Nine Lives, London Bridge
This vibrant subterranean bar brings plenty of tiki-inspired fun and on-point cocktails to London Bridge, just minutes from the station. Hip interiors of rattan lampshades, lush hanging plants and upcycled bamboo furniture, as well as pulsing beats and feel-good vibes, set the scene for the bar’s latest menu, Tropicalifornication. Inspired by music albums, this ‘compilation’ of 12 cocktails is replete with vibrant serves and plenty of sustainably minded brands, including Discarded banana peel rum and Avallen calvados. Try the Way Better Than a Cosmo, which as the name suggests turbo-charges the classics 90s cocktail, using a combination of Grey Goose vodka, redcurrants, kumquats and lime to deliciously fresh and zingy effect. Also impressive is Punchline, featuring Tanqeuray, pineapple shrub, apricot brandy, chartreuse and lime for a zesty, layered cocktail with funky fruit and floral notes. Rum cocktail lovers should choose the Tropicalifornication, featuring banana and pineapple rums, bitters, lime and egg white for a smooth, opulently tropical tipple. If you get hungry, impeccably made guacamole and flavoured-packed seasonal seafood tacos are available to order from Tigre Tacos. ninelivesbar.com
The Lowback, Canary Wharf
This Hawksmoor bar – the first bar launch from the group in more than 11 years – is set on a floating pavilion in Canary Wharf. Inside, interiors are heavy on dark wood fittings, dim lighting and mid-century-style fixtures – the kind of bar that Don Draper would drink in. On the menu, there’s plenty to like, including bottled champagne cocktails and lots of classic Hawksmoor creations (including a stellar sour cherry negroni), but it’s the creative martini list – all chilled to 11C in flasks to ensure a perfectly frosty serve – that deserves close attention. Lovers of a savoury tipple should make a beeline for the turbo-charged Pink Gibson. Featuring Audemus Umami Gin (flavoured with wacky botanicals including capers and parmesan) and a pink pickled onion, it delivers masses of savoury briny notes, underpinned by delicate floral hints. Those who prefer a cleaner martini should try the Douglas Fir Silver Bullet, icy and aniseed herbal with its marriage of Hepple vodka, douglas fir and dill oil. Do also explore the bar snacks, which include decadent salt beef nuggets filled with melted Ogleshield cheese, and bone marrow oysters, as well as larger steak and burger dishes. thehawksmoor.com
Cellar at Kindred, Hammersmith
The hectic roundabout at Hammersmith Broadway is an unexpected setting for cocktails, but members’ club Kindred, in the elegant Grade-II listed Bradmore House, has launched Cellar, a laidback café and bar open to the public. In relaxed and casual surroundings, cocktails come courtesy of resident mixologist Julian de Feral (Milk & Honey, Lutyens and Hawksmoor) and offer plenty of accessible, crowd-pleasing twists on classics.
Try the Brambl-ita – Curado Cupreata smoked tequila with lime, spiced chocolate bitters and blackberry liqueur – for a vibrantly fruity, satisfyingly zingy twist on a margarita. Those looking for a lighter tipple should opt for the Kindred Spritz, using flavour-packed non-alcoholic aperitif Everleaf to add extra oomph alongside cherry aperitif, peach and jasmine soda and sparkling wine for a delicate, floral drink. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Cellar takes a classic espresso martini and injects it with tropical character with the addition of Aluna coconut and coffee liqueur, Cargo Cult banana spiced rum and spices for an opulent serve. wearekindred.com
Sweeties, King’s Cross
Step into the Standard hotel’s sleek red pill lift and zoom up to the 10th floor for this luxe bar that combines retro interiors with playful, off-beat cocktails and unrivalled views of King’s Cross and St Pancras.
In keeping with its home, a restored 1970s Brutalist office block, Sweeties takes its cue from the same decade, with opulent interiors including velvet sofas, mirrored tables, gold accents, wood panelling and patterned carpets.
The cocktail menu features ‘feel-good ingredients and mood-enhancing mixes’ designed to be energising and uplifting. We’re not sure if we felt these effects but regardless the drinks are very good. Pick Me Up – made with eight adaptogenic (ingredients that help the body deal with stress) mushrooms, vodka, rum, caramel and burnt butter drank like an elevated espresso martini, layered and earthy, with rounded depth. Roots Manuva – riesling vermouth, golden beet caramel, turmeric, ginseng, ginger, orange and mead – is vibrant, honeyed and fresh, with a vegetal edge.
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No Whey Jose, blanco tequila with strawberry, red rice, rose and a salted hot coconut foam, was the delightful cocktail equivalent of a Campino strawberry candy. Purple Rain – Johnny Walker whisky, amazake, salted plum, cherry bark and blossom wine – was like an extra fruity old fashioned, bursting with berry flavours, smoky and subtly savoury. standardhotels.com/sweeties
Seed Library, London E1
Ryan Chetiyawardana’s latest venture is a slinky drinking den in the basement of the One Hundred Shoreditch hotel.
Whereas his flagship bar – Lyaness at Sea Containers in Southbank – showcases a high-concept approach to mixology, Seed Library is deliberately more casual and low key. Walk-ins are encouraged and the space, with its sultry lighting, wood-panelled walls, red velvet chairs and warm palette, feels retro and slightly louche, yet very welcoming.
Expect elevated riffs on cocktail classics. Sansho Leaf Martini with Belvedere vodka, Cocchi dry vermouth and green sansho oil is clean and delicate, and subtly savoury. A Coriander Seed Gimlet is gorgeously executed, clean and citrussy with a backbone of gentle, warming spice. Summer Whisky Sourz, with Dewar’s 12-year-old scotch, Fierfield Birch botanical Irish whiskey, woodruff, meadowsweet and lemon is complex and layered, with herbaceous and cereal notes. Galangal Pencillin swaps the traditional peated whisky for tequila and mezcal, and adds aromatic galangal for a vibrant, smoky cocktail.
Bar snacks are winningly hearty, and moreish – expect the likes of deep-fried chicken hearts, beef short rib croquettes and potato smileys. onehundredshoreditch.com/seed-library
Doña, London N16
There’s something soothingly womb-like and seductive about descending into Doña, with its basement setting and sumptuous, lavishly trimmed décor of wall-to-wall rich reds and pinks scattered with prickly cacti, velvet seating and a fabulous pink-fringed bar.
It’s an all-female affair – founded by friends Thea Cumming and Lucia Massey, and functions as both mezcal bar and community arts platform – there’s music and performance most nights, with an emphasis on female and queer artists, and a lively cultural programme. There’s also tacos on tap, thanks to Tigre Tacos upstairs.
Thea has her own mezcal brand, Dangerous Don, and founded London Mezcal Week, so it’s no surprise Doña is a treasure trove of rare and small-batch mezcals. If you’re new to mezcal then we recommend starting with the short but hard-working cocktail list, which explores the versatility of this smoky agave spirit. Take the Fiorella: made with Quiquiriqui mezcal, dry vermouth, Italicus and Empirical Ayuuk, it has the clean, crystalline feel of a martini but with a herbaceous, earthy backbone. Or try the Monika, with Dangerous Don Café, chocolate, crème de cacao, Cocchi Americano and amaretto, which tastes like a refined, elevated espresso martini, replete with coffee, chocolate and nutty notes.
Doña also makes a cracking house margarita – we asked for a spicy version and the end result was superb, poky and zesty with a savoury, briny twang at the end. bardonalondon.com
Silverleaf, Bishopsgate – for cocktails in the City
If you loved Dandelyan and Lyaness at Sea Containers in Southbank, make a beeline for this standalone bar at the Pan Pacific hotel in Bishopsgate, which combines sultry Tom Dixon-designed interiors with precisely executed, intriguing cocktails.
We mean ‘standalone’ literally – the bar isn’t in the actual hotel, but hidden away in the adjacent Devonshire House. The drinks expertise comes from London whisky specialist Milroy’s.
Inside, interiors have moody metallic and muted tones, plus luxe textures and forms – think mid-century furniture, curved marble tables, sweeping banquettes, charred timber, blackened steel and low lighting.
The cocktails, which are sleek and minimalist in presentation, deliver surprising marriages of ingredients and flavours. Try the Heartleaf/Kombu, with Haku vodka, heartleaf and kombu distillate and red wine vinegar, for a subtly briny, savoury and clean twist on a classic martini. Another must-order is Hibiscus/Guajillo, featuring mezcal, homemade sorrel vermouth, guajillo chilli tincture, hibiscus, cacao nibs and mole bitters. It’s a vibrant, intricate balance of flavours – tart and spicy with subtle hints of cocoa. panpacific.com/silverleaf
Connaught Bar – for martinis
Low-lit, slinky, plush luxury is the name of the game at this acclaimed hotel bar, whose tastefully decadent surrounds – metallic accents, mirrors, a mutedly rich palate and plenty of seating to sink into – is matched by impeccable service and even more impressive cocktails.
If you only order one drink let it be the martini – made at a trolley by your table with theatrical, expert aplomb (watching them pour the martini in a high, silvery stream into your glass is a sight to behold). Tanqueray No Ten is the recommended serve, along with a blend of vermouths and your choice of homemade bitters (ranging from tonka bean and lavender to cardamom, on our visit). The end result is spot on, silky textured and very generous in size – don’t drink one on an empty stomach.
Their latest menu, Formae, also has much to explore, drawing inspiration from the shapes and forms of the surrounding bar. We tried the Voronoi – a fruitier, lighter take on a margarita with Tapatio tequila, Michoacan mezcal, vetiver liqueur, lime and timur sherbet, vermouth, grapefruit hops bitters and agave water. Thought has gone into the zero-alcohol offering, too – we enjoyed the sprightly Pietra with ginseng and bergamot kombucha, osmanthus honey syrup and sauvignon blanc juice.
Complimentary buttery olives and crackers are continuously refilled by meticulously attentive staff, and winning canapés include ultra-light and crispy tempura made with seasonal veg, crispy salmon sashimi with chipotle mayo and velvety guacamole. the-connaught.co.uk/connaught-bar
KOL Mezcalería – for agave cocktails
Tucked away on the lower ground floor of Santiago Lastra’s refined hymn to Mexican cuisine is this slinky, subterranean bar. Inspired by the mezcalerias of Mexico, it’s decked out in soothing earthy tones and natural textures, with dark wooden furniture, rattan lamps and traditional Mexican artifacts on the walls.
The cocktails are masterminded by bar manager Maxim Schulte (former head bartender at the American Bar at The Savoy), and echo the restaurant’s emphasis on British seasonal ingredients, with lots of homemade infusions. The drinks list changes regularly, but expect the likes of the Tatanka – crab apple-infused El Destilado rum, Somerset 10-year-old cider brandy and rhubarb for a tangy long drink, and a negroni made with sloe gin-infused Corte Vetusto mezcal. Star of the evening was a complex take on a martini, featuring Volcan Blanco tequila, pine distillate, cucumber and – quirkily – a touch of crème de cacao blanc, which softly rounded the vibrant flavours of the other ingredients. It had all the boozy kick of a classic martini, but with an added herbaceous character. Alongside this, Santiago has created a list of street-food style snacks, or ‘antojitos’, including truffle quesadillas with Kentish Oaxacan cheese. As well as the cocktails, don’t leave without sampling some of the bar’s 80-strong list of mezcal, tequila and other agave spirits. kolrestaurant.com
Abajo, Soho – for Argentinian cocktails
Head downstairs from Soho’s decadent Argentinian restaurant, Sucre, to this sultry cocktail lounge. The bar is exposed in the centre so you can watch mixologists shake, mix and pour from all angles, to the backdrop of live music and DJs. Tato Giovannoni, the brains behind Buenos Aires’s Florería Atlántico (of World’s 50 Best Bars fame), has curated a menu that nods to the vibrancy, spirit and colour of modern Argentina. A highlight is ‘something orange’, a refreshing concoction of corn-based Mexican whisky, corn liqueur and pumpkin and peanut chicha purée, topped up with mandarin and bergamot soda and illuminated by a neon coaster. Argentina’s iconic Princípe de los Apóstoles gin, infused with yerba mate and eucalyptus, is at the core of many of the cocktails, including the velvety, salty, martini-style And One Dry and the zippy, easy-drinking Suffering Bastard. Get a taste of chef Fernando Trocca’s fare in snacks and small plates, such as beef tartare scooped up with crunchy plantain crisps, zingy wood-fired cauliflower on a citrussy ‘causa’ mash, and empanada parcels filled with creamy aged cheddar, chilli and onions. Don’t miss the dulce de leche fondant for something sweet. sucrerestaurant.com/abajo/
Swift, Soho – for pre-dinner drinks
This award-winning Soho bar comes from husband-and-wife team Bobby Hiddleston (Dead Rabbit, Callooh Callay) and Mia Johansson (Milk & Honey), and the team behind Nightjar and Oriole. It’s a two-part affair, with a buzzy, casual space on the ground floor – best for walk-ins – and darker, intimate underground lounge with sleek crescent booths, inky black tables and moody lighting.
The upstairs serves lighter aperitif cocktails (try the signature sgroppino, with lemon sorbet, prosecco and Italicus), while down below focuses on more sultry cocktails, as well as whisky, of which they have a 300-strong collection.
Do check out their latest outpost in Shoreditch, where sleek black and white art deco-style interiors make a classy setting for drinking characteristically creative cocktails – try the Carmen with Olmeca Altos plata tequila, toasted blue corn and lime sherbet for a zingy twist on a margarita. barswift.com
Three Sheets, Dalston – for pared-back cocktails
A stripped-back cocktail bar with a succinct list of drinks, Three Sheets has raked in the plaudits over the years but still retains a buzzy neighbourhood hang-out vibe.
It was the first venture from the Venning brothers, originally from Manchester, who have worked in leading cocktail bars for years, most notably Max’s experience with Tony Conigliaro’s Drinks Factory and 69 Colebrooke Row and Noel’s time in Manchester at tequila bar Crazy Pedro’s. More recently, they’ve also helped found Crouch End’s Little Mercies (see below) and Highbury wine bar Top Cuvée – as well as its roaringly successful shop, Shop Cuvée.
Max and Noel aren’t big on the showy side of cocktail making – behind the bar is a simple shelf of bottles containing only what the mixologists need for the short cocktail list. This no-frills approach allows the brothers’ northern charm to shine through; they chat away and recommend local haunts while shaking up drinks as though hosting you in their own home.
The pithy drinks list changes seasonally, but usually features their famous fizzy pre-bottled French 75, made with gin, verjus, clarified lemon juice, moscato and orange flower. Poured straight into your glass like champagne, it’s dangerously easy to drink (you can buy it buy the glass, or, even better, by the bottle). threesheets-bar.com
Homeboy, Battersea – for Irish charm
Aaron Wall and Ciarán Smith’s second Irish boozer-cum-contemporary cocktail bar continues the Gaelic fun south of the river, in Battersea. The bar crew really make this place, warming up the large space with top-notch recommendations, fun anecdotes and swift-yet-dramatic cocktail mixing against a glimmering backdrop of Irish whiskies. The extensive catalogue of spirits is used to create the likes of the Wogan, blending small-batch Irish whiskey aged in rum barrels with apricot brandy to complement the sweetness. Champagne paloma is a pre-batched number, combining and carbonating Patrón silver tequila, grapefruit sherbet and Moët in the bottle for a gluggable, refreshing finish. Boulevardier fans should choose the elegant Taoiseach, incorporating chocolaty Redbreast Irish whiskey into the mix with Cointreau, Martini Rosso and pomegranate syrup. Order the Dog House Punch to sip from tiki-style glasses modelled on Aaron’s dogs back in Dublin. Other must-orders are the velvety Irish coffee with a silky coffee cream finish, and a perfectly poured Guinness. Bar snacks include buttermilk-fried buffalo chicken nuggets, smoked salmon served on homemade soda bread with Kerrygold butter and the more substantial tender lamb Irish stew. homeboybar.com
SOMA, Soho – for Indian-inspired cocktails
This understated bar occupies subterranean premises on Soho’s Denman Street, next door to sister restaurant Kricket. Inside, expect pared-back yet polished cocktails served in low-lit, slinkily minimalist surrounds – think a stainless steel bar, indigo walls and walnut furnishings.
SOMA – like Kricket – takes inspiration from the Indian subcontinent, serving snappily executed riffs on classic cocktails that showcase clever spicing and an eclectic approach to ingredients. Start with the mooli, a crystalline affair of vodka with curry leaf-infused vermouth served ice-cold from the freezer and garnished with a sliver of pickled mooli. Savoury and peppery, delicate and clean, it may be a Marmite drink for some, but fans of a gibson martini should make a beeline for it. The chaat – mezcal, tequila, chaat masala, kumquat and a moreish gooseberry salt – is winningly clean, zesty and saline, while the oak is a silky, nutty, opulent marriage of cardamom, aged gin, amaro, vermouth and amontillado sherry. It’s the perfect nightcap to end the evening. somasoho.com
Little Mercies, Crouch End – for neighbourhood drinks
Modern, easy-drinking cocktails are the focus at Alan Sherwood’s (Peg + Patriot, Scout) laidback establishment.
Inside, it’s calm and composed – expect a minimalist interior of exposed brick, a concrete bar, pendant lamps and inky blue walls. The cocktails here are elegant, with plenty of homemade ingredients – most recently, a negroni made with the bar’s own passionfruit vermouth. There’s also a fun yet innovative approach to classic drinks, think bellinis made with lacto-fermented peach, kiwi gimlets and ‘Snickers’ old fashioneds. littlemercies.co.uk
Lyaness, South Bank – for innovative cocktails
When drinks maestro Ryan Chetiyawardana’s lavishly garlanded Dandelyan (including World’s Best Bar in 2018) closed earlier this year at Sea Containers London it was swiftly replaced by his next incarnation – Lyaness.
The sweeping green marble bar and sleek mid-century aesthetic remains at Lyaness, but this time the colour palate is lighter (but still statement-making), with sky-hued walls, soft-grey sofas and electric-blue banquettes, plus lots of opulent gold accents.
While Dandelyan’s thematically complex menus covered topics such as botany, sustainability and agriculture, Lyaness is more pared back, with a cocktail menu built around seven key ingredients. If this sounds simple, then rest assured there’s plenty of Ryan’s characteristically intricate drinks wizardry going on behind the scenes, with each ‘ingredient’ the end result of various clever processes and techniques. The resulting cocktails are supremely drinkable. lyaness.com
Nightjar, Shoreditch – for speakeasy vibes
The busy City Road in Shoreditch seems an unlikely setting for a stylish, subterranean speakeasy bar but that’s exactly where you’ll find Nightjar. On the outside, a tall wooden door sandwiched between two cafés is the only evidence of its existence, but go inside and discover a plush space replete with candlelit tables, leather banquette seating and flatteringly dim lighting.
The bar’s characteristically detailed drinks menu riffs on old cocktail recipes (ranging from the pre-prohibition to post-war periods) but adds its own twist.
Try the Honeymoon – a short, fresh yet punchy blend of Glenfiddich 21-year-old whisky, Nightjar’s ‘forbidden fruit liqueur’ (a mix of citrussy pomelo, sherry and dry vermouth), Cynar, mead, lemon and geranium leaf. It’s a complex drink, dry and delicately smoky, with subtle honey and aniseed notes.
Drink nerds should investigate the bar’s vintage spirits menu, which is full of rare, aged spirits dating from the late 19th to early 20th centuries. barnightjar.com
Oriole, Farringdon – for live music
A world away from the echoey warehouses of Smithfield Market above, this basement hideout oozes art deco glamour without being brash and shiny. Oriole is the name of a colourful exotic bird, and there are nods to this theme throughout, with jungle wallpaper, tropical illustrations and worldly trinkets. Lounge on a teal banquette or perch on one of the patterned pouffes that are scattered around the stage, where musicians unpack their double basses and jazz guitars to play gypsy swing, jazz and the blues.
Named “A world awaits”, this vast menu is split into Old World (Europe and Africa), New World (the Americas) and The Orient (Asia and Australasia), filtering in unusual ingredients from across the globe. Jules Verne’s Around The World in 80 Days springs to mind as the menu encourages guests to discover the globe through its many ingredients.
Go on a Wednesday to Saturday night to enjoy live global music – gypsy swing to traditional New Orlean’s jazz, West African blues to Trinidadian calypso. oriolebar.com
Coupette, Bethnal Green – for date night
This is a super cool drinking den, where banter over the bar (made from French centimes) is encouraged. There’s a soundtrack of hip hop, that has taken over jazz as the cocktail bar genre of choice over the last few years, and punters let loose as the evening unfolds, moving from high tables to mingle in with other cocktail lovers and choose spirits from the brick wall behind the bar. The showstopping champagne piña colada is a must-try – a mix of Bacardi Heritage, French-Caribbean agricole rum, pineapple and coconut sorbet, topped up with Moët & Chandon brut. coupette.co.uk
Ever After – for people watching
This elegant, low-key bar sits above sister outfit Happiness Forgets in Hoxton Square. Inside, there’s bistro-style seating, banquettes and exposed brick walls, with Crittall doors opening on to a covered terrace with choice views of the square. It’s got heaters and blankets, too, should you want to people watch in winter.
Cocktails are elegant and precise – sherry cobbler gets a modern makeover as a milk punch and is beautifully rounded, with dry salinity from the sherry alongside tropical fruit notes. The bar’s house martinis are prebatched and stashed in the freezer until needed – our Plymouth gin one was deliciously silky and icy. Do check out the list of zero-alcohol cocktails, too, include the warming, smoky Dry Penicillin and a convincingly punchy and herbaceous booze-free negroni.
Come for drinks but stay for dinner, with generous sharing plates including steak tartare with crispy croutons, and roast aubergine with pumpkin purée and salsa verde, as well as simple yet luscious chocolate mousse made in big batches and scooped into bowls at your table. everafterbar.com
Bandra Bhai – for Indian-inspired cocktails
If you’re looking for a secret late-night bar in central London to impress friends, then this is the place to visit.
Hidden away in the basement of Pali Hill is secluded cocktail bar Bandra Bhai, with interiors inspired by 1970s India and old smuggling dens. Head bartender (and drinks wizard) Dav Eames explains to us that he recently sourced the original 70s glassware from vintage shops – a hint of the passion that lies behind the menu.
The 70s inspiration continues with drinks such as the Disco Inferno, made with cardamom gin. Indian history is also a touchstone, which is why the tequila, ginger, lemon and grapefruit cocktail Bangbang Bandstand gets its name from the joyful miscreants that used to accumulate on bandstands. Each drink has a story linked to it and three main flavours, which is apparent in our favourite, the Gaba Singh Side-Hustle which has pineapple, celery and cognac and comes served in what can only be described as pure opulence, a golden pineapple glass. bandrabhai.co.uk
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