best cocktails bars london

Shaken and stirred: The best cocktail bars in London

07 Feb 2024 | Updated on: 19 Feb 2024 |By Zoe Gunn

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

Cocktails: 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 cocktail bars in London…

Central London

The Donovan Bar at Brown’s, Mayfair

donovan bar at browns
Image: Janos Grapow

Tucked away within Brown’s hotel in Mayfair, The Donovan Bar has long been a bright spot on London’s bustling drinking scene. Helmed by legendary mixology Salvatore Calabrese, alongside director of mixology Federico Pavan, the bar’s interior takes inspiration from its namesake photographer Terence Donovan, while the latest menu – Evoke – is a carefully curated selection of serves designed to, ahem, evoke a different emotional reaction from each guest.

Most order: Wanderlust – a voyage around the world courtesy of umeshu, manzanilla sherry, lacto-fermented pineapple, and Wray & Nephew rum

33 Albemarle Street, W1S 4BP,

Dear Darling, Mayfair

dear darling mayfair
Image: Johnny Stephens Photography

A new addition to the capital’s late-night drinking scene, Dear Darling opened at the end of 2023 on Jermyn Street to offer guests a glamorous new drinking den. Split over two levels and styled as the mansion of a widowed matriarch, upstairs is a 1920s-style cocktail bar designed to resemble a drawing room while downstairs is a nightclub given over to London’s most unforgettable parties, complete with DJs and live performers. Be prepared, there’s no such thing as an early night here.

Must order: Like much else here, the cocktail menu is strictly clandestine

91 Jermyn Street, SW1Y 6JB,

Velvet at The Corinthia, Westminster

Another Salvatore Calabrese creation, this time within The Corinthia hotel in Westminster, Velvet is an opulent, cosy space that puts its world-class drinks centre stage. Its menu, fondly known as The Quote Book, is a celebration of the profound words left behind by icons such as Walt Disney, Coco Chanel and Frida Kahlo. Exemplary of Calabrese's attention to detail, even the menu itself is a masterpiece, featuring irreverent illustrations of each figure reimagined by AI. Think Albert Einstein in sunglasses and a puffer jacket, Michael Jordan slam dunking an ice cube, and Steve Jobs sipping a red apple martini.

Must order: Atomic Alchemy - a refreshing concoction of Rémy Martin 1738 washed with sour cream, Acqua Bianca, Amontillado Sherry and Garden Soda which can also be served without alcohol

Whitehall Place, SW1A 2BD,

Scales, Mayfair

scales bar mayfair

Created by mixologists Din Jusufi and Engji Shala, who met while honing their skills at Farzi in Haymarket, Scales is a hidden underground drinking den accessed by a discreet door at the back of the Drink with Sasha wine shop. Don't expect to find anything as conventional as a Negroni or Old Fashioned on the menu here. Cocktails are prepared in a laboratory with a centrifuge used to break down seasonal fruits and vegetables and infuse spirits resulting in a rainbow of elegant clear drinks that are the epitome of sophistication.

Must order: Fig – an earthy mix of Camus cognac, fig, citrus, pandan and almond

25 Duke Street, W1U 1DJ,

Cecil Beaton Bar at The Lane, Covent Garden

You'd be forgiven for thinking the only reason to visit The Lane in Covent Garden was if you had Frozen-obsessed little ones in tow, but when the glamorous theatre offers such a delectable bar, it would be remiss not to indulge in a cocktail or two while you're in London's West End. Paying homage to the iconic British photographer and costume designer it's named after, the Cecil Beaton Bar effuses as much glamour as the man himself, inspired by Beaton's famous My Fair Lady costume and the flamboyant artists that followed him – think ice-filled buckets of champagne on the marble bar, striking monochrome features and portraits of theatrical greats on the wall.

The cocktail menu has been designed by award-winning mixologist Tristan Stephenson, and includes signature serves such as the gin-based Eliza Doolittle and the lively Pink Prince Charming made up of Three Spirit Livener, peach, and English sparkling wine. However, we'd recommend the Espresso Martini flight – comprising the classic, a salted caramel iteration and Cecil's signature featuring bourbon and amaretto – for a taste of indulgence that will helpfully keep you wide awake during the show too.

Must order: Salted Caramel Espresso Martini – vodka, kahlua, salted caramel, creme de cacao and seasonal espresso

Theatre Royal Drury Lane, Catherine Street, WC2B 5JF,

Common Decency at The NoMad, Covent Garden

The first of two bars from the chic NoMad hotel to make this list (if you're checking in expect to drink very well), Common Decency is an opulent subterranean spot that puts the emphasis squarely on modern mixology. Here, seasonal ingredients are pressed into the service of witty, whimsical serves. Think a classic Gibson made punchy with Szechuan pepper oil or the Hot, Cold & Nutty – a fresh take on the espresso martini made with hot salted coconut cream which can also be served alcohol-free.

Must order: Pea Lime Pie – pod vodka, green chartreuse, pea foam and lime

28 Bow Street, WC2E 7AW,

Stereo, Covent Garden

stereo bar covent garden

The latest addition to the London drinking scene from the Experimental Group (Henrietta Hotel, Experimental Cocktail Club, La Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels), Stereo is tucked away beneath Covent Garden Market and promises hedonism in the heart of the West End. The space is vast, boasting a restaurant and dance floor with live music, but if you only have time for a quick drink at the bar you won't be disappointed. Beers come from Bermondsey micro-brewery Partizan and 40ft Brewery in Dalston, while the house vodka and gin are made for Stereo by Thames Distillers and put to good use in an extensive menu of classic and signature cocktails.

Must order: Get Busy – Stereo gin, muyu vetiver gris, St. Germain, celery and lime

35 The Piazza, WC2E 8BE,

Phoenix at Tattu London, Tottenham Court Road

London's newest fine-dining Chinese restaurant, Tattu, also happens to be home to one of its best rooftop cocktail bars. The glamorous interiors are inspired by traditional Chinese courtyard homes with cocktails following suit, blending Asian flavours with modern mixology techniques and Instagram-friendly-presentation. Arrive early for a romantic drink before the night really gets started, with live DJs keeping the party going until the small hours. Be sure to sample from the bar's extensive selection of fine sake, too.

Must order: Yichang Rickey – Odd mezcal, yuzu and lime

The Now Building Rooftop, Denmark Street, WC2H 0LA,

The Beaufort Bar at The Savoy, The Strand

One of two cocktail bars from The Savoy that have earned a place on this list (well, it's not a London institution for nothing), the Beaufort Bar is a deeply chic and seductive destination that simply begs to be booked for date night. Having recently undergone an extensive refurbishment, the bar is only open on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, with a live DJ spinning sultry beats until 1am. The cocktail menu, Nocturne, takes its inspiration from the rarified world of Champagne – and in particular the Montmorency-Beaufort estate. Owned by John of Gaunt more the seven centuries ago, the menu draws a line from the estate to the modern bar, which sits on the site of Gaunt's former London palace.

Must order: Good Fortune – Mandarin Ki No Bi gin, pink grapefruit juice, St Germain elderflower liqueur, Savoia Americano Rosso, Violette, Laurent-Perrier La Cuvee Brut champagne, white peach and jasmine soda

The Strand, WC2R 0EZ,

Side Hustle at the NoMad London, Covent Garden

A modern cocktail bar with plenty of history, Side Hustle at the NoMad London hotel occupies a space that was once Bow Street Police Station – home to the Bow Street Runners, England's first official police force. Melding the relaxed vibe of a classic pub with world-class cocktails and Mexican-inspired bar snacks, the drinks menu by bar director Liana Oster also riffs on South American flavours, along with a hearty offering of American and European classics and more contemporary serves.

Must order: Michelada – a fiery blend of Two Tribes x NoMad Mexican sour beer, Scotch Bonnet pepper, Valentina and white miso

28 Bow Street, WC2E 7AW,

Nightjar Carnaby, Soho

The sister outpost to the hugely popular Shoreditch cocktail bar of the same name, Nightjar is a sophisticated subterranean space tucked away beneath bustling Carnaby Street. Taking its cues from the late-night pleasure dens of old (the cocktail menu opens with a quote from the 1935 edition of The Old Waldorf Astoria Bar Book), drinks are divided into four categories: Pre-Prohibition, Prohibition, Post-War and Nightjar Signatures, and features recipes dating back as far as 1600. Craving a favourite? The staff will happily whip up any classic serve you desire while there are also sharing cocktails designed to sate up to eight merrymakers.

Must order: Cascara – Absolut Elyx vodka, discarded Cascara vermouth, Jagermeister cold brew, Mr Black Coffee liqueur, roasted buckwheat tincture and date syrup

49-51 Carnaby Street, W1F 9PY,

Yopo at The Mandrake, Fitzrovia

yopo at the mandrake

While first and foremost a vibrant South American restaurant, settle into a booth at Yopo with cocktails in mind and you won't be disappointed – in fact, it even has a lounge, centrepieced by an attention-grabbing dragon statue, for this express purpose. The drinks menu is short but considered, with flavours designed to complement chef George Scott-Toft's Argentinian, Chilean and Peruvian cuisine.

Must order: Flores Sana – Grey Goose vodka infused with tonka beans, orange liquor, passion fruit and curam elixir

20-21 Newman Street, W1T 1PG,

Swift, Soho

swift bar 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 Mediterranean cocktails and aperitivos, alongside wines, beers and champagnes; while the downstairs bar is dedicated to Swift’s Postcards menu, featuring serves inspired by the bar team's favourite memories from around the world.

Must order: Praline Flip – Swift spiced rum, hazelnut, Guinness, egg and angostura

12 Compton Street, W1D 4TQ,

American Bar at the Savoy, The Strand

american bar at the savoy

First opened in 1893 (making it London's oldest cocktail bar) 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. Determined to celebrate the legacy of a bar that has hosted everyone from Marilyn Monroe and Neil Armstrong to Laurence Olivier and Winston Churchill, the bar's menu is a whisky-, gin- and rum-heavy list of some of the most glamorous cocktails you’ll find in London.

Must order: Dandy Beau – Ceylon Arrack, strawberry sake, bitter vermouth blend and Campari

The Savoy, Strand, WC2R 0EZ,

Scarfes Bar, Holborn

scarfes bar at the rosewood

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-fashioned 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 from Scarfes' signature caricatures, including those of the Royal family, the Rolling Stones, David Attenborough and Daniel Craig as James Bond. There are 20 drinks on offer as well as a range of tempting bar snacks for those wanting to settle in for the night. (Spoiler alert: you will.)

Must order: On Yer Bike – Michter’s bourbon, beetroot, cocoa and yellow bell pepper

252 High Holborn, WC1V 7EN,

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. Following the success of her first menu, Connections, Cuccurullo has recently debuted her new selection of cocktails for the bar: Ingredients of the Future. Combining imaginative and progressive mixology with refined style, the new menu features a selection of 16 drinks, each celebrating a single ingredient which contributes to a healthier planet. Pair with a delectable dish from Angelo Sato's Humble Chicken pop-up menu for the ultimate experience.

Must order: Insects – Michter’s bourbon, Campari, Nixta, crickets, corn, coffee and lime

1C Portland Place, W1B 1JA,

The Cinnamon Club, Westminster

the cinnamon club cocktail bar
The Cinnamon Club cocktail bar

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 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,

The Connaught Bar, Mayfair

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 Synergia menu has been curated to represent reflections and blends them together to forge stories and ideas that welcome people around a synergetic ritual of hospitality.

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,

East London

Silverleaf at Pan Pacific London, The City

The destination bar at the luxury Pan Pacific London hotel, Silverleaf is helmed by bar manager Liam Broom and takes a scientific approach to its serves. Its current menu, Under The Lens, offers a range of cocktails lengthened with flavourful waters made by breaking down plants and fruits into their most basic components with each named for its key flavours – so you always know what to expect.

Must order: Lychee | Jasmine – a fruity, floral highball blended with Ketel One vodka, jasmine, lychee and butterfly sorrel

3 Bishopsgate Plaza, EC2M 4JX,

Equal Parts, Hackney

This extremely hip Hackney hang-out combines an obsessive approach to great drinks with a nerdy appreciation for vinyl music to create an atmospheric bar that feels something akin to a night spent in your coolest friend's living room. Settle in to one of the cosy green leather banquettes and allow the crack team to shake up a series of signature cocktails that put modern spins on the classics.

Must order: Apricot Gimlet – a fruity and sophisticated serve with Bombay Sapphire, elderflower and apricot

245 Hackney Rd, E2 8NA,

Tayēr + Elementary, Old Street

tayer and elementary bar
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,

South London

Lyaness, South Bank

lyaness bar

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: Rapoport Cocktail – Thompson Bros Gin, tree caramel, Empirical plum, a tonne of micro-organisms, nuked vermouth, VORS sherry

20 Upper Ground, SE1 9PD,

North London

Sweeties at The Standard, King's Cross

sweeties the standard

Like your cocktails with a side of dancing? Sweeties, the 10th-floor bar at The Standard hotel, is for you. The glamorous adults-only space stays open until 3am at weekends, giving you plenty of time to sample mixologist Zoe Burgess' experimental cocktail menu, which she describes as "a moment of hedonism, indulgence, letting loose, and escapism.” There are few better ways to mark a special celebration than by working your way through the menu while the rotating roster of in-house DJs soundtracks your night with some seriously good tunes.

Must order: All Yours – Japanese whisky, green tea, honey, rice vinegar and soda

10 Argyle Street, WC1H 8EG,

HomeBoy Bar, Islington

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,

West London

Baccarat Bar at Harrods, Knightsbridge

baccarat bar harrods

With its magnificent food halls and in-house restaurants, Harrods is as much a culinary destination as it is a fashion one – and it also happens to do a fine line in cocktails courtesy of the Baccarat Bar. Tucked away on the lower ground floor, this subterranean space is a proper old-school drinking den decked out in plush velvet booths, dark wood panelling and, of course, plenty of crystal. Drinks are equally opulent, with some of the world's finest wines, champagnes and spirits on the menu, including the extravagant Louis XIII Mathusalem Experience – a snip at £560 per person.

Must order: Acai Punch – a totally tropical blend of Clairin Vaval, acai berry puree, clarified banana juice, pineapple, lemon and lime

87-135 Brompton Road, SW1X 7XL,

Brooklands Bar, Belgravia

brooklands bar london

Housed within The Peninsula's recently garlanded two Michelin-starred Brooklands restaurant, the bar of the same name is the ideal spot to settle down for an aperitif, digestif or simply an evening of cocktails. The striking space promises incredible views over the capital along with a bold blue velvet and tan leather interior inspired by British motorsport and aviation. Drinks, meanwhile, come from director of mixology Florian Thireau who has concocted an array of both classic and conceptual serves.

Must order: Aldrin – a take on the traditional White Lady made with orange blossom liqueur, peppermint, pine, lemon and egg white

1 Grosvenor Place, SW1X 7HJ,

Viajante87, Notting Hill

Yes, cocktails are delicious but, between the garnishes, straws and multitude of ingredients, they can also create a lot of waste. Not at Viajante87 – a zero-waste cocktail concept in the elegant environs of Notting Hill. Combining Mexican and Japanese influences, pan-Pacific bar snacks and 100 per cent agave-based drinks are the order of the day. Expect smoky, spicy serves heavy on the mezcal and tequila alongside small plates including ajo-chipotle edamame, habanero tebasaki chicken wings and falafelito (fried chickpeas with coriander and lime).

Must order: 90210 – Fernet Branca, house cola, discarded Cascara vermouth, ayuuk, lemon and mint

87 Notting Hill Gate, W11 3JZ,

Trailer Happiness, Portobello

trailer happiness bar

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: Hell in the Pacific – Gosling's 151 rum, maraschino liqueur, grenadine, lime juice, pomegranate molasses

177 Portobello Road, W11 2DY,

The Aubrey at Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, Knightsbridge

the aubrey at the mandarin oriental
Image: Steve Joyce

Styling itself as an 'eccentric Japanese izakaya', The Aubrey at the Mandarin Oriental is unlike any other bar in the capital. Set across a series of interconnecting rooms, it is home to both a classic bar and an intimate six-seater omakase cocktail bar which takes the principles of omakase (meaning 'I'll leave it up to you') and runs with them, taking patrons on a whirlwind tour of bar director Pietro Rizzo's exquisite creations.

The Aubrey takes its name from Oscar Wilde’s favourite British artist, Aubrey Beardsley. Flick through The Yellow Book cocktail menu, inspired by the influential British magazine of the same name where Beardsley was art editor, to find more of his work alongside bespoke cocktails created by the in-house bartenders and informed by the illustration on each opposing page.

Must order: Salome – sake, rice shochu, Etsu Ocean Water, tomato liqueur, umami

66 Knightsbridge, SW1X 7LA,

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