The global cocktail culture has experienced a renaissance and resurgence in popularity in recent years. Blame it on Sex in the City, Mad Men, or Boardwalk Empire, but classic and adventurous cocktails stirred by an up-and-coming mixologist has major appeal. The casual visitor may conjure images of London’s nightlife scene as being dominated by pubs serving pints of lager, or cider. While there is truth in the pub culture, you’ll find an equally enthralling and thriving cocktail scene. Ranging from hole in the wall to hard-to-find to classic to just plain strange, London’s cocktail bars have something for everyone on every budget.
Mr. Foggs Residence: Best all around
Photo is only for illustrative purposes
Down a hidden alley in Mayfair, you will find Mr. Fogg’s Residence. Lavishly decorated in the style of a the late 1870s library, the ambiance exudes class and elegance. Staff wanders around in dress that appears to belong in Downtown Abbey. The chatter and hum of the bar is not too loud, the lights are dim, and if you are seated near the bar, watching the bartenders mix drinks is a form of entertainment. The menu is easily ten pages long and features “vintage drinks”, redefining top shelf liquor. The normal drinks cost between 10 and 30 GBP, approximately $15- $45 (and are well worth every cent). This might be the best thing you have ever had in your mouth.
Happiness Forgets: Best classic cocktails
Happiness Forgets. I tried Happiness Forgets for the name. Set in the basement, this bar is small and intimate. The bartenders are friendly, helpful and know what they are doing. No standing is permitted, so you either must be extremely lucky or have a reservation. It is a great place to go with a date or a couple good friends.
Bar Nightjar: Best live music
Bar Nightjar is either a cocktail bar masquerading as a jazz club, or a jazz club masquerading as a cocktail bar. In either event, it is truly spectacular. Cocktails are creatively displayed and excellently mixed, and the live acts that perform add to the charm. The cocktail menu is divided into eras (and drinks change), from Pre-Prohibition to Post War. I was enticed by the “Real Drink for Millionaires”, “the Velveteen Cocktail” and the “Provence Swizzle” all of which were delicious. More adventurous cocktailers would do well to partake in “the Name of the Samurai”. Even those who are not jazz fans will appreciate the acts. Reservations necessary.
Purl London: Best speakeasy
Despite the campaigns of numerous groups, the United Kingdom never officially prohibited the sale of alcohol. London has adopted prohibition-era bars, with pizzazz. Purl London, in Marleybone has the best presentation, fantastic atmosphere, and delicious cocktails. You have to admire a place that says “inform your server if you have heart problems”. Purl’s menu changes frequently. Go often to sample the taste sensation and witness the fabulous presentation.
La Perla Bar & Grill: Best happy hour
Conveniently located in Covent Garden, La Perla is technically a Mexican restaurant with a tiny little bar. However, La Perla does a phenomenal margarita. Plus, happy hour specials most days of the week from 1600 - 1900 hr. In the summer, people will crowd outside. Get there early, have a drink, or go for a “late lunch” and escape the madness.
Aces and Eights Saloon Bar: Best dive
Situated in Tufnell Park, Aces and Eights is a 1950’s style rock n’ roll saloon bar. No, those two do not normally mix, but somehow with its intentionally seedy vibe, dark corners, and pictures of naked ladies on the wall; Aces and Eights is an amazing night out. Aces and Eights is more lively than the others on the list. It serves pizza from the backroom and has barrels for decorations. Their whiskey and scotch selection is extensive and they are one of the few bars in London that carries Blue Moon.
Evans & Peel Detective Agency, South Kensington: One of the most fun bars to enter and have a confirmation call from, this bar masquerades as a US detective agency. Be prepared to come up with a story about why you need a private detective, and wait for all your childhood dreams come through as you step through the looking glass, but with cocktails.
Experimental Cocktail Club, Chinatown: Unassuming, unmarked except by a bouncer this bar makes some of the best cocktails to date.
It’s just around the corner
London cocktail bars are plentiful, almost as plentiful as London pubs. Similar to most big cities, the difficulty is not in finding a good drink or a charming atmosphere, it’s finding both. Or finding an atmosphere that is appropriate for your needs. Whatever you decide, you are sure to have a good time sampling all the delights.
Get Trip101 in your inbox
You can buy and claim online, even after you've left home. Travel insurance from WorldNomads.com is available to people from 140 countries. It’s designed for adventurous travellers with cover for overseas medical, evacuation, baggage and a range of adventure sports and activities.
*5% off when you book with our promo code: TRIP101
*For our Canadian and US travellers, unfortunately due to financial services laws, we cannot provide a discount. This promotional code cannot be used with any other discount offer, including World Nomads Members’ discount for travel insurance policy holders.