26 Nov Bar Guide London
Whether London can be unequivocally declared the cocktail capital of the world has been a topic of debate for quite some time. However, from our perspective, it stands out prominently. The sheer diversity within the city’s bar scene is unparalleled. Ranging from sophisticated bars nestled in exorbitantly luxurious hotels to hidden gems in lesser-known neighborhoods, London offers a spectrum of options. If your visit to London isn’t solely for sightseeing, we highly recommend selecting accommodation in the eastern part of the city, where a myriad of exceptional bars awaits. Areas such as Shoreditch, Islington, Dalston, or Hackney would consistently be our top choices in such instances. So, here’s to raising your glass and toasting to the vibrant cocktail culture of London!
While you’ll find some big names in this bar guide, let’s not overlook the hidden gem that is Crossroads Bar. Tucked away in the northern part of Newington Green, this spot is managed by the cocktail wizard, Bart Miedeksza. Despite not being the most famous joint, Crossroads can hold its own against those so-called ‚award-winning‘ bars – and maybe even outshine a few. They made the move to their current spot in 2023 from a smaller spot in Camden Town during the pandemic. These guys call themselves the ‚friendly neighborhood cocktail bar,‘ and it’s spot on. But don’t be fooled by the chill vibes and the cozy setup with a long bar upstairs. Bart, the mixologist extraordinaire, is all about pushing boundaries. He gets creative and experimental, pulling from local goodies and some seriously offbeat ingredients. Picture this: „Eucalyptus + Tonka“ – a mezcal masterpiece that hits you with a crazy aroma. Then there’s the fizzy „Bergamot + Smoke“ with Scotch and Rooibos Earl Grey tea. These drinks were the stars of our London visit. Cheers to Bart and the crew at Crossroads Bar, setting the bar high in the cocktail game!
While East London has never been short of fantastic bars, the arrival of Equal Parts is a refreshing addition to the local scene. Beyond the usual evening revelry, Equal Parts offers a unique bar experience. The space undergoes a delightful metamorphosis from a cozy day spot, adorned with elegant Japanese woodwork and lush greenery, into a vibrant Mediterranean aperitivo bar. Owner Michael Sager, known for the well-regarded wine restaurant „Sager + Wilde,“ has turned a dream into reality with this concept. From the moment you step in, it’s clear that Equal Parts aspires to be more than just a regular bar; it’s a passion project executed with meticulous attention to detail. Elements like the curated vinyl collection and the vintage mocha machine contribute as much to the unique atmosphere as the drinks featured on the menu. The bar’s name, „Equal Parts,“ is more than a moniker; it’s a guiding principle. Most cocktails, including the iconic Negroni, are crafted with ingredients in perfect balance. The emphasis here is on lighter aperitivo drinks, exemplified by the „Fernet + Chinotto“ listed under ‚Signatures,‘ instantly transporting you to Italy. Take, for instance, the ‚Flor’—a captivating blend of olive and tomato notes with vodka and fino sherry, creating an exceptionally aromatic drink perfect for later in the evening. Equal Parts doesn’t stop at cocktails; their menu boasts an extensive selection of amaro and agave specialties, revealing a genuine affinity for all things Mexico. This connection was vividly evident during the guest shift by the renowned Parisian bar „Candelaria,“ hinting that it might not be the last prominent name to grace Equal Parts. We’d bet on it.
Dalston stands out as one of London’s most vibrant neighborhoods, transitioning from a social hotspot to a thriving creative hub that magnetizes talent. In the midst of this transformation, Bar Lotus has emerged as a noteworthy addition to the neighborhood’s dynamic bar scene, making its debut just this year. The bar’s allure lies not only in its innovative cocktails but also in its striking design, a fusion of Asian minimalism and style. The bright, open space revolves around two expansive bar stations, inviting guests to settle into comfortable bar stools. The seamless blend of retro and modern aesthetics perfectly aligns with our taste, creating a visually appealing ambiance. Bar owner David Wang and his team embody a philosophy centered on translating abstract aesthetics into tangible forms, evident the moment you place your first drink order. Bar Lotus seamlessly weaves together visual, acoustic, and gustatory influences, creating a harmonious experience. The bar’s own cocktail creations reflect this minimalist approach, consciously avoiding garnishes in favor of premium spirits infused with distinctive Asian notes and special ingredients. Take, for instance, the „Oolong Mizuwari,“ a highball featuring Japanese whiskey elevated by the addition of the lychee-like longan fruit. The „Sango“ captivates with its well-balanced blend of East London Gin, Japanese sake, and green tomato flavors. With the other house cocktails promising similar delights, a return visit to this intriguing spot is definitely on the horizon. As a delightful tidbit, if your travels happen to take you to Shanghai, keep an eye out for another Bar Lotus experience awaiting you there.
Bars in London come and go, but there’s one that has our hearts — Happiness Forgets. It’s become our go-to ritual on every trip to London, and honestly, we’ve lost count of how many times we’ve been there. But who’s counting when each visit leaves us grinning and plotting the next one? Sure, they call it a speakeasy, but it’s not some secret joint tucked away. Just head down a few steps into the basement, and voila! You’re face to face with the bar’s name painted on the wall. Inside, it’s like a cozy wonderland—candles dancing, lights dimmed, brick walls giving you all the feels, and a classic wooden bar with those comfy stools just waiting for you. Time seems to play tricks at Happiness Forgets. You could swear it’s taken a pause. And that’s part of why we keep coming back. It’s got this irresistible charm that’s hard to resist (obviously). Now, onto the important stuff—the drinks. Their own creations are on point, leaning a bit to the sweet side, like many London bars. But they’re not shy about mixing up all the classics too. The bar’s armed with all the good stuff, and our taste buds can vouch for the Mezcal Negroni and the „Greenpoint“ (only legit with yellow Chartreuse). Talking about Happiness Forgets almost feels unnecessary. Go once, and you’ll get it. You’ll leave already planning the next trip back. It’s that kind of place—no need for fancy words, just good vibes and even better drinks.
Okay, truth be told, we had to do a quick Google search to uncover the charm of Crouch End, nestled in the northern nooks of London. It’s not exactly a tourist hotspot, and that’s precisely what makes it intriguing. Our mission? Little Mercies. This snug local joint, celebrating its fifth year in the neighborhood, made waves on awards lists a while back. Now, it’s a fixture in London’s bar scene and a go-to for many bartenders. As the sun dipped low one afternoon, we found ourselves at Little Mercies, face-to-face with Alan Sherwood, the owner, and Mandy, our friendly bartender (who, funnily enough, hails from Germany – small world!). The clean aesthetics of the place struck us right away. Dark blue tones, weathered wooden floors, and an exposed brick wall set apart from the main bar area created a vibe that’s modern yet comfortably unpretentious. Little Mercies‘ cocktails are as intriguing as the décor, often playful twists on classics. Alan and his crew aren’t ones to rush – crafting a cocktail that meets their high standards takes time. The ‚Moro Margarita‘ and the ‚Kiwi Gimlet‘ stood out during our visit. The margarita, spiked with fruity blood orange, and the gimlet, a fusion of fermented kiwi, gin, and (kiwi) vodka, are crowd favorites. The bar’s back area resembles a scientific lab, showcasing the dedication that goes into their creations. For these innovative drinks and the warm welcome from the Little Mercies team, a trip to Crouch End is well worth it. And let’s not even get started on the rumors about the best bar food in all of North London – it’s on our list for the next visit.
If we bring up Three Sheets at this point, it’s more than a coincidence. Little Mercies and this Dalston gem share more than a few similarities. It all begins with the masterminds behind the bar. The Venning brothers, Noel and Max, who are also the brains behind Three Sheets, joined forces with Alan Sherwood to create the Little Mercies. Even before the birth of Little Mercies, their Dalston venture had gained citywide recognition. Today, Three Sheets stands as a prominent fixture in London’s bar scene. Its surging popularity, however, comes with a caveat – the snug, elegantly minimalist space fills up rapidly, not just on weekends. Yet, for Noel and Max, this only reaffirms that their distinct concept for this unique neighborhood bar has struck a chord. While Three Sheets offers excellent wine and beer, our focus was, naturally, on the cocktails. The menu, undergoing almost weekly transformations, presents three columns of drinks, ranging from „One Sheet“ to „Three Sheets.“ This categorization guides patrons from lighter (low ABV) to stronger cocktails. A notable mention in the „One Sheet“ category is the effervescent „French 75,“ a Three Sheets signature unlikely to ever leave the menu. It serves as the ideal prelude to an evening at Three Sheets, a sentiment shared not just by us. Max then treats us to the „Rhubarb + Orris,“ infused with fermented rhubarb, where floral notes dance harmoniously with Belvedere vodka. The menu also features a selection of changing highballs. A visit to Three Sheets is an enlightening experience, revealing why our bar-loving hearts gravitate toward Dalston.
The Umbrella Project
Shoreditch remains a vibrant and thrilling neighborhood, and since the onset of 2022, The Umbrella Project has made its mark in this dynamic area. Don’t be misled by the name; it’s not your typical bar, though exceptional cocktails are, of course, part of the experience. Instead, this establishment offers a multifaceted encounter within its cozy confines (housing just 12 seats). It’s a wine store, a repository of rarities, a cocktail laboratory, and, yes, a cocktail bar—all rolled into one. Managed by the team behind The Sun Tavern and the speakeasy haven Discount Suit Company (more on that later), The Umbrella Project shares intriguing ties with these two Shoreditch establishments. Here, innovative drinks are crafted week after week, some of which might eventually grace the menus of its sibling bars. Guests, however, are not mere „guinea pigs“ because the bar team’s expertise is beyond experimentation. Moreover, only the finest spirits, often from small, independent producers, find their way into the concoctions at The Umbrella Project. The array of gin, whiskey, and mezcal is not only impressive but also a testament to owner Andy Kerr’s strong connections with numerous producers. Alongside five to six weekly-changing cocktail creations, patrons can, of course, savor all the classics. Yet, we’d recommend embracing a more adventurous spirit, as The Umbrella Project thrives on the ethos of testing, trying, and surprising. Andy and his team epitomize true innovation and creativity in today’s bar scene.
Discount Suit Company
From The Umbrella Project, we swiftly found ourselves at Discount Suit Company (DSC), as promised. Despite its name suggesting a mundane men’s tailor, this spot has harbored an exceptional speakeasy bar for nearly a decade. Nestled near the renowned Old Spitalfields Market, not far from Brick Lane, it offers an escape from city life. Descending an unassuming staircase into a basement, guests discover a remarkably cozy bar tucked behind a curtain. The ambiance, reminiscent of Happiness Forgets, strikes us as even more rustic, with a slightly dimmer atmosphere. Brick walls and abundant woodwork define the character of this intimate space. As owner Andy Kerr shared with us, the somewhat cumbersome name of the bar was retained to preserve the historical signage still adorning the building. Once a real tailor’s establishment, Discount Suit Company now crafts house cocktails inspired by classics, some of which have achieved near-classic status themselves. The bar menu showcases eight to ten contemporary cocktails alongside several enduring DSC classics. The „Tigerstyle,“ featuring El Dorado and Oaxacan rum served with a generous helping of crushed ice, stands out. Another DSC classic, the „Wicked Pickett,“ skillfully melds bitter and fruity notes by combining vodka, Campari, Greek Axia Mastiha, and raspberry and peach aperitif. The „Dust my Bloom,“ leaning towards the Old Fashioned style, caters to aficionados of robust, „boozy“ drinks. In addition to the adept bartenders, the helpful suggestions on the cocktail menu („If you like this, try this…“) act as a guiding thread through the realms of mixology. It’s unlikely that you’ll settle for just one round here, making Discount Suit Company a compelling stop for the discerning bar-goer.
There aren’t many reasons to trade the East London vibes for the West, but Side Hustle is a worthy exception. Despite being part of the NoMad Hotel, this place is far from your typical hotel bar. It’s a lively mix of Latin American spirits, cocktails, and good eats, all set in what used to be a police station. You’ll catch a glimpse of the past with a picture of a bobby at the entrance, a nod to the building’s history. Once you step in through the separate street entrance, you might not even realize it’s part of the NoMad Hotel. The inside is cozy and stylish, with a fancy marble bar that practically calls your name. There’s more than meets the eye here. Beyond the cool photos on the walls, the real magic happens with the Side Hustle bar menu, curated by NoMad’s VP of food & beverage Leo Robitschek and bar director Liana Oster. They’ve put together a selection that’s all about the best Latin American spirits, where tequila and mezcal take the spotlight. With choices like the „Seasonal Margarita“ and the „Toreador,“ we decide to go for the tequila-based „Pandan Negroni.“ It’s so good we wouldn’t mind a round two, but then there’s a Tjoget pop-up at Side Hustle that night. We can’t pass up the chance to taste the drinks from our favorite Stockholm bar, and guess what? They pair surprisingly well with Side Hustle’s Mexican bar food—think various tortilla dips and tasty tacos. Considering the place’s history, can we call it a „Guilty“ Pleasure? We think so, enjoying the mix of the old and the new.
Let’s linger in Mexico for a bit, right where Kol Mezcaleria calls home. Now, if the name „Kol“ conjures images of a posh gourmet spot in London, you’re spot on. This mezcaleria, nestled in the basement of the award-laden restaurant, is usually booked up for months, but it’s somewhat easier to snag a seat here than in the main restaurant. Still, a reservation isn’t a bad idea. The moment you step into Kol Mezcaleria, the authentic design whisks you away to Mexico. The vibe is relaxed and cozy, setting the perfect stage for the mezcal experience. The bar menu here takes an intriguing approach. It’s structured around two ingredient pairings, offering a cocktail with an agave spirit and another with gin, rum, or whiskey, all sourced from Mexico. Yes, you read that right—Mexican gin and whiskey. It’s refreshing to see a focus on these rare spirits. Picture this: The Lost Explorer Salmiana Mezcal, dry vermouth, and vodka come together for a first-class Martini. Meanwhile, Head Bartender Matthias Ingelmann crafts a Boulevardier using Sierra Norte Corn Whiskey, Campari, vermouth, and intriguing woodruff and coffee flavors. It’s an adventurous twist on classic cocktails, aligning with Kol’s „Mexican Soul – British Ingredients“ philosophy. Matthias shares a fun fact: the guacamole here is made from peas, not avocados. By the way, Matthias, the winner of the 2016 „Made in GSA Competition,“ happens to be an old student friend of Sven Goller. If you recall, we visited Sven in the summer at his bar „Das schwarze Schaf“ in Bamberg. Despite the later intrusion of London rain, we can’t fault Matthias or Kol Mezcaleria for breaking the illusion of a Mexican getaway. The experience was still a winner.
The Bar with no Name (69 Colebrooke Row)
Soho’s renowned Termini bar has a slightly lesser-known „sister,“ though the level of notoriety is undoubtedly subjective, and we’re not keen on picking favorites. Why choose when both establishments bring Italian aperitivo culture to the vibrant heart of London? While Bar Termini caters to daytime cravings with drinks, coffee delights, and Italian snacks, The Bar with no Name prefers to unveil its allure in the early evening. Tracking down the address 69 Colebrooke Row, often a pseudonym for this nostalgically delightful bar, leads us to the charming neighborhood of Islington in the northeast. Wrapped in Italian memorabilia, film noir references, and an abundance of retro charm, the venue offers a haven for savoring top-notch house cocktails like the „Manhattan Steel Corp“ (featuring maraschino liqueur) or the tantalizing „Osmanthus Negroni.“ Classic Negronis and other cocktail staples are also on offer, tailor-made for guests upon request. A particularly unique concoction and a signature gem from the 69 Colebrooke Row menu is the „Prairie Oyster.“ This unconventional cocktail visually recreates an oyster using tomatoes. The liquid surprise within the faux oyster is an experience we’ll keep under wraps for now. And don’t mistake the piano tucked in the corner for mere decoration; it gets lively use several times a week. Picture this: enjoying your drinks alongside Italian antipasti, prosciutto, or cheese, all serenaded by live music. It’s our vision of „La dolce vita“ in the heart of London.
He’s simply known as „Mr. Lyan,“ and when people mention him, everyone in the know recognizes Ryan Chetiyawardana. Over the past decade, Ryan has left an indelible mark on London’s bar scene, showcasing innovation and creativity through establishments like „Dandelyan“ and sustainable ventures like „CUB.“ His achievements include numerous accolades, including „International Bartender of the Year.“ We had the pleasure of meeting Ryan years ago for a feature on our blog, during which we experienced the legendary Afternoon Tea at Dandelyan. Now, five years later, we return to the same spot along the Thames, where the heartbeat of Lyaness Bar resonates, echoing many elements from the iconic Dandelyan. The colossal green marble bar counter remains an absolute showstopper, complemented by a striking color scheme of turquoise blue and gold, creating a vivid contrast against the bar’s elegant wooden floor. The ambiance, still captivating today, owes much to its location right on the Thames. Ryan and his team continue to showcase their mixology prowess, fearlessly experimenting with unconventional ingredients and flavor combinations for their drinks. Their latest bar menu, „The Ancestral Cookbook,“ unveiled at the end of 2022, attests to this creativity. Notable cocktails include the visually intriguing „Black Champagne“ featuring Porter’s Old Tropical Old Tom Gin, passion fruit, and a plant called Stechwinde (yes, we had to Google it first), resulting in a distinctly black libation. The menu’s other sections, such as „Nature vs. Nurture“ and „Circularity,“ tantalize the palate with innovative flavors in each cocktail glass. As a guest, you’re encouraged to embark on a journey of culinary discovery. It’s this forward-thinking approach that endears us to Mr. Lyan and Lyaness. Recently, with the addition of the Seed Library in Shoreditch, the Lyan universe has expanded even further. Here’s to the continuous growth of this progressive and inspiring mixology haven.
“Resist everything but temptation“ is the guiding philosophy at the Eve Bar in Covent Garden. Immediately signaling this ethos, these four words illuminate the entrance in bold neon letters, enticing guests into the subterranean realm. Operated above by celebrity chef Adam Handling and his award-winning fine-dining restaurant, Frog, Eve Bar, under Handling’s ownership, reflects a perfectionist’s touch evident in every facet of its concept. As guests descend into the underground haven, they are enveloped in a dark, atmospheric space accentuated by well-placed highlights, including two colored wall windows portraying Adam and Eve for a reason. While pondering whether the mythical duo might have sought refuge at Eve Bar post-expulsion, one thing is clear—this is a sanctuary to leave stress and troubles behind. The current bar menu adheres to a distinct philosophy, aligning with the increasingly popular low/zero waste concept. Utilizing ingredients from food items not featured on Frog’s menu and deemed unsuitable for snacks, the bar team, led by director Josh Linfitt, crafts truly extraordinary cocktails employing six different techniques—fermentation, clarification, infusion, distillation, and more. Standout concoctions include the „Coffee Slayer,“ reminiscent of an espresso martini, and the „Firecracker,“ a spicy margarita variation featuring tequila and mezcal, heightened by the kick of kimchi—fermented vegetables repurposed from the restaurant’s surplus. The „Perfect, Three Cherries“ centers around the cherry, infusing blossoms into dry vermouth and steeping pitted fruit in sweet vermouth. Macallan Double Cask Whisky, enriched with cherries, completes this must-try drink for aficionados of „Manhattan“ or „Brooklyn“ variations. Indulging in temptation has never been more irresistible.
Tayer + Elementary
No visit to London would be complete without experiencing Monica Berg and Alex Kratena’s Tayer + Elementary. This East London establishment, which seamlessly doubles as a laboratory or workshop, has garnered global acclaim, and rightfully so. Over the years, Monica and Alex have honed their mixology craft to perfection in this avant-garde space. In the front section, known as the Elementary and visible from the street, cocktails such as the „Vetiver Negroni“ or the „Bergamot Margarita“ flow from taps alongside beer and wine. Yet, the true heartbeat of the bar resonates in the room behind—the Tayer. Encircled by a U-shaped counter and an abundance of exposed concrete, novel concoctions are expertly crafted night after night at the honeycomb-shaped bar station. Eschewing elaborate names, the menu boldly emphasizes the defining flavor of each drink. On our visit, highlights included the „Perique Tobacco, Maker’s Mark Bourbon, Lysholm Linie Aquavit, Courvoisier VSOP Cognac“ and the „Courvoisier VSOP Cognac, Pipacha Oolong Tea, González Byass Alfonso Oloroso Sherry, Minus 8 Red Verjus.“ The House Martini, pre-batched and served ice-cold, adds to the distinctive experience. A „Sold Out“ stamp matter-of-factly marks particularly popular cocktails when ingredients run dry. Tayer’s atmosphere stands out among its peers—modern yet not aloof, laid-back but not overly festive. Monica and Alex have tapped into a unique vein that resonates perfectly with our sensibilities. The music selection, featuring German and Eastern European trap, drill, and hip hop, might divide opinions, but we’re all in—it’s a vibe. If you have any qualms, Alex is more than willing to hear them out.
Fifteen years ago, the landscape of London’s bars, particularly in East London’s burgeoning Shoreditch, was distinctly different. In the midst of this transformation, Callooh Callay emerged as pioneers, reshaping the concept of a bar. Their mission was clear: deliver top-notch drinks without the elitist airs found in some other establishments. At Callooh Callay, everything is infused with a sense of fun and a touch of whimsy, never taking itself too seriously. The bar draws its name from the renowned British author Lewis Carroll, famed for „Alice in Wonderland“ and „Alice Behind the Mirrors.“ Echoes of Carroll’s literary universe permeate Callooh Callay’s interior, including a mirrored closet concealing the expansive bar adorned with street art and a spacious lounge area. Callooh Callay has consistently made waves with its inventive cocktail menus. The current „PokeMenu,“ a nod to a Japanese phenomenon, boasts nearly 20 unique creations. Among them, the „Mankey“ (featuring Toki Japanese whisky in lieu of gin) stands out, resembling a Ramos Gin Fizz. The crowd here skews younger, particularly on weekends, creating an energetic and vibrant atmosphere that might lean towards boisterous and loud. Callooh Callay serves as the antidote to gloom, a bar that can bring at least a small grin to even the most reticent of patrons. Lewis Carroll would likely find himself in agreement.
Riding the elevator to the third floor of the sophisticated Devonshire House, the anticipation of a unique bar experience begins to build. As the elevator doors open, the Silverleaf Bar, unveiled in early 2022, unfolds before your eyes, surpassing even the loftiest expectations. By London standards, the establishment is a visual marvel. Tom Dixon’s masterful touch is evident throughout the entire interior, creating a seamless blend of opulence, style, and warmth in the expansive bar area. The space features inviting and spacious seating, including funnel-shaped armchairs and an extended leather couch. A walk-in whiskey chamber, housing special treasures, adds to the allure. Opting for seats at the bar, we are greeted by bartender Jacob Drew, who introduces us to the Silverleaf’s cocktail menu. Each drink is named after an unexpected pair of ingredients, resulting in delightful surprises. Take, for instance, the „Verbena / Olive Oil“ from the Silverleaf Classics series, a martini variant featuring Japanese Roku gin and Greek Mastiha liqueur. Its taste matches the bar’s exquisite design. Another standout is the „Tarte Tatin / Whey,“ combining the flavors of French apple pie with Eagle Rare bourbon and Santa Teresa 1796 rum, aged in bourbon barrels. Employing methods like fermentation, clarification, and distillation, the bar team crafts flavors from unconventional ingredients blended with classic drinks. For those intrigued, the bartenders willingly provide a mini mixology crash course. Whether you choose to savor your cocktail at your own pace or dive into mixology insights, Silverleaf accommodates both, creating an environment that feels just right.
Hardly any other bar is as closely associated with a specific cocktail as Swift is with the Irish Coffee. Even outside, a sign advertises „Swift’s world-famous Irish Coffee.“ Currently, three bars in London bear the name Swift. We recently visited the Shoreditch bar, newly opened in the midst of the pandemic, which can probably be best compared to the upper part of the original Soho location. At least both bars share the same Art Deco style. Here, starting from 3 PM daily, patrons can enjoy not only the famous Irish Coffee but also various aperitivo drinks, house cocktails, and classics. When the temperature rises, Frozen Drinks like the „Watermelon Margarita“ become real bestsellers. However, guests still order the Swift Irish Coffee even in the midst of the English summer. Apparently, they know here that warm drinks, especially with alcohol and sugar (let’s set that aside for now), provide the desired refreshment in the heat. At Swift, barflies mingle with London tourists, business people enjoy after-work drinks, and aperitivo enthusiasts savor their favorite beverages. This mix contributes to the charm of such a bar. Whether for a pre-dinner drink or later in the evening, a visit to Swift is worthwhile, thanks to its consistency, consistently high quality, and, last but not least, the iconic Irish Coffee that has long achieved cult status.