The best cocktail bars in London
Whether West End or East End, the capital’s cocktail scene is second to none
For cocktail connaisseurs in search of the world’s most intoxicating mixological marvels, it's hard to beat London
The capital boasts some of the finest watering holes in the world - which only makes choosing your tipple that much harder. To help you out, here are a few of Portfolio’s favourite cocktail bars in the city.
When it comes to stunning backdrops for a sunset cocktail, SushiSamba City is almost impossible to beat.
Located on the 38th floor of 110 Bishopsgate - formerly Heron Tower - the Japanese-Brazilian-Peruvian fusion bar and restaurant has just introduced a special seasonal selection of three bottle-conditioned cocktails (which basically means they are pre-mixed), served by the glass or - if you dare - by the bottle.
We tried the Cherry Blossom Negroni, a bitter yet fragrant oriental take on the Italian classic, and the ideal aperitif to whet your appetite for one of SushiSamba’s stunningly presented sushi platters. Three sharing options offer Latin American twists on classic Japanese delicacies: think shrimp nigiri with chimichurri, or tuna maki with Peruvian red pepper.
Cocktail connoisseurs can also explore the list of Samba Serves, concoctions exclusive to SushiSamba City. The Melon Spritz is a particular treat: deceptively light and breezy on the palate, it is richly layered with intricate flavours - sake, tarragon, grapefruit bitters, Italicus liqueur plum and melon shrub, topped off with Prosecco. The perfect summer cocktail, with the perfect summer backdrop.
Waeska at The Mandrake, Fitzrovia
From the moment you behold the surrealistic half-gazelle, half-peacock figure hanging behind the marble-topped bar at Waeska, The Mandrake hotel’s cocktail lounge, you know you can expect something out of the ordinary.
The ever-changing botanical cocktail list functions as a kind of reimagining of folk medicine and magic, combining foraged plants, rare botanicals and homemade syrups and tinctures.
The Geisha gives some idea of the level of detail involved - vermouth is cooked sous-vide with pickled cherry blossom, before being combined with champagne, Peychaud bitters and Umeshu plum - yet the result tastes deceptively simple and elegant.
The Hedonist - combining coconut-washed rum, orange curacao and a home-made coffee and passion-fruit sherbet - is a true tropical treat, while the more daring White Witch is made with truffle-washed vodka and served over a huge sphere of ice.
One Aldwych, The Strand
Aldwych sits in the heart of London, a handsome crescent of hotels, theatres and high commissions with one foot in the West End and the other reaching out towards the City. Its eponymous hotel, One Aldwych, evokes a more ambitious journey with its Spirit of Adventure cocktail menu, served in the art nouveau Lobby Bar.
The opening page of the extensive menu plots each cocktail on a map of the world, spanning Mexico’s pair of tequila-based drinks in the west and, in the east, a Japanese-inspired blend of Roku gin, plum liqueur, Fuji bitter and green tea soda. The Basilica Catalan, representing Barcelon, is a cross between a martini and a G&T, the gin flavoured with a reduction of Mediterranean tonic and a touch of dry sherry.
The drinks are beautifully presented. The Lighthouse Beacon, for example, spearmint-green blend of Plymouth gin, earl grey tea and creme de menthe, arrives in a glass teapot, shrouded in a cloud of dry ice that evokes a coastal fog.
Polo at The Westbury, Mayfair
Located in the swish Westbury hotel, just off of Regent Street, Polo’s team of expert mixologists serve up a lengthy menu of classic cocktails, forgotten gems and their own signature concoctions.
One sip of the exquisitely balanced Pomegranate Deluxe - Bombay Sapphire gin shaken with elderflower, lemon and freshly squeezed pomegranate juice and Champagne - and it's easy to see why Polo was named Best Hotel Bar at the London Club and Bar Awards 2016.
Pearl Gem, a slug of Tanqueray gin infused with Blend 68 tea shaken with lychee, lime and sugar and topped with champagne and pineapple foam, is equally delightful.
Cocktail Trading Co., Shoreditch
Tucked away at the Shoreditch end of trendy Bethnal Green Road, the Cocktail Trading Company boasts one of the most creative cocktail menus the city has seen, the work of acclaimed bartenders Olly Brading, Andy Mil and Elliot Ball,
Carefully designed and elaborately presented so as to conjure imagery or stimulate emotions, the flavours are where these fairytale cocktails really come to life. The wonderfully tart-but-sweet Toreador No 4 is a good place to start.
If you want to learn how to create your own enthralling concoctions, the bar also runs cocktail masterclasses at £35 per head.
Heads+Tails, West Hampstead
On the ground floor of West Hampstead’s Heads+Tails, you’ll walk into a bright and airy cocktail bar. A chic clientele perch on turquoise leather stools surrounding a gleaming bar, with a broad storefront window looking out onto N19’s buzzing West End Lane.
In keeping with the vibe, the cocktails you’ll find here are long, sippable, pastel-coloured affairs - like The Dove, with its core of pisco and jasmine cordial topped off with fresh lemon and prosecco - perfect to accompany Heads+Tails weekend brunch.
That’s the “Heads” section. Downstairs, you’ll find “Tails”, which as our waiter puts it, is “a dive bar”. Dark and moody, with gleaming tiles replaced by exposed brickwork, “Tails” serves up a menu of appropriately tough cocktails - down here, dark spirits predominate, in both senses of the term.
Whether you’re planning a buzzing group outing or an intimate date night, Heads+Tails has you covered with two very different environments - it’s a great concept, executed stylishly.
The Devonshire Club, Liverpool Street
The Devonshire Club, located in the warren of streets opposite Liverpool Street station, is one of the capital’s newest private members’ clubs, but has already made a name for itself on the cocktail scene.
Each of the club’s three bars has its own look, from the retro pink and green 1960s decor of the Cocktail Bar to the mellow comfort of the Library Bar to the pared-back glamour of the Champagne Bar.
Two variations on rose-inspired cocktails - one melange of rose-infused vodka and peach liqueur, topped up with Veuve Cliquot and the other a twist on Turkish Delight - are exceptionally well-balanced and intoxicatingly sippable.
The barman’s take on the classic champagne cocktail proves even more lethally drinkable, a perfect balance of sharp and sweet
Murder Inc., Soho
Even long-term Londoners might not be familiar with Hanway St, a narrow passage which links Tottenham Court Road and Oxford Street. Already dotted with strictly in-the-know bars, the back street is the perfect home for Murder Inc, the latest venture from the team behind the Cocktail Trading Co.
With dim lighting, oak panelling and neon signage inspired by classic film noir, this intimate basement bar is a cool and cosy spot for an expertly crafted cocktail from a menu bursting with creativity.
Standouts include the Adonis, a breezy combination of Lillet Blanc, hibiscus vermouth, wild strawberry topped with bubbles, and the Silk Punch, a toothsome sweet-and-salty concoction with an ingenious dash of Horlicks.
A nightly happy hour until 7pm makes this a perfect spot for an after-work drink, while its 2am closing time can accommodate even the hottest of dates.
Tucked alongisde avant-garde restaurant StreetXO, CircusXO sticks with the cool aesthetic – neon signage on the walls, purple backlights illuminating an impeccably well-stocked bar – but with a freewheeling, carnival-esque ambience a thousand miles away from the typical staid Mayfair watering hole.
Fish roe, hoisin sauce and crispy salmon skin are ingredients you may not associate with a delicious cocktail, but you’ll find them all on Circus XO’s impish drinks list, which transforms the flavours of the restaurant menu into “liquid cuisine”.
And it works, resulting in concoctions which retain the essence of the restaurant’s cuisine, while also being thoroughly drinkable. As well as ingredients you’d expect to see on your plate rather than in your glass, Circus XO makes creative use of everything from balsamic vinegar to pop rocks.
The ‘rum and coke with no coke’ is a particularly brilliant – if undeniably pointless – innovation, using a mystery combination of ingredients to perfectly replicate the taste of coke.
Despite its name and taste for the wacky, Circus XO not all magician’s tricks. The bar’s Japanese twist on the negroni sbagliato, with its intoxicatingly citrus yuzu sake, is as grown up a beverage as you’ll find anywhere in the city.
Chiringuito, Bethnal Green
Chiringuito takes its name from the Spanish word for a casual shack selling drinks and tapas, and this E2 incarnation perfectly captures that relaxed, homely atmosphere.
Hollowed out of a long derelict outbuilding next to Bethnal Green tube station, Chiringuito’s roof terrace helps this coffee-by-day, cocktails-by-night tapas bar make the most of its size. Sure, a roof terrace on a single-storey building doesn’t offer spectacular views, but it does make for excellent people-watching - which, after all, is far more important.
While you’re up there, start the night off with a cocktail - the Il Capitano is a particular highlight of a menu which hoists its hispanic flag high with creations featuring mezcal, tequila, pisco and sherry (although thankfully not all at once) - before moving on to the tapas. Standouts include a ludicrously generous serving of toothsome chorizo cooked in wine, and a plate of the most delectably tender octopus you’re likely to find this side of Galicia.