‘You know what this room says to me?’ said Alan Partridge inspecting a bathroom. ‘Aqua. Which is French for “water”.’ That should have been enough to convince any prospective bar owners to avoid the use of such a vapid word for their venue, but it fits here, as Aqua Shard is almost offensively inoffensive in its hotel-lobby harmlessness.
But to notice the decor is to miss the point. The reason to visit, whizzing up 30-odd floors in an escalator, feeling your ears pop and then running a gauntlet of grinning greeters, is to drink in the view. When you can see the North Downs, London looks small but minutely fascinating – and it’s easy to forget there’s a bar behind you, easily forgettable as it is. Cocktails are decent, however, and many come with tea or gin as their base, a doffed cap to Britishness in an otherwise globally unspecific space. If you want to eat, you need to move over to the pricy adjacent restaurant.
Bookings aren’t required, although the earlier you arrive the better your pick of the vistas. To the east, One Canada Square at Canary Wharf winks forlornly, perhaps aware that it’s no longer the tallest building in Britain. Over the river, the clustered extrusions of the City jostle for space; the best seats could be those that look west up the curlicued Thames and towards St Paul’s and the BT Tower.
The appeal of drinking while on high is eternal and even a bit inexplicable, but there’s no denying it. Aqua Shard is not the sort of place you’ll want to visit every week. But to remind yourself how glorious our city can look while getting pissed, go vertical.
Reviewed by Euan Ferguson