World Whisky Day (Saturday 20 May) is almost upon us, and London’s premier whisky bars have managed to stay ahead of the curve through the years, able to offer the best drams, along with outstanding whisky cocktails. Join us in raising a glass to World Whisky Day 2017 – and read on to discover 10 great whisky bars in London.
Words: Phil Harriss
Black Rock, City
What: This sibling of Worship Street Whistling Shop is a foxy modern Tokyo-style shrine to whisky with a unique centrepiece. Dispensed from taps, house whiskies course through glass-covered channels, cut into an oak tree transformed into a communal table. Upwards of 250 class-act malts and blends from distillers worldwide are available.
Where: 9 Christopher Street, EC2A 2BS
Damn fine dram: Writer’s Tears Pot Still Irish whisky
Blues Kitchen, Camden
What: A bumper crop of bourbon combines with food from America’s deep-south and nightly live music at this spirited soul shack. Liquid enticements include cracking Old Fashioned and Whisky Sour cocktails, along with milkshakes spiked with booze. Big booths, 1950s memorabilia, neon signs and gingham wallpaper form an appropriate backdrop.
Where: 111-113 Camden High Street, NW1 7JN
Top tipple: Alehouse Rock (Four Roses bourbon, pale ale, grapefruit, bitters)
Boisdale of Belgravia, Belgravia
What: With its tartan chairs, kilted waitresses, classic Scottish food (haggis aplenty) and bountiful selection of whisky, Boisdale loudly trumpets its Caledonian heritage. Many of the jolly crowd scoot upstairs for a snifter while smoking something from the walk-in humidor; nearly all stay for the lively jazz session, starting at 10pm.
Where: 15 Eccleston Street, SW1W 9LX
Hot shot: Glen Deveron 10yrs
The Britannia, South Bank
What: A wall of whiskies – more than 100 in total – is a standout feature of this sympathetically renovated local boozer round the back of Guy’s Hospital. Check the blackboards to see what’s on offer, or ask the helpful bar staff for some spirited recommendations.
Where: 44 Kipling Street, SE1 3RU
Dream dram: Balvenie Single Malt
Bull in a China Shop, Shoreditch
What: Set behind a Dickensian-style frontage, this quirky Asian-accented bar-restaurant is owned by the Chan brothers, who also oversee nearby Drunken Monkey. The kitchen produces healthy dude food, while the bar specialises in Japanese whisky, offering pricey rarities and fabulous cocktails such as the Apricot Highball (with Nikka from the barrel).
Where: 196 Shoreditch High Street, E1 6LG
Damn fine dram: Yamazaki 12yrs Single Malt
Mac & Wild, City and Fitzrovia
What: Whiskies are matched to every dish at this meat-centred paeon to Scottish produce. The spirit is even added to deep-fried haggis ‘pops’. Craft beers also hail from north of the border, and a whisky and beer pairing masterclass is planned for 20 May at the City site.
Where: 9A Devonshire Square, EC2M 4YN and 65 Great Titchfield Street, W1W 7PS
Top tipple: Balblair 1999
What: A dishy, Cubist-inspired duplex, Swift is bang on the 2017 zeitgeist. In the ground-floor bar, sample a grown-up drinks list that favours ‘swift’ fixes made with lighter spirits; downstairs, in the maple-and-mocha piano lounge, linger over twisted cocktail classics, snack on steak tartare, or delve into the 250-strong whisky library.
Where: 12 Old Compton Street, W1D 4TQ
Hot shot: The Fourth Gentleman (Chivas Regal 12yrs, umeshu and poire berry)
The Sun Tavern, Bethnal Green
What: Blurring the line between traditional boozer and contemporary cocktail bar, The Sun has marshalled an assembly of Irish whisky and poitín (the traditionally bootlegged hooch). This designer-distressed, dilapidated bothy – run by the owners of the Discount Suit Company – also provides old-school bar snacks, live acoustic sets and DJ sessions.
Where: 441 Bethnal Green Road, E2 0AN
Dream dram: The Irishman Founder’s Reserve
Vault at Milroy’s, Soho
What: Book ahead for a seat in the cellar of this esteemed single-malt emporium, reached via a ‘bookcase’ door. In a scene reminiscent of the Ealing comedy Whisky Galore!, Soho types quaff ‘Uisge beatha’ cocktails made with Scotland’s finest. Other fixes go global with ryes and whiskies from India and Japan.
Where: 3 Greek Street, W1D 4NX
Damn fine dram: The Last Century (peated Scotch, yellow Chartreuse, cacao blanc)
Waxy O’Connor’s, Soho
What: You can be sure of decent Guinness and proper Irish whisky chasers at this cavernous, Irish-themed pub. Waxy’s has four separately styled rooms connected by staircases and punctuated by a large tree. Friendly staff serve hearty pub food, but booze is the thing. Don’t miss 50% off deals on ‘Whisky Wednesdays’.
Where: 14-16 Rupert Street, W1D 6DD
Hot shot: Green Spot Single Pot Still
If you want to try out more cocktails (that aren’t all of the whisky variety), take a look at our pick of the best cocktail bars in London
This article was published 19 May 2017