Shaken and stirred: The best cocktail bars in London

Zoe Gunn

2 February 2022

Raise a toast at the most sophisticated, spirited bars in the capital

2 February 2022 | Zoe Gunn

C

ocktails: on the surface so simple to mix yourself but, in reality, deceptively complex. A dash too much lime juice in your margarita and it becomes undrinkably tart. A little heavy-handed with the simple syrup and your espresso martini drinks like a tiramisu.

Best, then, to leave it to the experts – and London abounds with stylish cocktail bars brimming with innovative menus and staffed by mixologists well-versed in the alchemy of a really good drink. From classic, intimate bars perfect for impressive first dates to lively venues primed for memorable celebrations, here are the best cocktails bars in London...

Swift, Soho

Image: Addie Chinn

This two-storey venue in the heart of London’s epicentre of late-night debauchery is the archetypal sophisticated cocktail bar. Think cosy downlighting, leather banquettes and marble countertops complemented by live music every weekend and a globe-trotting whisky list that numbers in the hundreds. The upstairs main bar serves a list of fresh Mediterannean cocktails and aperitivos, alongside wines, beers and champagnes; while the downstairs bar is dedicated to Swift’s 'Legends' menu, featuring serves inspired by icons of drinking history, including Ernest Hemingway, Josephine Baker and Snoop Dogg.

Must order: The Ian McKellan-inspired Pegasus – Lillet blanc, honeydew melon, Trois Rivieres Cuvee de l’Ocean rum, grapefruit bitters and prosecco

12 Compton Street, W1D 4TQ, barswift.com

American Bar at the Savoy, The Strand

First opened in 1893 and still regularly voted among the world’s best bars, it’s safe to say you’re in good hands at the Savoy’s American Bar. Those hands, coincidentally, happen to be rather new – with the bar welcoming Shannon Tebay, its second female and first American head bartender, in 2021. Determined to celebrate the legacy of a bar that has hosted everyone from Marilyn Monroe and Neil Armstrong to Laurence Olivier and Winston Churchill, Tebay’s revamped menu is a whisky-, gin- and rum-heavy list of some of the most glamorous cocktails you’ll find in London.

Must order: Moonraker – Powers Gold Label Irish whiskey, Grand Marnier, chamomile, lemon and Laurent Perrier La Cuvee

The Savoy, Strand, WC2R 0EZ, thesavoylondon.com

Tayēr + Elementary, Old Street

Image: Bernard Zeija

You won’t glean a huge amount of information about hip East London joint Tayēr + Elementary from its sparse website, so allow us to give you the lowdown. Actually split into two bars, Elementary specialises in draught classic cocktails (so no standing around while the bartender titivates your garnish) and an innovative One Sip Martini experience which delivers miniature martinis in three sizes – all at surprisingly affordable prices.

Step through a partition into Tayēr, meanwhile, and you’ll find a sleek, grown-up space serving seasonal cocktails created by founders Alex Kratena and Monica Berg, alongside a rotating roster of guest bartenders. This is a modern, welcoming venue that takes having a good time as seriously as it does its drinks.

Must order: The menu changes so frequently it’s impossible to say but the staff make excellent recommendations

152 Old Street, EC1V 9BW, tayer-elementary.com

Scarfes Bar, Holborn

Inspired by the life and work of artist Gerald Scarfe, whose unique caricatures and thought-provoking paintings line the walls (and are available to buy), Scarfes Bar is an eclectic space blending the comforts of a sumptuous old-fashion drawing room with the elegance of a traditional gentleman’s club. It’s also the perfect place to go for some interior design inspiration thanks to its rich, jewel-toned colour palette, mismatched custom furniture and more than 1,000 antique books.

Behind the bar, the cocktail menu takes its cues, somewhat unusually, from the Enneagram personality test. There are 18 drinks on offer, each representing the opposite poles of the nine personality types identified by the test and handily organised by flavour profiles, including citrus, vegetal, nutty and woody. There’s also a range of tempting bar snacks for those wanting to settle in for the night. (Spoiler alert: you will.)

Must order: Take a risk and let the bartender match a drink to your personality (alternatively, the Inside Story – Copper Head gin, grilled pine, apple and elderflower – is delicious)

252 High Holborn, WC1V 7EN, scarfesbar.com

Lyaness, South Bank

Housed within the Sea Containers hotel, which overlooks the River Thames, Lyaness is the flagship bar from Ryan Chetiyawardana (aka Mr Lyan) – possibly the world’s most decorated mixologist. The ethos at Lyaness is not to think of cocktails in types but rather to take a chef’s approach, centring each drink around five key ingredients, exploring unusual flavours and combinations. Think gin with Saint Germain, beeswax, chestnut and pineapple leaf or brandy with oyster honey, passion fruit and ocean soda. Whatever you order, we promise you’ll never have tried anything quite like it before.

Must order: The (Im)Perfect Martini – discarded grape skin vodka, grass amazake, birch and over-ripe nectarine

20 Upper Ground, SE1 9PD, lyaness.com

Artesian Bar at the Langham, Fitzrovia

A former World’s Best Bar winner, the Langham’s signature watering hole is overseen by Giulia Cuccurullo, who became the bar’s first female head bartender in 2021. Taking the helm at a time when lockdowns still loomed large, Cuccurullo used the opportunity to devise a new cocktail menu, Connections, inspired by the moments of togetherness we found while being kept apart. Organised in five sections – Wellness & Mindfulness, Celebrations, Community, Sustainability and Happiness – the 18 drinks on the menu give form to everything from the banana-bread baking craze and walks in the park to more abstract moments of stoicism and solidarity.

Must order: Around the Kitchen – Bombay Sapphire gin, discarded banana rum, avocado pit orgeat, pineapple and coffee tepache, lime juice and cachaca

1C Portland Place, W1B 1JA, artesian-bar.co.uk

HomeBoy Bar, Islington

Image: @lateef.photography
Image: Jason Bailey

The HomeBoy ethos is neatly summed up by the three-word mission statement emblazoned across its website: Modern Irish Hospitality. The debut bar from Aaron Wall and Ciarán Smith, formerly of Callooh Callay, The Dorchester and the Waldorf Astoria NYC, HomeBoy is all about great drinks served in a relaxed atmosphere. It boldly promises the best pint of Guinness in London, alongside elevated Irish comfort food and a cocktail menu built around classic serves, contemporary techniques and the finest Irish whiskey on the market. Oh, and there’s a brilliant hip-hop and R'n'B playlist on the speakers, too.

Must order: Taoiseach – Redbreast 12 Pot Still Irish whiskey, Martini Rossi, triple sec, pomegranate syrup, orange bitters and angostura bitters

108 Essex Road, N1 8LX, homeboybar.com

The Cinnamon Club, Westminster

How to give one of London’s best-loved restaurants a fresh new feel to mark its 20th anniversary? Transform its basement into a secret cocktail bar, of course. Hidden beneath Vivek Singh’s Cinnamon Club in the Grade II-listed Old Westminister Library, the recently-opened subterranean bar is inspired by an Indian bazaar, with vibrant velvets, plush sofas and a bold colour scheme. Drinks, devised by Robin Honhold (previously of Lyan), also draw on the tastes and aromas of India, and are complemented by a paired bar menu of tempura shrimp, chicken tikka and paneer naanza.

Must order: The Club Bellini – Belvedere ginger vodka, apricot purée, spiced rose and prosecco

Old Westminster Library, Great Smith Street, SW1P 3BU, cinnamonclub.com

The Connaught Bar, Mayfair

This David Collins-designed ode to elegance and old-school charm is as about as classic and classy as cocktail bars come. Named the World's Best Bar in 2021 by a panel of more than 500 industry insiders, the cocktail options here are vast and varied. Perhaps you'd like something from the martini trolley? Or maybe you would like to see the Masterpiece menu comprising the house signatures that made the Connaught Bar famous? If you're feeling experimental, meanwhile, the Formae menu has been curated by a roster of expert mixologists inspired by everything from the Connaught Bar's custom crystalware and the artwork lining its walls to the young mixologists who start their careers in the bar. Last, but certainly not least, is Of The Moment: a collection of drinks created by in-house mixologists Agostino Perrone and Giorgio Bargiani using rare botanicals and lesser-known vintages.

Must order: The Grace Kelly-inspired Fleurissimo - Rémy Martin VSOP Cognac, home-made Connaught bitters, Violet liqueur, sugar cube, Laurent-Perrier champagne

Carlos Place, W1K 2AL, the-connaught.co.uk

Trailer Happiness, Islington

Since opening on Portobello Road in 2013, Trailer Happiness has become West London's go-to for an upscale take on the Tiki bar trend. Eschewing cocktails in coconuts and garish interiors for an intimate subterranean space decked out with live foliage, tactile materials and understated prints, the drinks menu is appropriately heavy on rum, with classic mai tais and punches served alongside more unusual combinations. At weekends a live DJ gives the bar a party atmosphere while cocktail masterclasses are also available for those looking to upgrade their at-home cocktail hours.

Must order: The Grove Martinez - Havana 7 Year rum, cacao nib-infused Lillet Blanc vermouth, guanabana liqueur and Elemakule bitters

177 Portobello Road, W11 2DY, trailerh.com

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