London is one of the most progressive capitals in the world, and its bar scene follows suit with a constant flow of new destinations and talent.
While the city, of course, still boasts many excellent historic establishments, its modern generation of watering holes and bartenders was celebrated repeatedly at last summer’s Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards, proving once again how important the town is to the global cocktail community.
Here are some great spots from our friends across the Atlantic that you need to visit.
Tony Conigliaro is a true cocktail pioneer, and he has built a lab dedicated to creating amazing flavors. You can taste the results of his experiments at his understated bar. It’s a small place with a piano in the corner. You feel like you’re in someone’s home, and the drinks are absolutely perfect.
What to Drink: Avignon (Merlet Cognac, chamomile syrup, smoked frankincense)
Alex Kratena was named International Bartender of the Year last summer at the Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards, which made him the third London hotel barman in a row to win the award. His establishment, Artesian, also took home the title of World’s Best Hotel Bar, making it a must-visit spot in London. It has an extensive selection of rums and concoctions calling for them, which includes a flaming punch that is lit with a prop musket from Pirates of the Caribbean. And that’s not to mention the extensive G & T list.
What to Drink: Pink & Gold (Gran Centenario Blanco Tequila, lime, Chinese white tea-hibiscus-rose blossom syrup)
Another big winner at Tales was Connaught Bar (pictured above), which got the World’s Best Cocktail Bar award and is run by one of the most dapper mixologists in the business, Agostino Perrone. (He won the International Bartender of the Year award in 2010.) His meticulously prepared, innovative drinks, presented in stunning glassware, are the signature of this beautifully designed modern bar, located inside the classic and luxurious Connaught Hotel.
What to Drink: A Martini from the Martini cart (Tanqueray No. Ten Gin, dry vermouth, housemade bitters)
Hidden below a pizza place on Brick Lane is Danger of Death. It’s the closest London has to what is often annoyingly referred to as a “modern speakeasy.” That aside, this bar is a great escape serving wonderful tipples—and if you get hungry, you can order pizza. What could be better than that?
What to Drink: Cold War Cooler (Zubrowka Vodka, pinot noir, lemon, maraschino liqueur, Curaçao, Angostura Bitters)
Behind a small, shabby door in the heart of London’s Chinatown is the Experimental Cocktail Club. Inside the four-story building, you’ll find a sexy crowd sipping classic and contemporary beverages that have been put together by the globally renowned team of Romée de Goriainoff, Olivier Bon, Pierre-Charles Cros and Xavier Padovani. The trio now has bars in London, New York and Paris.
If you’re looking for a down-to-earth spot, head to Happiness Forgets. It’s located in the far corner of the super-hip Hoxton Square and is the work of New York-trained bartender Alastair Burges, who earned his stripes under Audrey Saunders at her famed Pegu Club in New York. The bar’s motto is “High-end cocktails. Low-rent basement.” But this joint isn’t too precious to serve you a beer and a shot: In fact, I get the impression that it prefers to.
What to Drink: Jerezana (manzanilla sherry, amontillado sherry, sweet vermouth, dry vermouth, house-made vanilla bean syrup, orange bitters)
Mark Hix started the farm-to-table movement in the UK and has always taken the produce he uses very seriously. So it made perfect sense when he brought Nick Strangeway onboard to build a special bar at his Soho restaurant Hix. Fresh, seasonal ingredients and historic techniques of preservation are used, and the list includes curious creations dating back as far as the 1400s. This is a restaurant where you can truly appreciate classic British drinking.
What to Drink: Cambridge Claret Cup (Berrys’ Extra Ordinary Claret, Lustau Manzanilla Sherry, Tonnix LBV Port, Grant’s Morella Cherry Brandy, lemon sherbet, lemon juice, cucumber, foliage)
Decorated like a pre-Prohibition jazz club, complete with a tin ceiling, live music and candlelight, Nightjar brings the essence of New York to London. The outstanding array of elixirs showcases mixology through the ages and is fixed by a stellar bar team led by the beloved and respected Marian Beke.
What to Drink: B-A-Q Daiquiri (Pimento-smoked Appleton Estate V/X Rum, Wray & Nephew Overproof Rum, kumquat juice, barbecue spices, honey)
The Whistling Shop looks like an old Victorian dram house, albeit one with a rotary evaporator in the corner. It’s a beautiful blend of modern and new, which is represented by the variety of concoctions as well. You can even enjoy a killer pork pie with one of its many barrel- and bottle-aged cocktails.
What to Drink: Panacea (Compass Box Whisky, honey-lavender shrub, lemon juice, sage dust)
Winner of the 2012 Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Award for World’s Best New Cocktail Bar, The Zetter Townhouse is the second London watering hole from Tony Conigliaro. The libations incorporate old-timey tinctures, bitters and herbal remedies, and chef Bruno Loubet provides gourmet food pairings. The decor makes you feel like you’re visiting your eccentric aunt, but it’s my new favorite.
What to Drink: The Master at Arms (Myers’s Rum, port evaporation, house-made grenadine)
Find more great establishments in Simon Ford’s classic London bar guide.
Looking for more great watering holes? Check out our bar guide for the best bars in the world.
Simon Ford is an award-winning bartender and co-founder of The 86 Co. He is also a Liquor.com advisory board member.
(Photo courtesy David Collins)