The best bars in the City of London
This slick, pocket-sized spot in the heart of London’s financial district is dedicated to craft beer (yes, craft beer is mainstream these days). Aside from the pinstriped types yakking about the latest merger, it’s every bit the modish watering hole, decked out in polished tiles, upcycled gramophone lamps and a massive map of Victorian London. It’s London-only beers behind the bar (a policy that extends to the gin list), and pints are poured from 12 taps, by the third, making this the ideal spot to sink a post-work bev – or even better, a liquid lunch. Well, this is the City after all.
If you’re looking for impressive surroundings when you drink in the City, well, you’re in the right part of town. And one of the plushest bars is By Appointment Only, set in a former Turkish bathhouse from the Victorian era. The ceramic walls glisten gold, the tiled floor beams brightly and drapes hang exotically – it looks like a sultan’s sex palace. Drinks are just as fun to look at with cocktails going down a treat.
This prohibition-inspired bolthole is hidden below ground and between a Nando’s and a dry cleaners. It’s a dimly lit space with exposed brick walls adorned with archive photographs. All the speakeasy traits are in place – from miscellaneous jazz music to staff in bow-ties and braces. Cocktails are spot-on, all inventive originals that remind you just why the prohibition spawned so many underground drinking haunts.
The City of London Distillery – one of many craft gin distilleries to launch during London’s ‘ginaissance’ – also doubles as a cocktail bar, tucked down the City’s back streets. Dapper staff serve a range of drinks with the distillery’s own gin at their core, and you can sip them in leather armchairs while you gaze on at the two working copper stills – they’re a right pair of beauts.
Find the Four Sisters down an alley around the backstreets of St Paul’s, among the age-old taverns. The bar has a Georgian salon vibe, with faux bookshelves, floral wallpaper, antique lamps and framed paintings dotted around. Cocktails are fun originals using premium spirits on a weekly-changing menu, along with a few classics and a menu of pies and comfort foods to soak them all up.
Expect the royal treatment at the bar at Hawksmoor, just as you’d get in the restaurant. There’s a bar food menu, with luxurious ‘snacks’ like lobster roll with hazelnut butter and the fantastic ‘French dip’, a sandwich of braised beef, cheese and mustard in sweetish brioche, served with a jug of bone marrow gravy for dipping. Cocktails are obviously every bit as indulgent – from classy martinis to Hawksmoor inventive originals that are almost as famous as the classics.
If you don’t know your Bordeaux from your Burgundy, wine bars can be intimidating. Happily, that’s not the case at Humble Grape, which lives up to its name with an unpretentious approach to vino. This branch is down a cobbled passageway just off Fleet Street. Despite the modest exterior, it’s surprisingly vast inside, with dark wood panels and wine bottles lining the walls. The wine list puts things in layman’s terms for those who haven’t the foggiest about fermentation and beyond, and staff make quaffing wine a joy.
In this L-shaped bar, you’re greeted by a floor-to-ceiling view of the City and beyond. The Gherkin seems within nibbling distance, The Shard spikes up to your left and Tower Bridge looks like it’s made of Lego. Inside, a giant golden pineapple that adorns the wall from back bar to ceiling gives an air of playful opulence. The cocktails have subtle Asian influences and pun-heavy names.
Get trollied at The Ned, The City’s plush playground with a sweet little martini bar parked to one side. Here, they’ll roll across a trolley to your table to mix up the mean drink. The cost of a cocktail is pretty steep: £16 is as low as they go or you can get a martini crafted from vintage spirits for £100. It’s a glitzy spot for splash-out drinks, especially for fans of the classic cocktail.
If you’ve been to one of London Cocktail Club’s bars, you’ll know the drill well. Party tunes, party drinks and staff who know how to – you guessed it – party. They also know how to mix a good cocktail, and fast. This is quite a flashy branch for the group, with comfy sofas lining the brick walls of a carpeted underground cavern, which are in turn adorned with pictures of besuited animals. Happy hours are eagerly attended, with the place teaming until 7pm.
Madison seems to exist largely as a viewing platform. But what a view it is. A glass lift takes gawpers from the ground floor, sweeping up parallel with St Pauls’ east elevation. Once in the bar or its generous outdoor space, an unrivalled close-up is offered, too. The rest is all a bit rooftop bar, really – Ibiza-style tunes (especially come Friday night), fruity cocktails, furniture primed for lounging all afternoon, well-dressed bar staff. And there’s a covered area to help sharply-dressed punters stay that way, as well.
Brightly lit and festooned with pot plants, it’s ‘cocktails first and whisky second’ at Merchant House. This is despite 500 bottles of Scotch and Irish being stocked behind the bar. Order an old fashioned and they pour a beer for you while you wait – they like to make them properly, which is ‘slow’, so it’s only fair a beer is included for the cost of £14.50. And on Whisky Wednesday, a bottle sits on the bar and the first shot – poured while you peruse – is on the house.
Another glossy bar at The Ned – a hotel at the former Midland Bank – The Nickel Bar is less about exchange rates and more about hot dates. The marble-clad temple to money brought back to life by the Soho House group is a great spot for original cocktails accompanied by a live jazz trio on most nights. Banking has never been so sexy.
Flashes of on-theme jade and gold in leather and fur furnishings punctuate the room, while a stunning print of a tropical, palm-tree-covered landscape adorns one of the walls at flash City cocktail bar Oriole. Drinks are just as showy, served in iconic glassware, and made with all kinds of ingredients. These are some of London’s best cocktails, with the same team behind Nightjar and Swift bars backing Oriole. Kick back to live jazz with a bobby dazzler of a drink in hand.
The cocktails are decent at Sky Pod, but you’ve probably come for the views, not the booze. In summer, an open-air terrace provides a less fettered outlook to the river and Tower Bridge and there’s plenty of flora up here, making it feel like a pretty posh greenhouse. For special occasion drinking, it’s still worth a go.
Up 24 flights at Tower 42 is Jason Atherton restaurant City Social. Its neighbouring bar packs in some posh seats that look out over a gorgeous City skyline, and a sundowner here is a joy to behold. The drink names are clangers for sure – Punch Me If You Can, for example – but cocktails are very well put together, and bar snacks from a Michelin-starred kitchen is a scenario we can get behind. Especially with that sunset.
Sashay up to Sushisamba, where an outdoor terrace up at floor 38 welcomes revellers all year round. There’s a gorgeous orange tree planted in the middle for decoration, with a circular bar that snakes round it, although it remains unmanned on colder days and you’ll have to make do with ordering at either of two bars indoors. It’s a blessing this suntrap is so prettily turned out, since the view from this side of the Heron Tower isn’t much to shout from the rooftops about. Delicious but pricey cocktails somehow manage to balance Asian and Brazilian flavours very well indeed.
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