London’s best cocktail bars
From West End glamour to East End cool, the capital’s cocktail scene is second to none
For cocktail connoisseurs in search of mixological marvels, London sets an intoxicating standard. To help you choose between them, here are a few of The Week’s favourite cocktail bars in the capital.
The Garden Room at The Lanesborough is the ideal first destination for those seeking a gentle reintroduction to post-pandemic engagements. Part indoors and part out, it offers plentiful ventilation care of the summer breeze - as well as shelter from unwelcome downpours, hail storms and the like. Heating and blankets are available if things turn really nasty. Or simply take a look at the drinks menu, which banishes wintry thoughts with a bright and fruit-laden selection of cocktails. Take the fig and vanilla daiquiri, for example, with Plantation 3 Star Rum and fresh lime juice, or the Kentucky cooler - a blend of Makers Mark 46 bourbon with pear and ginger shrub. Those with a sweeter tooth, and a taste for hard liquor, might opt for the woodpecker, which makes its point with a mix of Zacapa XO rum, Hennessy VS cognac and barrelled Jim Beam rye whiskey. A luxurious offering of light bites - from baba ghanoush to lobster tacos - will sustain your social reintegration.
Cocktail Trading Co.
Tucked away at the Shoreditch end of trendy Bethnal Green Road, the Cocktail Trading Company boasts one of the city’s most creative cocktail menus - the work of acclaimed bartenders Olly Brading, Andy Mil and Elliot Ball. A new collection of drinks are in the works for post-reopening celebrations, and if they’re anything like the trio’s previous work they’ll be engineered to stimulate your emotions as well as your tastebuds. For the topsy-turvy spring of 2021, the wonderfully tart-but-sweet toreador no. 4 would be a good place to start. If you can’t get a table, the bar is still offering home deliveries of cocktails by the bottle.
When it comes to stunning backdrops for a sunset cocktail, SushiSamba is unbeatable. Located on the 38th floor of 110 Bishopsgate - formerly Heron Tower - the Japanese-Brazilian-Peruvian fusion bar offers a selection of three bottle-conditioned cocktails (which basically means they are pre-mixed), served by the glass or - if you dare - by the bottle. The cherry blossom negroni, for starters, is a bitter yet fragrant eastern 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 Heron Tower. The tangerine spritz is a breezy treat, with citrus-infused Hendrick’s gin and yuzu juice. The perfect summer cocktail to complement the perfect summer backdrop.
Waeska at The Mandrake
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. One of their recent creations, the geisha, gave some idea of the level of detail involved: vermouth was cooked sous-vide with pickled cherry blossom, before being combined with champagne, Peychaud bitters and Umeshu plum - yet the result tasted unified and elegant. It has since been replaced on the menu by a new round of equally tempting traditionally inspired concoctions.
Heads+Tails cocktail bar
Walk into Heads+Tails and what greets you is a bright and airy cocktail bar - with a Covid-friendly garden at the back. A chic clientele perch on turquoise leather stools surrounding a gleaming bar, with a broad storefront window looking out onto West End Lane. The cocktails you’ll find here are long, sippable, pastel-coloured affairs - like peaches and kim, with its core of peach liqueur and bitters 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 are in charge, literally and metaphorically. It’s a great concept, stylishly executed.
Even long-term Londoners might not be familiar with Hanway Street, 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. Drinks change regularly, but recent standouts include the adonis, a slick combination of Lillet Blanc, hibiscus vermouth and wild strawberry topped with bubbles - and the silk punch, a toothsome sweet-and-salty concoction with an ingenious dash of Horlicks.
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, and a more relaxing post-pandemic perch. Hispanic flavours abound on the drinks menu - think mezcal, tequila, pisco and sherry, although not necessarily all at once - which sets the scene nicely for a tableful of tapas. Standouts include a ludicrously generous serving of succulent chorizo cooked in wine, and a plate of the most delectably tender octopus you’re likely to find this side of Galicia.