The bar is named after 60s photographer Terence Donovan, whose black-and-white photography adorns the space. The cocktails are inspired by iconic figures connected to Brown’s, from Oscar Wilde to Oliver Reed, and are co-created by powerhouse bartender Salvatore Calabrese (whose own signature drinks, like the vanilla- and chilli-spiked Spicy Fifty, are also on the list).
Not Shaken, Not Stirred is the delicious love child of a martini and an espresso martini – Ciroc vodka redistilled with Lucano coffee cordial, plus coffee caviar. It’s clear and crystalline with a warming, spicy undertone. Another hit, Read Between the Lines, gives an old fashioned some buttery, saline oomph with salted-butter-washed Dewar’s whisky.
Lighter cocktails include the Honey Bear, refreshing and tart with Campari and rhubarb cordial, plus Normandy cider, adding fruity funkiness. Non-alcs also impress – try the spritz-like Virgin Falls, crisp yet creamy and spicy.
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Common Decency, Covent Garden
NoMad, London’s subterranean bar – complete with its own entrance – has a pleasingly plush lounge aesthetic, with soft carpets, well-upholstered chairs and heavy brocade curtains. It’s a cosy setting for an innovative menu that showcases different seasonal ingredients – often wacky and always delicious.
Core ingredients include cucumber, quince, butternut squash and coconut, each with two different drinks, one traditional and the other more boundary-pushing. There’s also a list of premium cocktails made with top-end and vintage spirits. Bar snacks are refined yet hearty – we tried generous platters of silky charcuterie and chicken croquettes with black garlic aïoli.
Fans of savoury cocktails should try the Céline Dijon – Michter’s bourbon paired, daringly, with mushroom and pickled mustard broth, among other ingredients. It’s seductively earthy, with the umami mushroom softened by the smooth, caramel-toned bourbon. The Sichuan Gibson, a fabulous twist on the classic, is a silky, spicy affair, with Sichuan oil adding a lip-tingling kick to the drink. We haven’t had a martini quite like it.
If that all sounds a bit challenging, retreat to calmer waters with the margarita-style Cool as a Cuke (in which fermented cucumber adds cooling notes to tequila), or the bright and fruity Taste The Rainbow, with pear, quince and fino sherry playfully served in a flashing disco glass.
Velvet, London SW1
The Corinthia’s opulent new bar, Velvet, is as cosy and lavishly swagged as the name suggests. Hidden behind thick velvet curtains that give it a secluded feel, with softly flattering lighting and sofas and chairs in rich, jewel-like shades of red and blue, it’s an intimate, plush showcase for cocktails courtesy of award-winning drinks maestro, Salvatore Calabrese.
Drinks have twin influences – the roaring 20s and modern mixology – alongside some of Salvatore’s signature drinks and a pleasingly lengthy martini menu. The latter is well-worth exploring: try the savoury Salty Martini with Tanqueray No.10, fino sherry and caper brine, and the exotic Sesamini with Nikka Coffey gin washed in sesame oil, crème de banana and dry vermouth – nutty and tropical.
The bar has a winning way with bold flavours. A truffle sazerac with truffled Remy Martin VSOP and Bulleit Bourbon is masterfully balanced, with just the right amount of earthy, umami kick. A Salvatore classic, the Spicy Fifty, with Stolichnaya Vanilla, elderflower, chilli and lime juice, is delicate and complex, layered with spicy, floral and citrus notes.
Beaufort Bar at The Savoy
Tucked away deep at the back of The Savoy, you’ll find the hidden gem that is the Beaufort Bar. The vibe inside is dark and moody with dim lighting, black walls and opulent gold highlights for an intimate feel, but there’s also a surprisingly modern DJ and upbeat playlist as the night goes on. Early in the evening you’ll find a pre-theatre crowd, plus hotel guests and post-business meeting groups.
Lounge on the comfy sofas and padded chairs with low tables. Take your pick from the complex signature cocktails on the menu with long ingredients lists, or the expert bar staff can make you the classics.
A simple gin sour has been upgraded to the complex Seasonal Sour with an impressive nine ingredients, including port, pisco and sloe gin, topped with a pale vanilla foam. For a long drink, try the Good Fortune – a fruity blend of St Germain, grapefruit juice, sparkling wine and more. We were also tempted by the Croissantini, made with ‘croissant vodka’ – fans of a strong drink should give it a try. There’s also a selection of sustainable cocktails and alcohol-free options.
It’s worth paying attention to the bar snacks on offer, too: there’s bumps of caviar and platters of oysters for ultimate decadence, but it was the plate of moreish sticky gochujang fried chicken topped with pickled ginger that we’d happily return to have a second time.
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.
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.
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.
Connaught Bar, The Connaught Hotel, Mayfair
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, meticulously attentive service and even more impressive cocktails. So impressive, in fact, that it was voted World’s Best Bar in 2021.
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.
Dukes Bar, Mayfair
This bar might be world-famous but it still feels like one of London’s best kept secrets, discreetly tucked away in a quiet Mayfair cul-de-sac. Inside, discover a lushly outfitted parlour that feels little changed since the hotel first opened its doors in 1908, with antique portraits on the walls, plump armchairs, courtly white-jacketed waiters and a cosy wood-panelled bar.
Martinis are the name of the game here. Waiters will bring a trolley to your table stocked with ice-cold bottles of gin, vodka and decanters of vermouth and bitters, and assemble your drink with streamlined efficiency. If you ever tire of overly elaborate mixology and cocktails then a Dukes Bar martini is a delicious palate cleanser: clean, crystalline and, it has to be said, enormous – the two martini maximum at the bar is a wise one.
Artesian, The Langham, Marylebone
With its opulent surroundings – soaring ceilings, baroque chandeliers, a gilded bar and scalloped purple sofas – and equally illustrious heritage (it’s won multiple World’s Best Bar gongs), this decadent hotel bar, minutes from Oxford Circus, is a must visit.
The menu on our last trip paid tribute to retro drinks, with sleek, minimalist takes on camp classics. A Woo Woo is a pleasingly silky, light affair, with peachy fruitiness and complexity from vermouth and Chivas Regal. The flirty, ditzy cosmopolitan is reimagined as a punchy short drink, with sultry earthy notes from Cynar, rounded fruitiness and a spicy kick thanks to rye whisky.
The American Bar at The Savoy, Mayfair
Voted the World’s Best Bar in 2017 – thanks to spot-on cocktails and lashings of Art Deco glamour, The American Bar’s iconic status has long been established.
Despite its reputation, it’s not a bar that’s out to intimidate – while the sleek, 1920s-style cream fittings are smart, and the helpful, white-jacketed waiters impress, the vibe is quietly tasteful, low-slung leather chairs are comfortable, the tinkle of jazz piano and the sound of cocktail shakers your only soundtrack for the evening.
The latest cocktail menu, Re:Invented, is self-explanatory, offering smart and assured spins on classic drinks. The Hanky Panky Highball, with gin, white rum, sweet vermouth, Cynar and tonic, is freshly tart and herbaceous, while To the Moon & Back, with Bowmore 15-year-old whisky, oloroso sherry, chilli, green apple and soda is full-bodied and smoky yet long and refreshing – a next-level whisky soda. Those willing to try something different should make a beeline for the Savoy Bells, a complex marriage of blanco tequila with white port and a red wine float that is bright with herbaceous agave flavour, silky with a sweetly fruity edge.
The Coral Room, Bloomsbury
This luxe Bloomsbury hotel bar, tucked away on a quiet side street in a busy area of central London, combines bold interiors with an intriguing wine list.
Saturated coral walls, huge white murano glass chandeliers and a sweeping, marble-topped art deco-style bar, super-sized pot plants everywhere and low, plushly upholstered chairs and sofas set a striking tone at the bar, matched by an extensive list of English sparkling wines, curated by master of wine Anne McHale, with options by the bottle and a small, ever-changing list of wines by the glass.
The Zetter Townhouse, Marylebone and Clerkenwell
Both the bars at the branches of this London hotel (Wilhelmina’s Lounge in Clerkenwell, Seymour’s Parlour in Marylebone) are reminiscent of an eccentric Edwardian sitting room – cosy, luxurious drinking den with earthy red walls, richly patterned rugs on wooden floors, a profusion of gilt-framed pictures and portraits, velvet sofas, carved wooden chairs and oriental vases.
A quirky, design-led, 73-bedroom hotel with lounge-bar and café that’s brought a fine Victorian building in London’s Paddington back to life.
This boutique hotel on a pretty Victorian terraced street in Paddington has a hidden secret at the top of its original mahogany staircase. A retro-chic lounge, scattered with coral and olive velvet chairs, and marble tables, is the perfect hideaway for pre-batched cocktails from top London bars such as Bar Termini and Three Sheets. Doors open onto a sun-soaked terrace, where you can sit beneath straw parasols and enjoy the bustle of Paddington from a distance.
Lyaness, Sea Containers Hotel, Southwark
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 palette 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 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 Edition, Fitzrovia
A slick hotel in the heart of Fitzrovia with 173 bedrooms and a sophisticated restaurant, Berners Tavern. There are two bars to choose from: The Lobby comes kitted out with a snooker table and tufted sofas, while The Punch Room is an intimate space inspired by 19th-century private clubs. The signature gin-infused Edition house punch is a must.
Fitz’s, Russell Square
Original stained glass windows, a glittering disco ball, scalloped velvet sofas and contemporary artwork bring together the old and new in this luxurious drinking den at the Kimpton Fitzroy London.
Its latest menu, The Theory of Colour, is a high-concept affair that explores how colours can influence moods, emotions and choices. The bar has created 14 different cocktails inspired by a 17th-century still life flower painting by Flemish artist Nicolaes van Verendael. On the menu, each drink is matched with a different treatment of the artwork, and guests are invited to select their drink based on which image is most appealing.
Chrome Yellow is a gorgeously bright and tropical affair. With clarified banana, Mount Gay XO rum, cognac, pimento bitters and a passion fruit float, it’s impressively balanced, delivering bold flavours while remaining light and silky. On the more sultry end of the spectrum, Rothko’s Abyss features Toki whisky, Mancino rosso amaranto vermouth, coffee beans, vanilla and Campari. Intense and full-bodied, it’s perfect for fans of boulevardiers and negronis.
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