“I feel sorry for people who don’t drink. When they wake up in the morning, that’s the best they’ll feel all day.” Anywhere that quotes Old Blue Eyes on its cocktail menus has us sold. Housed on the ground floor of growing foodie square Kingly Court, Wright Brothers’ Soho Oyster House gives bivalve mollusc lovers what they want in unpretentious environs. Marble-top poser tables and stools make the bar area of the group’s Soho outpost possibly more suited than others to casual meets than sit-down dinners (although we wouldn’t be adverse to the latter).
The wine list would please any fisherman after a long day at sea, but it’s the herb- and fruit-heavy cocktail list that catches the eye. For long libation lovers, the Manda’s Elixir ticks the boxes with Portobello Road gin, peach, passionfruit, apple and lemon juice. But if it’s a short, sharp hit you’re after, the Mellow Barrel with Four Roses bourbon, Portal LBV port and egg white will take the edge off a long working day. Damage control comes in the form of small and large plates — we’re salivating over the likes of Alaskan king crab and wagyu beef. But it is, of course, the oysters we’re here for. Majestic platters served on stands make for, perhaps, the most extravagant of table centres. Get them dressed with kizami wasabi, chilli jam and cucumber sorbet, or have them naked, just as nature intended them to be.
You’ll be just as likely to see suited co-workers chatting shop as a couple of friends catching up after a long day in their respective offices. A dedicated bar entrance also means you don’t get the thoroughfare of restaurant and private dining guests disturbing you. Nobody wants to be watched as they slurp, do they?
Best Bars tip: This place fills up at about 7pm, so get down early for pre-dinner oysters or post-work cocktails with a couple of mates. Make sure to check out the cool caged private dining area, too. Guys looking to impress a date would do well to book in at the window. Well, you know what they say about oysters, don’t you?
Situated below London’s oldest whisky shop, The Vault is a proper, Hollywood-like secret bar. Walk in with confidence and make your way to the back of the shop to push with all your strength against the bookcase; and down you go to a small cellar bar where we guarantee a boozy night. A little rough around the edges, this feels like the old school Soho so many are saying is going and gone – a must-visit, then.
Keen on a little education? Take a seat at the bar and let the bartending team guide you through the menu. This is a bar where you sort of have to go big from the start – so try The Buckley, with punchy agricole rum infused with fruit and balanced with egg white. Later at night, you can’t go wrong with The Simo, named after the bar’s owner and main bartender, a twist on a Manhattan made with rye whiskey, dry vermouth and delicately bitter Byrrh.
If you fancy extending your stay, the leather sofas are welcoming, the salted almonds a dream, and some days of the week, Simo’s dog Chester hangs around – let’s make it a rule that all bars must have a dog now, shall we?
Best Bars tip: There’s a barrel-shaped room at the back that’s available to book if you’ve got something to celebrate…
Just under the bridge that marks the end of Shoreditch High Street and the beginning of Kingsland Road sits, you guessed it, The Bridge. From the outside, the dark facade and gloomy entrance give the impression of a place that time forgot, but head inside and you’ll be talking about this treasure trove until the cows come home.
Boxing gloves, a vintage Coca Cola fridge full of beers and an old fashioned till are only a few of the mismatched memorabilia that make this coffee house/bar so enchanting. A small television above the bar even shows black and white boxing matches throughout the day and night – we hear the owner’s a huge fan and we challenge you not to be after an hour in this place.
It’s what’s upstairs that makes this treasure trove so special, though. Fringed and art deco lamps light the throne-like armchairs and sofas that festoon this space. Got a penchant for velvet? You’re in luck – the windows and ceiling are draped with the stuff, making it the perfect getaway for afternoon tea drinking or early evening beers. Cake lovers will be happy to hear that the downstairs display fridge is chock full of french cakes and fancies, while savoury pastries keep those with a savoury tooth sweet.
Best Bars tip: Get there early on a Friday night and enjoy the opulence of the upstairs parlour before you embark on an inevitable evening of drinking on foot on the east London scene below.
For some of the best views Manchester has to offer, make your way up to Cloud 23. This slick and stylish cocktail spot has floor-to-ceiling windows (and boy are they high), so grab a spot next to one and sit back to enjoy the skyline. Come rain or shine, you’ll be happy sipping away in the clouds.
Prices may be as steep as the height of this bar, but with supremely friendly and attentive service you’ll feel alright about shelling out those extra shekels. For a fun and festive cocktail, try The Industrialist with a pre-batched frozen mix of Bulleit Bourbon, vermouth, mezcal bitters and maple syrup with is then poured over a big tuft of candy floss. Give a nod to ol’ Becks with the 7’s Club – a tasty mix of Haig Club whisky, Dubbonet, rosemary & demerara syrup, walnut and it’s served on a football pitch (of course).
Expect to see a mix of glitterati and polished out of towners all chirpily chatting away. You won’t spot too many sufferers of vertigo here though …
Best Bars tip: If you’re looking to impress, whether it’s a client or a date, this is the spot for you.
A beautifully renovated Victorian house with wood-board ceilings, an open kitchen, cosy booths and trendy staff. West Thirty Six is a townhouse of treasures, with secret dining rooms, open fires, smoking terraces and private party spaces. It feels like a members’ club, but it’s open to everyone. Nip by any time of day and hang out in the sunny ground floor bar – either nab a seat overlooking the open kitchen or park up in one of the leather banquettes.
If you’re coming for dinner, head to the first floor dining room – it’s seriously dark and seriously sexy. The menu is a mash-up of American and British cuisine, so come hungry. We had the scallops, steak, crab trifle, beef tartare and finished it off with a luxurious deconstructed banoffee pie. It was all hearty and delicious (and our waistlines were not the better for it). But who can resist a perfect seared steak and dishes full of ultra smoky and unctuous flavours. Since we love a good drink, naturally we had to have a few Manhattans – and you should too.
The crowd here is west London hip, with big groups of young guys and gals sharing big plates and bottles of bubbly then heading out to one of the FOUR alfresco areas for a smoke. Yes, four. In the summer, you’ll be spoiled for choice when it comes to alfresco drinking.
Best Bars tip: Looking for a private party space? The top floor is where it’s at. Hire it out and it’ll be like the best house party you’ve ever been to (with DJs and drinks supplied).
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?
The battle for “bar with the greatest view of London” is a hard-fought one and Rumpus Room is the most recent contender. Facing the river from the top of Mondrian London at Sea Containers, a drink there will definitely give you that Londoner pride feeling – and not least so because the bar’s part of Mr Lyan’s portfolio.
The space really is the star player here. Visit at night, when the room is dark and lit by dandelion-like pendant lamps, the backbar and the city’s windows and streetlights. The deep red sofas are super comfortable, but if the weather’s right, nip out on the terrace to really take in the view.
Drinks wise, the menu’s split between ten classics and ten Rumpus serves – don’t expect the same as downstairs in Dandelyan. Here the drinks are a bit more approachable; twists on well-known names mostly. We liked the fresh and easy-drinking Pineapple Dark’n’Stormy, and the note of hops in the cistrusy Lemon Balm Margarita. There are also a few bites available – if you’ve managed to avoid London’s lobster frenzy, now is really time to give a lobster roll a try.
Best Bars tip: Rumpus Room is often closed for private events, so check before visiting.