From the oldest of traditional pubs to the trendiest of drinking dens, the London bar scene is assorted, impressive, and above all—always a good time. Selected for their sensational social vibe and even more sensational tipples, these are the best places to drink in the British capital.
Sager + Wilde Wine Bar, Hackney Road
In the cool corner of London’s Hoxton sits Sager + Wilde, a well-priced wine bar with a diverse list of wines from all around the world. More hip than snooty, this is the ideal spot to try something you’ve never had before, and helpful wine experts will guide you every step of the way. Go for a bottle of intense white from Lebanon’s Chateau Musar or sweet passito wine from the little-known Sicilian island of Pantelleria. Artisan bar snacks like cheese and charcuterie boards and gourmet toasties (grilled cheese sandwiches) are also available.
This basement tiki bar in artsy Notting Hill has ‘wild night’ written all over its faux-wood paneled walls. With retro tropical drinks like banana daiquiris and zombies served out of coconuts studded with cocktail umbrellas, Trailer Happiness draws a big crowd — especially on the weekends. There’s also a massive list of rums to make your way through and playful ‘60s music that will have you dancing into the night. It’s easy to forget you’re in London at this cult-favorite, neighborhood haunt.
Gordon’s Wine Bar
Gordon’s is a subterranean den of delights forgotten by time. Dating back to 1890, the rustic dank candlelit cave has a long history: Rudyard Kipling (author of "The Jungle Book") lived in the building upstairs from Gordon’s and the walls of the wine bar are lined with old newspapers and empty bottles. Serving only wine (including fortified wines like sherry and port), this timeworn miniature grotto is a must for anyone who wants a taste — or a sip — of historic London.
This teeny tiny Italian coffee shop and bar in London’s Soho is famed for its strong espressos and incredible house Negronis, both of which are well priced for London at £2.50 and £7 respectively. Though packed with retro style in the form of marble countertops and besuited bartenders, the bar list is short and simple and almost exclusively Italian—in other words, it’s just bellissima. After your fill of Negronis (available in Classico, Superiore, Rosato, or Robusto constructions), try the Garibaldi, which is elevated to something sublime with freshly squeezed orange juice, bergamot, and Campari. Saluti!
For insight into how Victorian Londoners like to drink, head to Princess Louise in Holborn. Crafted in 1872, Princess Louise has impressive interiors featuring stained glass paneling, gleaming leather booths, and dark chocolate-hued wood. Popular with the after-work crowd, this buzzy, unpretentious spot is a haven for a proper pint of lager or an icy G&T (made with classic British gin, of course).
As popular today at it was in the 1920s, The Savoy’s American Bar (christened so because of the American-style cocktails it first served), is not only a London institution but also one of the world’s best bars. The American bar is responsible for inventing some of the most iconic classic cocktails including the Dry Martini, the Hanky Panky, and the hangover-curing Prairie Oyster, made with a raw egg cracked into tomato juice, plus Tabasco, Worcestershire sauce, vinegar, and salt and pepper.
You won’t find the Prairie Oyster on the menu today (thankfully), but you will find pages upon pages of avant-garde tipples and vintage sips, as well as a litany of upscale wine and spirits. Try something from the newly introduced menu called ‘Every Moment Tells A Story,’ which offers cocktails inspired by the famous photographer Terry O’Neill, whose celebrity portraits decorate the bar’s walls.
City of London Distillery
London has had a long and tumultuous love affair with gin, and these days it’s more passionate than ever. There’s a trend in the city to serve and sip gin by small-batch distilleries, and even the well-known artisans are rolling out new adventurous recipes for their botanical gins. For a gin-geek’s perspective, head to the City of London Distillery (COLD) in Smithfield, which is one part distillery and one part bar. Try a gin flight and find yourself a new favorite.
Another good option for gin lovers is The Distillery in Notting Hill. This four-floor sanctuary of all-things-gin includes a working distillery, several bars, and even The Ginstitute, a private room where you can blend your own gin and learn more about this spirit.
St Pancras Champagne Bar by Searcys
There are many places to sip bubbly in London, but there’s something especially decadent about ordering a flute of champagne at St Pancras Champagne Bar by Searcys in the remarkably beautiful St Pancras train station. Sure, it’s a bit dangerous to drink in a glamorous old-fashion train station—you could end up on the Eurostar to Paris, after all—but the old-world ambiance is half the fun. (The other half is the never-ending champagne list.)
If you’re looking for a little something out of the ordinary in terms of sparkling wine, check out the English sparkling wine list at The Coral Room. They are champions of small-batch English vineyards, and their by-the-glass offering rotates between six British sparkling wine-producing vineyards and wineries. Also, the chic atmosphere — courtesy Art Deco touches dressed in rich and vibrant corals — is just lovely.
The Blind Pig
Located above the relaxed (but Michelin-starred) Social Eating House by famed chef Jason Atherton, there’s the much-lauded Blind Pig. The long cocktail menu of this speakeasy-style bar is influenced by classic children stories. For example, you can order Pooh’s Hunny Pot, which is made with scotch whisky, mead, cider brandy, honey, orange blossom, and honeycomb; or Harry Potter’s Best Bottle Butter Bitter, made with Monkey Shoulder rum, beer, thyme, butterscotch, citrus, and bitters. It’s all very Instagrammable, as you can imagine.
Mr Fogg’s Residence
Mayfair’s Mr Fogg’s Residence is a wondrously creative bar inspired by Phileas J. Fogg, the hero of Jules Verne’s "Around the World in 80 Days." Walls are covered with Victorian-style bric-a-bracs from Mr. Fogg’s travels around the world, and the eclectic cocktails are named after the curious characters he meets along the way. Mr Fogg’s Residence also plays hosts to boozy fantastical experiences like a gin safari (gin tasting), a tipsy afternoon tea, and quirky brunches. In addition to the Residence, there are several other outposts of this establishment including Mr Fogg’s Gin Parlour in Covent Garden and Mr Fogg's Society of Exploration in The Strand.
The Queen Of Hoxton
The Queen of Hoxton, in perpetually hip Shoreditch, is one of the city’s trendiest bars. Though it’s a summertime favorite thanks to is rooftop, this hotspot is open all year round and hosts live music and themed parties like hip hop karaoke and club nights. The rooftop is open daily and often changes décor and themes with pop-up props like wigwams and Bedouin tents. Summer also brings rooftop barbecues and other special seasonal events.
The Draft House, Queen Charlotte
Fans of craft beer can’t skip the Draft House. There are locations throughout London, though the Fitzrovia location is an iconic little boozer jammed with unusual craft beers from all around the world. The list of tap beers is over twenty beers long, and the can and bottle beer list is even longer than that. New beers are introduced all the time, and the informal, laid-back environment leaves you always feeling welcome. With other locations speckled throughout the city (including Tower Bridge, Old Street, and Paddington) you’re never far from carefully curated craft beer and a small-but-delicious bar food menu.
The Connaught Bar
For one of the best martinis in the capital, head to the stunning Connaught Bar in Mayfair’s exclusive Connaught Hotel. This mirrored jewel box bar is a gorgeous — and rare — treat, as prices are eye-watering. But that’s the price you quite literally pay for perfection. Expert custom martinis are served table side on silver rolling trolleys by award-winning mixologists to add a little more glamour to an already-glamorous drink in the city’s most stylish bar.
The other place for martinis in London is DUKES Bar, also in Mayfair. Once the haunt of James Bond-creator, Sir Ian Fleming, he was thought to have come up with his famous ‘shaken-not-stirred’ line here. Today, you can still order a killer martini, many of which are named after famous and infamous Bond characters.