The BFI is a bit of a maze, with things to discover on all floors – cinemas, exhibitions, but bars too. Entering from the riverside, you’ll have to adventure yourself deep inside the building to find yourself in The Drawing Room, a small and cosy cocktail bar attached to Benugo, where the library décor sees conversation and drinks flowing.
It’s got a bit of that classic London vibe to it, so the menu’s got a welcome focus on bubbles and Martinis, with well-executed drinks with just a touch of inventiveness to surprise Southbank tourists and entice boozers. The Quince and Vanilla Bean Margarita combines powerful and tangy flavours for something very moreish, while the Elderflower and Violet Blossom is a simple and delicate pleaser. There’s a few draughts and plenty of wine to pick from too.
It’s really the atmosphere that makes this worth the visit though. Set a bit away from the BFI, it’s calmer and quieter, and the ceiling-high bookshelves filled with quirky old books and old-school posters on the walls make this perfect for a date night, or a long conversation about noir films with your dad over a whisky. You get the picture…
Best Bars tip: There are a few nibbles to try too – try the empanadas platter!
L’Escargot: a Soho institution that exudes French flavours and old-world panache. For one of the most classic (and classy) dinners in town, book yourself into the restaurant. But if you want a members’ club experience that’s intimate, quirky and high brow – then get yourself upstairs. With a few fresh licks of paint and an insane art collection, this 280-year-old townhouse is perfect for sophisticated yet laid-back, grown-up sipping.
Coco Chanel used to imbibe here, so we say go for classic cocktails and head to the Salon Grande Siècle for a big, bright experience. We’re particularly fond of the bubbly French 75 made with gin, champagne and a whack of lemon for a zesty kick.
If you’re hungry, then tuck into staple fare such as lobster salad or a steak sandwich (done well). And if you’re here, then you know you best be ordering some snails. It’s a sin if you don’t.
Best Bars tip: This labrinthine space is perfect for private parties – no matter the size. Either get your closest pals together for debaucherous drinks in one of the small lounging rooms or throw a massively lavish dinner party for your fanciest friends in the Bureau.
Not many bars require a bag scanner, two lifts and some serious ear-popping to get into them; but GŎNG was never going to be understated. Sitting perilously on Level 52 of The Shard, the Shangri-La bar is the highest in London. The vertigo sufferers among you will certainly need a stiff drink to deal with the view from the floor-to-ceiling windows, but those more in sync with their equilibrium will want one to celebrate it. Modern Asian design is the feel with the interiors paying homage to an upmarket Chinese drinking den, with purple furnishings, marble-top tables and a wall made of oriental-style cabinet drawers. Whether you sit in the cocktail or champagne bar, the atmosphere is as you’d expect: quiet and understated.
The menu, however, is anything but. Alongside the obligatory Bollinger and vintage wines, the signature cocktails are a mix of classics and clever twists. The dramatic Big Smoke (a libation consisting of Dodd’s gin, dry sherry and Mancino Rosso Amaranto) comes with a smoking bowl of herbs and spices, and the award-winning Black & Blue Swizzle mixes Talisker, honey, lime, PX sherry and blue cheese. Punchy, to say the least (we’d hope so, at £17 a pop). If you’re looking to mop up your spoils, and you don’t want to venture downstairs to the restaurants, the bar snack menu ranges from tapas to foie gras and Beluga caviar.
If you’re wanting to impress out of towners, then GŎNG is a winner. A couple of sophisticated drinks for a special occasion would go down well here too, and it’s a good excuse to put on a splash of finery while you’re at it. Just make sure you take plenty of dosh to play with – trust us, you’ll need it.
Best Bars tip: After 9pm, the infinity pool opens to imbibers who fancy poolside evening drinks. You can’t say that about a London bar often, can you?
Dry January … it just sounds so, well, dry. But it doesn’t have to be. We all know that maybe we hit the sauce (be it cranberry or booze) a little too hard round the Christmas/New Year period, so everyone’s been cutting back. Yet switching completely to the green shakes and kale chips isn’t so enticing anymore. We’re here to help. If you’re not avoiding drinking completely, it’s time to try one of these delicious vermouthy Martinis. Plus, you’re going to look pretty bad-ass ordering off-menu drinks. If that doesn’t put 2015 off to a good start, we don’t know what will.
An underground masterpiece, MASH is big, bold and definitely beautiful. Reminiscent of cruise ships from a more decadent era, this Soho staple is perfect for post-work tipples or massive steak dinners.
If you’re in the mood for a mysterious tipple, then head to the Bar With No Name … or as it’s better known, 69 Colebrooke Row. Courtesy of cocktail maestro Tony Conigliaro and his lab (a.k.a. the Drink Factory), this cosy hidden bar is constantly breaking ground with its innovative creations.
Drink to try: Ask for Mike’s twist on a gin classic — the Lip Stinger. Equal parts vermouth and gin, with a few dashes of orange bitters and a drop of absinthe to finish it off. Lip stinging? Yes. Tasty? Yes.
The Beaufort Bar at The Savoy is an art deco masterpiece and one of the singularly most decadent drinking holes in London. And by hole, we mean hotel extraordinaire. Walking in, you’ll feel every ounce special occasion — even if it’s just a Monday after-work tipple. Even though the Beaufort is a new addition following the 2011 multi-million refurb, the bar is set up on the hotel’s former cabaret stage where legendary performers used to entertain. From Frank Sinatra to Marilyn Monroe, the world’s greatest have whiled away the hours here … and you should too.
Drink to try: Ask Lorenzo to make you his land- and sea-inspired MM Cocktail — a decadent combination of vodka, dry vermouth, two dashes of pomelo bitters, a Parmesan water and Islay scotch rinse, with an oyster leaf and vanilla caviar garnish. It might sound a little crazy, but damn it tastes good.
A classy club in the heart of Soho, Quo Vadis houses the masters of Martinis. But you know what else they do well? Everything. So if you’re in the mood for sophisticated sipping, mosey on down.
Drink to try: If the ever-smiling Simone is behind the bar, ask to try The Harmony. A Martini twist made with chinotto liqueur, Noilly Prat Original Dry vermouth and Bombay Sapphire East Dry gin — it’s balanced and dry with gentle bitter notes.
The bar pays tribute to the grandeur and opulence of the original Town Hall building, yet there is a level of restraint that keeps things just the right amount of casual. And with plenty of spots to perch around the island bar — with an extra brass counter for your drinks — this is perfect for bar-side or table-side boozing.
Drink to try: Ask bartender Ally Martin for a Martini au Marseillen — a slightly salty mix of Bombay Sapphire Dry gin, Noilly Prat Original Dry vermouth, a splash of saline solution and garnished with a caper berry.
A subterranean Tiki party spot that is always up for a wild night fuelled by rummy cocktails. The 70s basement décoris cheeky and cheerful, much like their staff and drinks. So when you’re looking to cut loose, there’s little better than this ode to Polynesia/Tiki-Americana.
Drink to try: In true Tiki-style, the Smoki Joe Martini is all about the fire and flare — though a notably more restrained approach than some of the volcano drinks (which you should also try). We’ll leave the rest as a surprise.
One of London’s most iconic bars, the American Bar at The Savoy is always ready to exceed your already high expectations. You’ll walk through the doors of the hotel and immediately be swept off your feet by friendly and attentive service, then ushered over to this art deco masterpiece. With more nooks and crannies than its sister bar, this space is perfect for tucking in to some of the best Martinis you’ll ever encounter and with just one look at those signature white blazers, you’ll know you’re in capable hands.
The bar is over 125 years old, and it is still the place for a fancy tipple. Head barman Erik Lorincz is an industry champion, so whatever drink you choose — it’s going to be damn tasty. The Savoy Cocktail Book, written by Harry Craddock in the 1930s, is something of a cocktail bible. It is still the reference point for many of the drinks on the menu and we’re partial to Harry’s own Corpse Reviver #2 — fresh, uplifting and with a bit of a kick, it is made with gin, Cointreau, Lillet Blanc, lemon and a dash of absinthe. We really love to throw back with the classics here, but feel free to experiment with the twists on the menu.
A live pianist cracking out American jazz is there seven days a week — setting an elegant tone for whenever you stop by.
Best Bars tip: When you wrap up here, head over to the Beaufort Bar for more live music or cabaret (and naturally, insanely amazing cocktails).
A west London staple, the Portobello Star is perfect for anyone and everyone who likes a tipple and a good time. With their own homebrand gin, it’s no surprise the chaps here really know how to make a solid drink.
Peckish? Good. Thirsty? Great. To eat, grab a sharing board with meat from the much-loved Ginger Pig butcher. Or maybe try one of Portobello’s homemade pies — beef cheek and real ale with proper gravy? Don’t mind if we do. To drink, you have to try The Slutty Mermaid (there’s a great story behind this drink, so ask the bartender). It’s a delicious mix of smoky Vida mezcal, Manzanilla sherry, lemon and egg white with a splash of seawater and garnished with a mermaid, of course. Most importantly, you can’t leave without having a Portobello Road Martini with their very own gin, Lillet Blanc, Gammel Dansk bitter Danish digestif, Bob’s Abbott’s bitters that’s all stirred up and served with a grapefruit twist. Simply EPIC.
Jake Burger is the brains behind this operation, and is responsible for some of our favourite haunts (aka Jake’s Bar and Still Room, Neon Cactus, Oporto and Cielo Blanco — need we go on?). This place is ready for a party any time, so if you swing by for a quiet cocktail … well, there’s always the chance you’ll be swilling and dancing by the end of the night. Weekends see the DJ crack out spot-on tunes and the sexy-looking crowd can’t help but pile in.
Best Bars tip: If gin is still a bit of a mystery to you, then book yourself in for a session at the Ginstitute upstairs. It’s a few hours of history, drinking and even MAKING your very own gin. If you absolutely love your own concoction, you can order extra bottles any time. WIN.
The Engineer is arguably one of London’s best-kept secrets. Tucked away in a secluded Primrose Hill spot, this laid-back pub offers up an extensive beer, cider and drinks menu, gastro grub, canal views and an incredible outdoor space that’s designed for all-year alfresco drinking.
If you’re not too busy celeb spotting (yes, this a prime hub for those Primrose Hill darlings), the drinks menu should grab your attention. Whether on draught or bottled up, The Engineer specialises in “The Best of British” beer and cider, hosting local brews such as Camden Hells, Meantime’s London Stout and Sharps’ Orchard. The pub also prides itself on a rotating selection of real ales, a global range of craft beers, old and new world wines, plus a decent list of classic cocktails.
It’s not just about relaxed drinking here but informal, chilled-out dining, with fresh seasonal dishes and notoriously delectable bar bites – we challenge you to find anywhere that serves a better homemade Scotch egg. Décor is traditional with a modern twist and the upstairs not only looks out over the Regent’s Canal but also switches from a restaurant by day to a party area or private hire space by night.
Best Bars tip: It’s a little known fact that The Engineer is home to one of the City’s best pub gardens. The spacious outdoors area is made for both summer and winter drinking. When the sun’s away heated undercover seating keeping you toasty even on the chilliest evenings.