(Not So) Dry January: Martini Madness in London

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.

Noilly Prat Steve Law - French Pride - ©Olivier Octobre-15
©Olivier

MASH

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.

Drink to try: If you’re looking for award-winning concoctions, swing by MASH to try the UK’s BEST tasting Noilly Prat classic dry martini cocktail. Ask if bartender Steve can knock you out one of his French Pride numbers, a balanced combination of white truffle honey, Noilly Prat Original Dry vermouth and Bombay Sapphire gin. Plus it comes with truffle-stuffed olives. Delicious? Hells yes.

Noilly Prat Mike Foster - Lip Stinger - ©Olivier Octobre-10 crop
©Olivier

69 Colebrooke Row

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.

Beaufort Bar at The Savoy

Beaufort Bar

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.

Quo Vadis Soho Bar

Quo Vadis

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. 

Noilly Prat Ally Martin - Martini a Marseillan - ©Olivier Octobre-6
©Olivier

Peg + Patriot

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.

trailer happiness notting hill

Trailer Happiness

A subterranean Tiki party spot that is always up for a wild night fuelled by rummy cocktails. The 70s basement décor is 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.

— Sasha Filimonov, @SashaSips

Purl

Purl sofa booth

If you don’t know about it then you’d probably never know it existed, but speakeasy bar Purl has become recognised for its stylish and sophisticated atmosphere where cutting-edge cocktails transport the drinker to another world with Martinis served at -50°C and luscious libations created using food, smoke and foam.

From the people behind VOC and Worship Street Whistling Shop, it’s no surprise Purl has quickly become a hot spot for cocktail enthusiasts. These geniuses provide an all-encompassing experience by tingling your senses with aroma, fogs and liquid nitrogen to bring these drinks to life. Modern methods and obscure ingredients are used to create their unique drinks, try the amazing Negroily No. 2 — a beautiful concoction of Bombay Sapphire gin aged in a moscato barrel, Nardini Rabarbaro, Cocchi di Torino, paired with olive oil foam, asparagus and a black truffle finish. Or for those sweet-toothed drinkers, the Willy Wonka Obsession could become your new fix on a cold winter’s evening. It’s a crafty combination of amaretto and cherry-aged Gentlemen Jack, brown sugar and bitters, paired with traditional Italian hot chocolate. Try your hand at a masterclass and you could soon be a modern-day Walter White, making up foamy concoctions in their drinks laboratory.

Heading downstairs you come to a vaulted basement giving you the opportunity for seclusion in slinky booths, perfect to cosy up with a date or some intimate conversations with close friends. The music is chosen by someone with impeccable taste in jazz and blues – so you’re sure to enjoy your whole evening here, trying every obscure thing on the menu.

Best Bars tip: Book ahead for an intimate booth, or head there on a Wednesday night for live jazz.

— Nicola Carruthers, @Nik_Carruthers

Purl cocktail 3

The 14 Best New London Bars of 2014

Peg and Patriot Bethnal Green Road1. Peg + Patriot

Nestled in Bethnal Green’s classically beautiful Town Hall Hotel, there’s a hot spot that will tempt you further eastward — just beyond the boundaries of Shoreditch. Peg + Patriot is the latest haunt from talented drinksman Matt Whiley (of Talented Mr Fox), and he’s brought his unique style of cocktail-making to the East End.

Mission Bethnal Green Addie Chinn
© Addie Chinn

2. Mission

Sitting within the naturally atmospheric railway arches on Bethnal Green’s Paradise Row, Mission’s copper-topped bar, ceiling-high palm tree, and alit wine-filled backbar all seamlessly come together to bring you that quintessential modern wine experience. Plus the food is extraordinary too.

The Sun Tavern bar high res3. The Sun Tavern

Taking a casual approach in setting, this unassuming pub on Bethnal Green Road is pure magic inside. The dim, narrow, candelit space is equal parts cool and sexy with an L-shaped bar that’s lit up with some of the snazziest lanterns we’ve seen around. This is another page ripped straight off the New York City playbook, striking that perfect balance of Irish dive bar-meets-cocktail den.

Dandelyan Mondrian London interior4. Dandelyan

This is one seriously talented team and they’ve brought their magic touch to South Bank’s hot hotel, Mondrian London, manning the Dandelyan bar as well as creating drinks for the entire hotel (from the Sea Containers restaurant to bottled cocktails in the mini fridges). The design is sleek and sexy, with deep purples and shades of green … oh, and the view of the Thames and St Paul’s is rather impressive too.

City Social London5. City Social

Socialising just got slightly darker, a bit sexier and a whole lot higher. Sitting pretty on the 24th floor of Tower 42, Jason Atherton’s skyrise outpost City Social is more art deco than the rest. We wouldn’t blame you for feeling like you are in one of New York City’s mainstay, high-rise haunts.

El Nivel Day of the Dead6. El Nivel

Tucked just above the long-loved La Perla is agaveria El Nivel — courtesy of industry legend Tomas Estes and his son Jesse. A departure from the 17 other Estes venues, this is a slightly more upscale venture with draped curtains, colourful Mexican artwork and Latin retro vibes. The bright and sunny room may be small, but the bar is big on service – and will bring you an intimate and elegant drinking experience every time.

Shrub and Shutter Brixton food and drink7. Shrub and Shutter

This one’s a little out of the way, but so worth a visit. Stepping into The Shrub and Shutterfeels like being in a giant terrarium – there are plants, the flicker of candles, slates on the walls and metal cans decorating the shelves and ceiling. The menus are on the wall, and they’ll catch your attention real quick: what’s growing in this bar is one helluva cocktail list.

High Water Stoke Newington Road interior8. High Water

Come hell or High Water, Dalston has a new chilled out cocktail haven. This treasure of a bar is the product of one seriously talented team, so whatever your tipple of choice, it will be perfectly executed and utterly delicious. Classics are bang on, and so are all their twists.

POND Dalston
©2014 Tom Mannion

9. POND Dalston

Always wanted to take that dream holiday to Hawaii? Well, we can’t help you there. Or maybe we can … welcome to London’s little slice of island paradise: POND Dalston. This happy haunt comes courtesy of Byron Knight, who has put his magic touch on places like Duke’s Brew & Que as well as Off Broadway (if you haven’t been to either of those, get them in the diary). The kitchen is manned by talented chef Frog Wong while the bar is pumping out elegant tropical cocktails by Megs DeMeulenare.

Original Sin Stoke Newington Road
© Addie Chinn

10. Original Sin

The guys from Happiness Forgets have spread their magic touch, and this time it’s a slightly bigger (but definitely as beautiful) operation on Stoke Newington Road. Welcome toOriginal Sin. This basement bar is all dim lighting, cosy booths, free pool and there’s one seriously long bar that begs for you to come perch on.

Bar Termini Soho window11. Bar Termini

Italian-styled cocktail spot Bar Termini is bringing glamour back to train station drinking. The design is pared back with nods to railways (like the overhead shelving) and the dark nighttime setting makes it rather intimate indeed. Cocktails are premixed in Tony C’s lab, so you can expect precision, consistency and most importantly, perfection. One of our favourite 69 Colebrooke Row drinks has made it over to this site: the simple-looking yet complex-tasting Terroir.

WC Wine and Charcuterie Clapham12. WC — Wine & Charcuterie

Drinking in the toilet just got classy. Think we’re mad? Think again. WC Wine and Charcuterie has opened in Clapham Common underground station’s toilets. Having lain derelict for years, the 100-year-old, listed cubicles have been given a bloody good once over and now house one of London’s most talked about bars.

East London Liquor Company bar13. East London Liquor Company

Sitting in the back of what at first looks like a car park, is one of east London’s finest and newest gems — the East London Liquor Company. An industrial-yet-airy bar with copper touches and it’s biggest treat: an in-house distillery where the staff are crafting their own gins, vodkas and whiskies. If you’ve ever seen a backbar more beautiful than this … well, you probably haven’t.

Dishoom King's Cross14. Dishoom King’s Cross

The third and largest outpost of Dishoom is another beautifully designed Bombay café, setting up shop in the foodie destination of Granary Square. The warehouse-like space manages to ooze charm with antique knick-knacks and brass touches throughout. The Permit Room bar downstairs fits 90 people and opens at 5pm every day, so swing by for spicy twists on ginny numbers or even some zesty and fruity mocktails. They also have a whole selection of pre-batched cocktails for your pleasure.

Honourable mentions:

Peony at Opium, Verden, B & H Buildings, Loves Company, Merchant House, 184 Hackney Road, Portside Parlour, and The Whip.

— Sasha Filimonov, @SashaSips

Old Tom & English

Old Tom and English SohoWalking down Wardour street, we wouldn’t blame you for whizzing right past this door. With just a red light buzzing above, there’s little indicate the luxurious den that awaits downstairs. Old Tom & English plays on the brothel history of Soho, but nothing down here is seedy. The design comes courtesy of Lee Broom, with his signature 60s style and glamorous touches, this feels like walking into an episode of Mad Men.

If you’re here, then you’ve got to have an Old Fashioned — but this one comes as a twist. Made with barrel-aged gin, honey and bitters — it’s like no other Old Fashioned you’ve tried before. For a drink inspired by the area, try the South Side of Oxford Street with Gentleman’s Cut gin, lemon, sugar and Manzanilla dry sherry. Dry, fresh and definitely delicious. Food is designed to share, so start ordering those plates around. Lighter bites such as the kale and burnt apple salad are friendlier to the waistline, while those looking to indulge should get straight in to the melt-in-your-mouth confit smoked guinea fowl served with an anchovy mayo. Oh, and get the triple cooked chips … these are some of the best in town.

The booths are ideal for big groups that want a bit of privacy — you get your own little alcove to while away the hours in.

Best Bars tip: It’s reservations only (if you want a booth), but play nice and they’ll let you perch up at the bar … our favourite spot.

— Sasha Filimonov, @SashaSips

Old Tom and English Soho

Peony at Opium

Peony at Opium ChinatownLondon can’t get enough of its secret bars, and its latest hidden treasure is tucked within Chinatown’s “labyrinthine” Opium. Once you finally find the tiny bar that is Peony (this will undoubtedly take a few attempts), one glimpse at the ceiling and you’ll notice that the design of this space is a microcosm of the whole townhouse — in the best kind of way.

Drinks are crafty with inventive twists on classic cocktails, plus a dose of Asian influence. For tequila lovers, try the Mexican in China with Herradura tequila, Xilli liqueur, fresh grapefruit juice, lime and maraschino. And if you want to share the fun, get a teapot of the Peony Punch — an easygoing number with Absolut Blue vodka, dragonfruit and coconut puree, cranberry juice, lemon, Angostura bitters and nutmeg. Food here is irresistible, so it’s best to treat yourself to a bit of dim sum. Get the whole bloody platter in fact!

With beautifully intricate wallpaper, dim lighting and dark wood — you’ll feel like you’re hanging out in the hippest spot in Shanghai.

Best Bars tip: This is Opium’s even more elegant sister, so come down if you’re looking to impress and prove (once and for all) that you are the MOST “in the know”.

— Sasha Filimonov, @SashaSips

Peony at Opium Chinatown 2

Cecil’s

Cecil's bar BermondseyIn a normal world, abandoned-looking industrial buildings tucked away behind railway arches are best avoided – expect of course if you’re in London, in which case chances are you’ve found a genial cocktail bar. It’s the case for Cecil’s, a gem of a drinking den that truly asks for some commitment to be found: a dark alley and grim looking stairs lead to a large, dim room where time is well spent.

The drinks list is really quite eclectic, with some interesting work on serving categories: choose from punches, highballs, large pots to share, or small pick-me-ups – elaborate shots. Keep it local with a Borough Citrus Punch — beautifully refreshing and dry. Or go bold with the whole Tinker Tailor Soldier Sailor set of shots, which combine different spirits with liqueurs and juices.

The place looks like an Asian-inspired Prohibition bar, perhaps a touch confusing but it really works: Chinese lanterns and small plates of dumplings mix with evenings of live blues and swing dancing. There’s really nothing not to love.

Best Bars tip: Saturday nights are Uff Tea nights – an immersive 1930s Shanghai experience with live jazz, extravagant glamour and of course, great drinks.

— Gaëlle Laforest, @gaellelaforest

Cecil's bar Bermondsey live music

Original Sin

Original Sin Stoke Newington Road
© Addie Chinn

The guys from Happiness Forgets have spread their magic touch, and this time it’s a slightly bigger (but definitely as beautiful) operation on Stoke Newington Road. Welcome to Original Sin. This basement bar is all dim lighting, cosy booths, free pool and there’s one seriously long bar that begs for you to come perch on.

Drinks are delicious and deceptively simple — meaning it shouldn’t take too long to get a few into your hands. We are partial to the long, refreshing and lightly smoky Sea City with mezcal, cachaca, lemon, agave, salt, mint and soda. For a moreish, spicy and creamy drink, try Mr Sandman with Remy Martin, allspice, lemon, maple syrup, ginger and egg yolk. It’s Christmas in a glass.

If you get hungry, burger maestros Stokey Bears are just upstairs. Sorted.

Best Bars tip: Original Sin is just a straight shot down the road from High Water and POND, so we reckon this is going to quickly become one of your favourite cocktail crawls.

— Sasha Filimonov, @SashaSips

Original Sin Stoke Newington Road
© Addie Chinn