The UK capital offers the ultimate in luxury libation. From regal ancestral homes, five-star hotels, uber-contemporary hide-outs and theatrical vintage venues with rich histories, tourists and locals alike revel in the many upmarket bars. We have the lowdown on where to go for the very finest champagne, innovative cocktails, unique whisky and much more.
The Library Bar at The Lanesborough Hotel, Knightsbridge
The vibrant Library Bar is one of the most distinguished destinations for drinks in the capital. Knightsbridge and Belgravia locals adore this ‘museum of spirits’ containing cognacs dating back to before the French revolution. Guests can recline in the regency armchairs, surrounded by traditional wood panelling, oil paintings – and of course, many antique literary works. If you can’t decide between the libations on offer, a canapé cocktail list enables you to sample minis, offering variety without speedy inebriation.
The Bar at the Athenaeum London, Mayfair
Don’t miss this if you’re a whisky lover. The Athenaeum has 160, including its own signature blend along with a menu of inventive cocktails exclusive to the venue and some international collectables. Another draw is the ‘living wall’. Floor to ceiling windows reveals the lush, jungle-like vertical garden, offering environmental benefits, as well as aesthetic ones. Alongside the drinks, you can enjoy bar snacks from the Michelin-starred Galvin brothers and spirit masterclasses featuring exquisite cheese-pairings. The design is contemporary, high-end and sophisticated, as befits its Mayfair location.
The Fumoir at Claridge’s, Mayfair
Soak in the art deco ambience, as you drink Dom Pérignon champagne and nibble on caviar, lobster tempura and macaroons. The 1920s/1930s glamour is evoked with Lalique mirrors, crystal decanters, dark panelling, shades of aubergine and vintage black and white William Klein photo portraits. Watch as the mixologists work their magic from behind the decadent black marble horseshoe bar. There’s an encapsulating cosiness about the place too and essence of elegance ideal for sophisticated romantic evenings. The Fumoir is apparently Dita Von Teese’s favourite bar in the city.
Library Bar at The Ned, Bank
Another intimate gem can be found here, but its exclusivity means it’s reserved for members and hotel guests only. Should you be fortunate enough to find yourself on the other side of the Library Bar’s sweeping jacquard curtain, you can order from a menu of 30 champagnes, and a ‘create your own’ martini trolley making blends to order. It has that homely feel, yet smart feel, as if you’re relaxing with a beverage in the library of a grand townhouse, in another era. Its Bank location makes it perfect for after-work drinks. Reservations are required.
Seymour’s Parlour at Zetter Townhouse, Marylebone
Wicked Uncle Seymour’s Parlour is the place to spend high days and holidays – parties start here for Valentines, Mardi Gras, St Patrick’s Day and more, with live music and dancing. There are also boisterous monthly events and masterclasses for well-heeled fun-seekers. Order from a ‘magic tonic’ cocktail selection curated by the fictional ‘Seymour’ and based on his international travels. Resembling a stately home, the venue is stylishly cluttered with portraits and antiques, complemented by heavy dark Wedgwood furniture, classic deep red walls, ornate Persian rugs and a feature fireplace.
The Beaufort Bar at The Savoy, Covent Garden
For an opulent night offering theatrical beverages and a back-story, look no further. The bar itself was once a cabaret stage, hosting the likes of Gershwin, and the show goes on today, in the mixologists’ finger and wrist acrobatics. Sit close by the glowing bar to watch them create drinks with names such as of Light Bulb Moments, The Orchestra, Overture and Showtime. The cocktail menu is ordered into three sections: Music, Drama and Magic, with these themes echoed in the gilt, ornate decor.
Gong at the Shard, London Bridge
For drinks with a view, especially at sunset, it has to be the Shard. Gong is situated on the 52nd floor, making it the highest hotel bar in western Europe. Its name comes from dugong, a traditional Chinese structure of wooden brackets, as featured in the bar. Take a set in one of the three areas: the cocktail bar, champagne bar, or beside the sky pool. The cocktail menu, The Miscellany of Inventions, pays homage to the greatest inventions of all time. And the team have created a must-try unique selection from the Chinese liquor baijiu. With such epic vistas, Gong is often the chosen location for proposals and special moments.
Dukes Hotel Bar, Mayfair
This has long been a hotspot for martini lovers. The New York Times declared their version of the Bond cocktail: ‘one of the world’s best’. And it has legitimate links with the fictional spy – his creator, Ian Fleming was a frequent patron. The walls are adorned with aristocratic oil paintings, while muted tones of plush fabrics, polished wood and large floral displays create a regal, but relaxed feel. The hotel is tucked away in the salubrious area of St James and serves modern classics, from its antique rosewood trolley. The drinks are strong, and guests are encouraged to linger over them in style. (Read our Dukes Bar Interview piece here)