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South Bank bars

Get out there and have a drink, London! Choose wisely and check out some of the South Bank’s best bars

Written by
Laura Richards
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The South Bank is understandably one of London’s busiest stretches. So you need to be a bit strategical when you do your drinking here. That’s why we’ve rounded up the best bars along the South Bank. Coincidentally, they all have great views, many from up high. So whether you’re looking for posh cocktails or a chilled glass of wine, you can do so while still enjoying the South Bank’s best bits.

The best bars along the South Bank

OXO Tower Bar
  • Bars and pubs
  • Cocktail bars
  • South Bank

At the bar (and restaurant) on the eighth floor of the iconic OXO Tower, visitors can choose to sit inside or out on the terrace watching over the movement down below on the busy South Bank (and why wouldn’t you want to do a lovely thing like that). Cocktails are mostly the classics (and are fairly pricey) with the odd twist and turn. 

  • Bars and pubs
  • Cocktail bars
  • Southwark

This classy-looking cocktail bar at the Hilton London Bankside hotel plays on the building’s past as an essence factory making flavourings for use in all manner of food manufacturing. Table waters, confectionery, jellies, syrups, that kind of thing. 

That means plenty of own-made aromatics, infusions and bitters here, used on a cocktail list that goes big on gin – expect a wide range from a number of British producers. Craft beer should be a strong point, too. Sharing platters and bar snacks, prepared in the Oxbo Bankside restaurant next door, also feature.

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  • Bars and pubs
  • Cocktail bars
  • South Bank
  • price 3 of 4

Most people embrace the mantra ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ Not Mr Lyan. London’s leading mixologist has built up bars only to tear them down at their height, like some boozy oligarch. Okay, he’s not that: Ryan Chetiyawardana is a scientist with a snappy dress sense and a fresh approach to cocktails, who was shaping the conversation around sustainability long before the debate about the the straw in your drink. Going the way of the game-changing White Lyan and Super Lyan before it, South Bank hotel bar Dandelyan – declared the ‘World’s Best Bar’ just six months ago – is his latest victim. He’s flipped the glossy space in ten days, and Lyaness now takes its place.

Clearly, reinvention is part of the scientific approach, but what does it mean for a diehard Dandelyan fan? Superficially, not a lot. Lyaness is in the same spot, run by the same team with the same aim – crafting awesome drinks that make you think.

The powder-blue makeover adds freshness, but the layout mostly remains the same. The real overhaul is saved for the menu – seven newly created ingredients feature, with three different drinks made from each. Components like ‘Infinite Banana’ and ‘King Monkey Nut’ are a level up from the leather, concrete and cardboard that Mr Lyan’s used in cocktails before. Page-long blurbs accompany each souped-up ingredient and when I asked a staff member about the ‘Ultra Raspberry’ in my Snap Crackle Bellini, I got a speech about ‘parmigiano water’ that I really didn’t understand.

Letting the drinks do the talking paid off better. Especially with the White Sbaglito, a sparkling, super-zingy drink using power ingredient ‘Purple Pineapple’. Or the Peach Blow Fizz, a sprightly summery number filled with fruit flavours, clarified cream and ‘Onyx’, a new koji liquor made by Mr Lyan in collaboration with Empirical Spirits.

I think Lyaness is maybe Mr Lyan’s ‘Kid A’. Not a lot of it makes sense at first, but you’ll come to really love it. In time, we’ll marvel over this strange, intriguing metamorphosis.

Queen Elizabeth Roof Garden Bar & Café
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Restaurants
  • South Bank

This rooftop space is open from May to September and is packed at lunchtimes in summer months, but choose it for afternoon drinks, too. It's perfect for a sundowner as the world passes by down below, with drinks and snacks available from a central bar. A voluntary therapy group tend to the garden, making it a real feel-good place and a rare bit of calm along this often-frenetic stretch of the capital.

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  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Bars and pubs
  • Cocktail bars
  • South Bank

Head on up at the Royal Festival Hall to find Skylon, a smart restaurant and bar and yet another South Bank spot with windows to peer out from. Watch the action along by the Thames with a cocktail in hand from a bar that takes centre stage in the high-ceilinged space. The bar’s wine list is an epic read, but splash-out cocktails with sparkling wine in the mix feel the most fitting.

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