart street level terrace or press on upstairs to the bold second bar which leads onto a heated terrace (complete with a cabriolet-style folding roof, should showers threaten. The same drinks and tapas menu - pillowy empañadas, juicy scallops and ceviche or platters of plump sausages - is available throughout. Classic Buenos Aires cocktails include a Cointreau and apricot brandy-laced gin martini known as The Claridge, Cogote (a Chivas Regal mule) and A La Antigua: a Manhattan combining Ron Zacapa 23 year-old rum and Cynar. Figure on around £10 for signatures such as the Giovannoni (a vodkatini made with Torrontes white wine, rosehip, peach and passion fruit-enhanced Ketel One). Drinks are well balanced although we rate the Pommelina – the bar’s grapefruity answer to the classic Caipirinha – so it’s actually Argentina 0, Brazil 1.
Gaucho Piccadilly Bar and Roof Terrace
Once operating on a temporary license, Hackney council have given the go ahead for this rooftop retreat to open permanently. Book a desk to work at in the sun or skip the work and go straight to drinks. The bar is stocked with local favourites including draught from Five Points Brewery and spirits from East London Liquor Company, as well as treats such as alcoholic lollies from Poptails. Passion Bites, Spanish fusion cuisine, is also in residency here with select menus for brunch, through to dinner. The vegan roasted piquillo peppers, spinach, avocado, smoked baby vine tomatoes and grilled portobello mushroom on sourdough makes a great light lunch option. The menu also boasts delicious sharing charcuterie boards. Fancy some culture? There’s a micro gallery displaying the work of London’s street artists and illustrators. Netil 360 is a definitely an all-day soiree.
With its picture-postcard views of Trafalgar Square below and the city’s skyline beyond, The Rooftop is The Trafalgar St James Hotel’s crowning glory. The previous venue, Vista, has been swept away, replaced by a smart, all-weather, south-facing alfresco bar and kitchen – a rendezvous that deserves to attract Londoners and tourists. Cocktails are key here. Loll on cushion-strewn banquettes over classic sundowners Sidecar and Aviation, or any of a dozen signatures. Skyline (pink grapefruit, raspberry and lavender bitters and pisco) is a swell Sour, while a bourbon, apple and tea syrup Taittinger Champagne cocktail is certainly our idea of ‘Teatime’. There’s a useful selection of wines by the glass, plus Asian-style bar bites: grilled Korean beef brochettes, perhaps, or octopus, whipped cod roe and mushroom tempura. Yuzu and lime meringue tart is one of a trio of sweets at this much-improved skybar that also incorporates a 14-seater glass boardroom for hire.
The Rooftop at The Trafalgar Hotel
From the moment the glass-box express lift whisks you 38 floors up the face of Heron Tower, this cocky Japanese/Latino fusion pile screams ‘Las Vegas’ – a vision of slick selfie-stick perfection and pizzazz aimed at the big-money crowd. The later the hour, the louder the DJs and the livelier the scene as booze-fuelled high rollers ramp up the party vibe. To drink, investigate Asian-inspired takes on the classics: a Gimlet doctored with coconut and kaffir leaf, a Martini involving Grey Goose La Poire Nashi or a Negroni manqué made with Hibiki Japanese whisky and plum liqueur. If the latter doesn't warm you up, the fire pits and snuggly blankets on the breezy sky terrace should do the trick. With its centrepiece alfresco bar under the flame and metallic leaf canopy of a giant tree sculpture, this is a soothing sanctuary away from the mayhem.
Ostensibly a members’ club – but open to all – The Driver is a genuine all-rounder aimed at the King’s Cross media crowd & local trendies. The huge designer-driven site boasts no fewer than
five floors of high-style pleasure, moving skywards from a wooden-floored boozer at street level to a classy, bijou rooftop bar. The menu served in the grown-up dining room plays it straight, &
consistent standards make it a good fit for client dining. Moules marinière might start proceedings, ahead of honest-to-goodness beer-battered cod & chips or even a recherché antelope &
Guinness pie. Sunday brings a choice of roasts, while summer rooftop BBQs are priced at £20/£25 a head, depending on how deluxe you go. Other floors yield wackily designed spaces for lounging,
dancing & general partying throughout the week.
The change in mood as you step out of the lift that takes you to Boundary Rooftop is tangible: from the concrete jungle below to an inviting area complete with big, comfy settees, a garden abundant
with vines and wild herbs, and great views across east London. The gloriously languid feel rubs off on the assembled company, many of whom are here for the booze – including cocktails, Breton
cider and Meantime beer. There’s also a generous assortment of food with a robata grill delivering lobsters, spatchcock poussin or lamb cutlets with parsley and black olives. Opening times used
to be governed by the seasons, but a nifty redesign has now put paid to that, with a heated glass-roofed, glass-walled pergola keeping diners and drinkers cosy in winter – a feature that is opened
to the elements come summer.
Boundary Rooftop Bar & Grill
A new rooftop bar and chill-out zone – sited above the stalls at weekend market Playground – Proof occupies the urban space vacated by Coppa. The folk behind mezcal brand Quiquiriqui and the mega-cool Clapton off licence and tasting room, Brahms & Liszt, now run the joint, which consists of a new indoor bar and a lo-fi, loungey covered terrace overlooking leafy London Fields. If bucolic isn’t your bag, watch the trains clattering over a viaduct to one side. Premium spirits are used in no-frills £8 cocktails such as Mezcal Vice, Bramble and the ubiquitous Mexican cooler, Batanga (Tequila, Coke and lime in a salt-rimmed glass). You’ll also find great stuff from Somerset artisan producers The Cider Box, wine from £6 a glass and ales from Hackney’s Five Points brewery. One-off events, pop-ups and film screenings provide further proof that the iconic Hothouse Building is a hot Hackney hangout worth knowing.
Impossibly glamorous (and sometimes impossible to get into if you haven't booked) the exclusive rooftop bar at ME London piles on the wow factor with its minimalist monochrome decor and views over the City skyline. On warm days, the prime spots are the white leather sofas by the rooftop edge: perfect for alfresco posing. House cocktails run from the Mexican (a refreshing blend of El Jimador Tequila, cucumber, mint and agave) to South Pacific (Leblon cachaça, kiwi, elderflower and apple juice), while the Champagne list is reassuringly extensive (and expensive), with bottles of Bolly for £100 and jeroboams of Cristal 1999 weighing in at a cool £5,000. Meanwhile, aficionados can pair Cognac or whisky with a Montecristo No.4 from the cigar menu. Daytime eats include risottos, salads and burgers, with dainty tapas on offer when the lights go down.
Balmy evenings alfresco, sundowners and sunsets over Stratford, that’s the lure of London’s latest rooftop bar, open until autumn 2014 atop a disused car park that has morphed into an ‘urban park’
with vintage sports cars as planters. Take in a programme of recent and classic films on the big screen (headphones and deckchair supplied), along with various happenings, dance and drama too.
Catering rights go to the guys at Hackney Pearl – so graze on brunch and breakfast staples, salads grown
on the roof, cakes, pastries, rosemary-seasoned pork burgers or mackerel with romesco and rocket. To drink, kick back with Meantime beers and Orchard Pig cider on tap, wine from £3.80 a glass,
Aperol spritzes, watermelon alco-coolers and cocktails referencing the night’s movie selection – think Pink Air Head (Moscato rosé, vodka and strawberries) to go with Clueless.
The Pearl at Roof East
The guys from Forza Win have been bringing their wood-fired seasonal shindigs to pop-up parties across town, and they now have a permanent site on Commercial Street. Billed as a ‘proper English pub’, The Culpeper is a stripped-back, all-day venue dealing in patriotic grub with some Gallic overtones – from deep-fried pig’s head with dandelion leaves and pickled walnuts or beer-battered haddock and chips to violet artichoke, tomato and goats’ cheese tarte fine or cod brandade with green bean, shallot almond salad. Breakfast, weekend brunch and Sunday roasts are part of the offer, while the drinks list features local bottled beers and cocktails created with home-grown herbal tinctures. Up on the roof, there’s currently a ‘full-on vegetable farm’ supplying ingredients for the kitchen, but lots of picnics and other alfresco events are planned. Accommodation is also in the pipeline.
Tommy Boland (Almeida, Tom Aikens, The Square) heads the kitchen, producing an alluring menu of modish British cooking. Our baked beetroot with celeriac and goats’ curd was a good-sized, well-balanced plate, as was the dish of fat, perfectly cooked scallops with squash purée and Jerusalem artichoke gratin. Mains tend to be big and rich: pan-fried sea bream with chanterelles and Parmesan gnocchi was delicious but intense, while roasted turbot arrived in a similarly generous portion. For pud, we recommend waiting for the light, creamy pistachio soufflé with bitter-chocolate ice cream. Open from breakfast, the five-floor establishment also houses a lounge bar, cocktail bar, private dining room and roof terrace. Service is attentive – sometimes overly so, as unnecessary top-ups filled our glasses to the brim (albeit with delicious Portuguese Chardonnay from a list starting at £20). There are worse crimes.
Bird of Smithfield
A covered all-year roof terrace, regular alfresco classic film screenings, generous happy hours and weekend house parties for sharp-dressing honeys are among the reasons to make a beeline for this buzzy mid-market hive. You can also retreat to the main bar (one floor below) for well-constructed drinks including Pear Mojito, Lychee Rose Martini and the signature Golden Bee (a tropical cooler made with Jose Cuervo Reposado Tequila, banana liqueur and apple). Otherwise, Champagne zooms all the way from house Moët & Chandon (£60) to astronomical 2007 Cristal rosé, while bottled hooch and mixers start from £120 – as the cost of your cocktail is driven by its base spirit, you'll need to order carefully if you want to avoid being stung in the pocket. To eat, sharing platters (sushi etc) can be ordered in advance.
Known to all as the POW, Brixton’s most famous boozer has been dramatically recast as a late-night bar, restaurant and entertainment space, with event rooms and tiered roof gardens – no wonder it’s
being billed as a ‘licensed powerhouse’. Dating from 1936, the current building once hosted the likes of Chuck Berry and The Who, and became a hotbed of political radicalism during the 80s – as
well as attracting stars such as Diana Dors. Much of the gilded interior has been retained (including the stunning art-deco staircase), while striking mirrors now display the day’s menu. Expect
lots of influences, from salt cod cakes with pea guacamole or oxtail pacchieri with pecorino crumb to pizzas and meaty specialities from the wood-fired oven. As for entertainment, think comedy,
salsa, graffiti battles Pongathons, regular DJ sets and more besides.
The Prince of Wales Brixton
The upper reaches of London airspace have become a merry-go-round of epicurean fantasies, so it’s no surprise the ‘Walkie Talkie’ has unveiled a bar on the top floor. The Sky Pod is the focal point of the Sky Garden, a three-storey open-plan atrium (complete with garden) showcasing the building’s curved crown. The view is an awe-inspiring widescreen but the bar itself is dwarfed and lacks intimacy due to the amount of surrounding empty space. Signature cocktails include a tangy Fresh Mary, combining gin with notes of cherry tomato and basil (£11.50), alongside reasonably priced classics, a range of wines and spirits, and sharing platters for snacking. As part of its green credentials, the space has no climate control and on our visit the staff wore woolly hats and coats. No evening reservations make Sky Pod great for heady stargazing, just remember to dress for the temperature.
Sky Pod at Sky Garden
Manicured lawns, topiary, wisteria-clad cloisters and an alfresco bar make this memorable rooftop garden a shoo-in for summer drinking. Covered and heated against autumn’s chills – with a further bar indoors – D&D London's fine-plumed silver Coq has plenty to crow about whatever the weather. Cool down with first-rate fizzes, rum iced tea, a dozen different G&Ts, Italian spritzes, virgin Coladas and classy wines from under £25 a bottle; alternatively, dip into a line-up of vodka sours involving lavender, pisco and plum, apricot and Earl Grey, or sip a variant made with bourbon and saffron. By contrast, winter warmers include first-class flights of three whiskies (from £17.50) from a creditable collection of malts – all served in the après-ski chalet setting of the seasonal Lodge d’Argent. Snacks cover everything from oysters and escargots to grilled vegetable brochettes, prawn tempura, garlic-baked Camembert, hot wings and charcuterie boards.
Coq d'Argent (bar)
Land on this square of the Monopoly board & go straight to jail: no great hardship when the clink in question comes with passion-fruit mojito, peach Bellini or pear & elderflower Collins to
soften your stretch. This hotel bar is fashioned from a converted magistrate’s court, & you can book one of the original holding cells – complete with loos (now water features) – that housed
celebrity detainees such as Oscar Wilde & Johnny Rotten. Nowadays, porridge gives way to canapés & panini, & although some might rate prices here ‘daylight robbery’, you’re getting off
lightly by five-star West End hotel standards. If the window-less room sends you stir crazy, escape to the Soho Sky Terrace, a summer rooftop bar with deals such as a bucket of beer & a
barbecue platter for £27. With Pimm’s, pink Champagne & sporting action to watch on discreet TV screens, this open ‘prison’ is a breeze.
The Bar & Sky Terrace