Unusual alfresco bars for sun-enchanted evenings

Alfresco bars

Posted on 07 June 2013

Unusual alfresco bars for sun-enchanted evenings

The sun's out, it's warm and there's nothing stopping you from lapping up a drink or two. Go on, you know it has to be done. From floating boats and paddling pools to funky rooftops and deckchairs in the garden, dive into some of the capital’s quirkier alfresco watering holes.

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The 2012 Olympics are a distant memory, but you’ll still find crowds around the main athletics stadium. Most of them are here for Crate, a converted printworks that now hosts a microbrewery and a witty post-industrial bar-cum-pizzeria. Tables outdoors are at a premium on warm days, when the inner-city canal-side location takes on a festival feel as the area’s increasingly upmarket residents loll on the towpath with cooling draughts of real ale, interesting guest beers and hand-pulled ciders. When the moon hits the sky like a big pizza pie, Crate’s tasty thin-crusts are what to order, amore.


Success with The Dalston Roof Park – another alfresco space to consider this summer – prompted Sam Aldenton to create a similar pop-up aerial fantasy garden on the South Bank. Up to 150 postmodern tipplers congregate here to enjoy chilled wine, beers, reasonably priced ‘garden cocktails’ (served in mini watering cans), groovy bar snacks and food from the BBQ. Also look out for impromptu arty happenings. The garden, also available for private hire, is open every day until September; note extended opening hours until midnight from Thursday to Saturday.


The annual opening of Frank’s rooftop hangout is always a keenly anticipated event. This year, the seasonal sensation will be serving Campari every which way from 30 June until late September. 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 and meaty mains.

THE GOLDEN BEE (pictured below)

‘Hot town, summer in the city’? Get yourself a lovin’ spoonful of honey in a well-mixed French 75 at the Golden Bee. Open until 3.30am at weekends, this hip hive attracts a twentysomething Hed Kandi house-music crowd – close your eyes and you could be in Sardinia, not Shoreditch, sipping Bellinis, clementinis (£8) and Italian dreams (Campari, limoncello, Olmeca Reposado Tequila, passion fruit and vanilla). Happy-hour deals, DJs in the downstairs bar and a fire-pit to ward off evil chills are further reasons to buzz over to this Old Street original. Amy Winehouse beehive hairdos are optional.

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Sometimes, you just don’t want the night to end. Formerly the Talk of the Town theatre, The Hippodrome Casino is a hush-hush address known to serial nighthawks. Open 24/7 without interruption, its hidden open-air bar is where to find a wee-small-hours cocktail designed by no less than sharp shaker Tony Conigliaro of 69 Colebrooke Row. Around £8.50 gets a Rat Pack Manhattan or tiki margarita, while bubbles run from everyday fizz (£25) to the sort of costly crus that might need a little help from a friendly roulette wheel. For sustenance, hit the jackpot with truffle-topped millionaire’s mac ’n’ cheese from Heliot’s all-day bar menu.

Inn the Park - 0907_Inn_the_Park5.jpg5.jpgINN THE PARK (pictured left)

Deep in the park after dark, something stirs. That’ll be a cocktail barman mixing a fine fig caipirinha at Oliver Peyton’s St James’s hideaway. Renovated by uber-designer Tom Dixon, its new outdoor bar (open until 11pm) overlooks the ethereally lit lake – home to the park’s famous pelicans. Your bill needn’t be as big if you order wisely: cocktails start at £7, and this season’s signature mixes – crab-apple sour, rhubarb or nettle gimlet – contain locally foraged ingredients. Otherwise, sip craft beers, artisan ciders and vino as you laze on the grass – English summer weather permitting.


For a dip and a sip in SE24, head to Brockwell Park’s lovely art-deco lido. Its restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but the refurbished bar’s terrace overlooking the oh-so-inviting pool is where to catch some rays and enjoy craft beers, wines from £18.50 and bar bites such as a salt-cod Scotch egg with aïoli. Cocktails include voguish Aperol spritz and elderflower sherbet, but there’s sadly no trace of that on-theme kitsch retro rinse, blue lagoon. You’re only minutes away from Brixton’s gritty bustle, but with a Moscow mule in hand, you could be lounging at your private Seychelles villa.


Essentially a divan-strewn, candlelit, Ibiza chill-out room under canvas, Battersea’s Magic Garden is the place to drink vanilla-vodka-laced ‘magic nightjar’ cocktails or gin, jasmine and lychee ‘tea clippers’ served in old teapots to share. Wines from £16 (for house Malbec) turn Glastonbury glampers into happy campers, as does a 2am licence at weekends. A diverse music policy embracing jazz, blues, bluegrass, Latin, rockabilly and Balkan electro swing, plus affordable comfort food, barbecues and buffets (minimum 20 people), make this a popular party venue.


Lottie Muir’s minuscule potager garden above the Thames Tunnel at old riverside Rotherhithe is hosting a weekends-only pop-up bar until the end of September. Bag a deckchair at sunset on Saturday and sip cocktails based on ingredients from the garden. Gin and lavender fizz, elderflower gimlet, fennel martini and cooling cups served with edible scented geranium petals or purple-basil blossom are a midsummer night’s dream for botanically minded drinkers. Reasonably priced ‘wild’ food is available on Sunday afternoons, when peripatetic chefs The Foragers cook up whatever Mother Nature has to offer.

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The Queen’s legendary rooftop – now with an all-weather cover – is basically a kidult’s urban adventure playground. This year’s fun includes cult classic flicks at regular film club nights and a headphone disco when DJ deities such as Jazzie B and Norman Jay spin old-school summer grooves. On Sundays, the sunbathers’ club springs into life until late afternoon, allowing punters to splash around in paddling pools and hot tubs. Knot a sarong or pull on your best board shorts and get stuck into slush-puppy cocktails, alcoholic iced teas (£6), hot dogs, veggie burgers and Med-style marinated goodies from the barbie at this Wham!-style slam.


This wraparound terrace-on-high above the ME Hotel turns into hedonism HQ whenever global warming does what it says on the tin – with blankets and patio heaters on hand should summer disappoint. Luckily, Radio’s magical views of The Shard, St Paul’s and other London landmarks can be relied on whatever the weather, especially by night. Cocktails are not about to be upstaged by the scenery, either: soak up a Waterloo sunset (Zacapa rum, coffee beans and lime) or get a healthy Grey Goose and jalapeño glow with Radio-active. Recline on the smart patio furniture with wine or fizz (from £21 to blow-the-budget bubbles) and order mac ’n’ cheese, sliders or pot stickers.

Vestal Voyages - Vetal_Voyages_-_2013_-_VESTAL_VOYAGES_11807(DESAT).jpgSUSHISAMBA

Launched just as last autumn’s big chill set in, the terrace bar at Sushisamba should really come into its own this summer. Stump up the price of a tonka-bean old-fashioned (£11) at this landmark skyscraper and get the City’s best views for free. Otherwise, shelter in the shade of the island bar’s giant tree sculpture and order a Hendrick’s and shochu cooler (aka chu-cumber). The cocktails may not be quite London’s best, and City suits aren’t always the coolest of customers, but 38 floors up on a perfect summer’s day, this has to be a contender as the best blue-sky drinking opportunity in town.

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The good ship Disco Volante is a lovingly restored, 50ft classic canal boat turned floating vodka palace, captained by owner William Borrell – the chap behind boutique Polish vodka brand Vestal. Up to 10 passengers can be accommodated on each bookable sailing throughout the summer (twice daily, four at weekends), so embark at the private mooring near St Pancras International for a 90-minute trip along the prettier stretches of the Regent’s Canal. Two shipshape shakes such as life-vest (a summery, Mediterranean-influenced rye vodka cooler) are included in the £25pp ticket price; additional cocktails cost £8, and you can also get various wines and beers, too. Forget Dover to Calais – this is a proper, sophisticated booze cruise.