City of London Distillery Bar (C.O.L.D. Bar)

City of London Distillery Bar COLD Bar London Situated down a narrow alley off of Fleet Street, the City of London Distillery Bar (COLD Bar for short) is a true gem for any gin lover – or for anyone looking to learn more about this history-rich spirit. This is the first working distillery to open in the City for over 200 years, and with more than 175 gins to choose from (other reports count 220), you’re likely to feel overwhelmed. So get stuck in with a masterclass, a tasting, or sign up for a tour of the distillery and finish it off with a cocktail at the bar.

The cocktail menu is mostly gin-based, surprise surprise, but this incredibly complex botanical spirit is one that will keep your palate wanting. Don’t miss the house gin used in the majority of drinks, which is created in the two giant stills behind bomb-proof glass – easily spotted as they’re the ones emanating a copper glow onto the bar. Try the Corpse Reviver no. 2 with gin, lillet, triple sec, lemon and absinthe – we love that boozy liquorice kick. Or for a more approachable drink have a bubbly Smiley Girl with gin, grapefruit sherbet, fino sherry and a bit of soda.

The large space still manages to feel intimate with dark wood furnishings, green walls and copper fixtures – it’s old world luxury with a laid-back vibe. You won’t find the dregs of the Fleet Street set here, but rather you will be surrounded by a more discerning clientele, who are ready and willing to learn and try something new.

Best Bars tip: There are plenty of corners for more romantic encounters, so it’s great for any date. 

— Sasha Filimonov, @SashaSips

City of London Distillery Bar COLD bar London

Santa Chupitos

Santa Chupitos LiverpoolThis is Liverpool debauchery at its finest. Santa Chupitos‘ seasonal menu of fun, festive cocktails never takes itself too seriously and the clientele is much the same. So when you find their nondescript black entrance on the corner of Slater Street, check your inhibitions at the door and hop straight into the fun.

“Santas” are always hard at work experimenting with homemade ingredients to put on the menu, but it’s wise to test out their signatures as well, like the 5 Dollar Shake which will bring you straight onto the set of Pulp Fiction. Served in a glass milk bottle, it’s a blend of vodka, Chambord, blueberries and ice cream then topped with whipped cream … not great for the hips, but delightful on the lips. Or if you’re more in the mood for a fiery concoction (it’s literally on fire, so don’t be too far gone when ordering this one) try the Passionfruit Zombie with four types of rum, some tropical flavours and a flaming goslings lime shell.

The bar gives you plenty to explore and is split into three parts: the main bar which is open throughout the week, the back room where they up the ante with even more adventurous boozing, and finally El Bandito, their sister basement tequila bar just downstairs.

Best Bars tip: This place never closes any earlier than 2am (4am on Fridays and Saturdays), so it’s ideal for finishing out your night with flair.

— Sasha Filimonov, @SashaSips

santa chupitos cocktail bar liverpool

Dirty Bones

Dirty Bones KensingtonDirty Bones is the latest gem to pop up in west London, an area that has been left somewhat wanting for hip late-night hangouts in the past. But that is no longer the case: this hot dog-centric spot will be serving up cocktails and dinner from 6pm.

Just slip through the secret door in their kiosk on Kensington Church Street (where you can grab Classic Yankee dogs earlier in the day) and head downstairs into a seventies underground haven – the quirky interiors courtesy of British designer Lee Broom.

Tapping into the Americana trend, this one has a bit of extra cachet as ex-Fat Duck chef Ross Clarke developed the concept as well as the menu. Think international-inspired hot dogs like the Asian with kimchi relish, crispy seaweed and wasabi mayo, or “Bones” dishes like fried chicken in a spicy coating. For a fresh and fruity cocktail, try the Top Dog with Finlandia vodka, Chambord, strawberries, lemon and prosecco; or if you’re looking for a classic then order the Dirty Bones Martini with olive oil-washed Tanqueray, Lillet Blanc and olives. For some smoky yet sweet business, try the Mutt’s Nuts cocktail with Woodford Reserve, cinnamon and vanilla-infused maple syrup and Angostura bitters.

Best Bars tip: This place is more conducive to seated imbibing rather than dirty dancing, but the drinks are stellar and the atmosphere is chatty and friendly – so have no doubt this one will be a nightlife staple for the long run.

— Sasha Filimonov, @SashaSipsDirty Bones interior Kensington

The Bon Vivant

bon vivant edinburgh cocktail barBon Vivant: n. pl. bons vi·vants (bô v-vä) A person with refined taste, especially one who enjoys superb food and drink. Well this Edinburgh staple on Thistle Street hits all those marks – channelling a French bistro-feel as it recreates an “on the continent” attitude towards dining and drink. Don’t let the romantic candle lighting and vintage posters fool you though, the vibe here is decidedly youthful – with DJs hitting the decks on weekends.

Bar staff are confident and inventive, so lay your trust in their hands for any classic (or twist thereon). The cocktail menu is ever-changing, keeping you on your toes, but if you’re looking for something of the grape variety – they’ve got 44 wines by the glass and might treat you to a blind tasting. We can’t help ourselves when there’s a Negroni Solera around … let them explain the system to you and then be sure to try one.

And the food, oh the food – with a wide selection of bites from £1, starters and middles, The Bon Vivant makes it easy to soak up those tasty tipples. If you’re just keen for a nibble, then try the chorizo in cider or, if it’s on offer, a few slices of jamón iberico (they have a whole leg behind the bar from time to time). Now let’s join them and do as the Europeans do.

Best Bars tip: Clearly the guys here have got a winning formula, having opened another branch of their namesake venue in Stockbridge as well as a sister bar called The Devil’s Advocate on Advocates Close (and don’t forget their cafe on Waterloo Place – Pep & Fodder). So there’s plenty of opportunity to get into the good life around town.

— Sasha Filimonov, @SashaSips

bon vivant edinburgh cocktail bar

Bounce

Bounce Ping Pong HolbornBounce is London’s mecca for all things ping pong, perfect for freeing your inner-Olympian. And while unsportsmanlike conduct is fast and furious here, it remains mostly in jest. This basement art deco-inspired megabar houses 17 ping pong tables, as well as a raised dining area from where you can watch the lacklustre skills of after-work drunks safe from rogue ping pong balls.

Beer is usually the drink of choice for most punters here, but their short cocktail menu is fun and colourful without falling prey to cheesiness. For a clean and lean drink, try the Wiff Waff with Hendrick’s gin, homemade Earl Grey tea syrup and topped with tonic.

This might not be the place for an intimate catch-up, but is ideal for party crews, suits looking to cut loose or table tennis aficionados. Try to book the 2012 London Olympics table where you can get a personal highlights video the day after your game.

Best Bars tip: If you manage to stick around until the wee hours, that’s when the music shifts from radio hits to seriously hip-swivelling tunes (think Stevie Wonder and The Supremes).

— Sasha Filimonov, @SashaSips

bounce bar london ping pong

Experimental Cocktail Club

experimental cocktail club londonIf you’re lucky enough to find the unmarked door to the multi-storey Experimental Cocktail Club, you’re off to a good start. The doorman might tip you off to its location, but don’t feel intimidated – the key here is to play by the rules. Show up early if you don’t have a reservation and look reasonably put together (you needn’t dress like a disco ball, but a step up from pyjamas is a reasonable ask).

That said, the cocktails here are superb, robust and worth the wait on busier nights. While the drinks aren’t quite molecular, they’re perfectly executed. Try La Medicacion, a short tequila cocktail with a mezcal mist which is perfect year-round: refreshing and zesty for the summer yet smoky enough for the winter. If you have a chance, chat with the immaculately dressed bartenders and let them tailor a drink to your personal tastes. Or if you feel like splashing the cash, then test drive their vintage cocktails – the 1950s variation on the Manhattan will set you back a cool £200.

The dimly lit setting oozes Parisian laid-back chic, with ornate ceilings, soft furnishings and exposed brick walls. So just keep that Parisian cool in mind when the service gets a bit spotty.

Best Bars tip: Keep an eye out for any table that crops up, because if you play nice then the hostess might just let you keep it – until the booking arrives.

— Sasha Filimonov, @SashaSips

Experimental Cocktail Club punch bowl

Hawksmoor Spitalfields Bar

hawksmoor spitalfields bar london

This Spitalfields drinking den feels of a different class than some of its flannel-donning brethren in neighbouring Shoreditch, and it’s got your whole night wrapped up in one burnished brass-covered package.

The cocktails are the stars of this underground Hawksmoor show, so don’t expect the famous steaks down here – that’s strictly upstairs business. For those looking to satisfy their sweet urge, try the Nuclear Banana Daiquiri … it’s guilty pleasure defined. Careful though, that overproof rum can knock you sideways. If you’re of the classics persuasion, test drive the Full Fat Old Fashioned – think Don Draper, with a bigger waistline.

You won’t struggle to line your stomach here, with menu highlights like the Pig’s Head Poutine (a Canadian delicacy … or cheese fries, as some may call them), the Ox Cheek French Dip, and the finger-licking Seoul Ribs for a fiver, which are a must.

Best Bars tip: Desert Island Drinks launch the first Tuesday of every month, and you can get any one of them with a sandwich for £15.

— Sasha Filimonov, @SashaSips

Hawksmoor Spitalfields Bar London