November 2019: As winter sets in, where better to warm your cockles than in a cocktail bar inside a pie-and-mash shop in Walthamstow. The Jellied Eel (new to the DRINK List at number seven) has now gone permanent inside L Manze’s along the High Street and in the process has won hearts at Time Out HQ. Elsewhere in our countdown, find a brand-new year-round rooftop in Peckham (Forza Wine at number 26) a luxe cocktail joint that looks like something out of Casablanca (Kwãnt at number 19) and a craft beer mecca along the Bermondsey Beer Mile (Fourpure Basecamp at number 51). But really, any of these ace watering holes would suit your festive get-together. Just go easy on that mulled wine, would you?
Welcome to the Time Out DRINK List, our handpicked ‘best of’ London’s drinking scene. These are the most buzzing bars in this city right now: the most inventive and most memorable watering holes, all ranked by expert local editors. We scour the city every night of the week in search of amazing drinks, great value and insider info (from disco loos to an unmissable rum-punch happy hour), visiting incognito and footing the bill. That’s how you know that if it’s on this list, it’s awesome.
Quality drinks are essential, that’s a given – from wine to spirits to craft beer. But we’re looking for the fun factor wherever we drink, whether that be a quirky theme, Instagrammable tipples or service that instantly puts a smile on your face. And we’re all about value for money at every price point – from splash-out cocktail bars to down-and-dirty dives. Ultimately, these are the places we would recommend to a friend; the best in class for boozing. Time to order in a round you won’t forget in a hurry.
Drank somewhere on this list and loved it? Share it with the hashtag #TimeOutDrinkList. You can also find out more about how Time Out makes recommendations and reviews bars here.
The best bars in London, ranked
What’s the vibe? Minimal in style yet maximal in powerhouse cocktails, Tayēr + Elementary is a two-part bar from mixology heroes Alex Kratena and Monica Berg.
When to visit: When you’re looking for the house party, but in a house where they really, really, really know their drinks.
What to drink: Grab a cocktail from a slushy machine in Elementary or make your way to Tayēr at the back for drinks made with the bar’s own liqueur and with flavours that change on every sip.
What’s the vibe? The ‘World’s Best Bar’ Dandelyan makes way for a new concept from the same award-winning, cocktail-shifting team.
When to visit: When you feel like having your mind expanded. Mr Lyan hasn’t just created new cocktails – he’s created a whole new roster of ingredients to power the drinks list.
What to drink: Try ‘Purple Pineapple’ in a White Sbagliato – and then never look back.
Venue says Lyaness is launching Fancy Tea, a tongue-in-cheek take on a high-end 80s dinner party with a bold Lyan twist & cocktails created by the team
What’s the vibe? The wine bar you’ve been waiting for, this Hackney Road haven is a pit stop for professional people who may lack a professional appreciation of wine. All plonks here are served at a reasonable price by the bottle or glass.
When to visit: In the winter months. Small and dark, this is the perfect place to hunker down on a cold and wild evening.
What to drink: Though beers are available, it really has to be wine. You won’t regret any choice.
What’s the vibe? A bottle shop, taproom and beer heaven housed in a roomy railway arch in Vauxhall.
When to visit: When you want to have all the choice in the world. There are 33 taps and so many beer fridges to work your way through. Thank the beer gods for staff who are more than happy to help you decide.
What to drink: Choose something to savour rather than swig.
What’s the vibe? Elegant, modern and minimal Kingsland Road bar filled with friends and pouring light, bright cocktails.
When to visit: For an itimate catch-up over cocktails. Bring your discerning pals along.
What to drink: Pick any of the striking cocktails – from low- and no-alcohol numbers to genius re-imagining of the classics – like the French 75 and the Cosmo.
What’s the vibe? A Soho bar with a split personality spread across two floors – aperitivos upstairs, nightcaps and whisky in the moody downstairs lounge – but all drinks are flawless at Swift. No surprise, really: its owners have worked across London’s best bars.
When to visit: A date night where it could go either way.
What to drink: The prosecco-based sgroppino contains lemon sorbet. Dreamy.
What’s the vibe? A weekend cocktail bar residency inside an East End pie shop
When to visit: When you need reminding that London is the most unique city in the world – especially when it comes to drinking.
What to drink: Forget pie and mash; The Jellied Eel is all about cocktails and croquetas.
Venue says We have a 1am licence on Friday and Saturday nights this week with DJs from 9.30pm and late night drinks promos. Come and party with us.
What’s the vibe? Delve beneath a layer of kitsch to discover a trippy tiki bar that’s casual, sunny and funny – and rammed at weekends.
When to visit: Weekdays are chill-days, but this is Notting Hill and a party is never far away.
What to drink: Dia de Muertos (mezcal, blood orange cordial, pineapple and citrus).
What's the vibe? Geometric white tiling, pendant lights and a mission to bring the best from French-speaking parts of the world to a corner of north London.
When to visit: This place is perfect for a weekday drink.
What to drink: Their by-the-glass menu highlights a different wine region each month.
What's the vibe? Central London cocktail hot spot with a surprisingly neighbourhoody feel.
When to visit: When you’re keen to get away from the Oxford Street masses. Stop by any night of the week and its sure to be filled with the bar’s friends (aka fam) dropping by to say hello.
What to drink: Brand New Shoes is a cocktail made with a different seasonal sorbet each month, so it keeps you on your toes.
What’s the vibe? Great pizza, great beer, great outdoor space; Crate is the ultimate brewery bar and the centrepoint of Hackney Wick’s social scene. It probably doesn’t hurt that it’s placed right by the canal, either.
When to visit: On a sunny evening, the lure of Crate is hard to resist. Failing that, make it a lingering weekend session after a brisk walk by the canal.
What to drink: The irresistibly malty and light Crate Best is a treat any day of the week.
What’s the vibe? Upmarket mixed drinks in a down-to-earth and devilishly cool location, where you’ll find some of the best cocktails on Bethnal Green’s burgeoning booze scene (in among the taxidermy, natch).
When to visit: Thursday night; the weekend starts early here.
What to drink: Satan’s Americano (Campari, sweet vermouth, grapefruit soda).
What’s the vibe? Off the wall. Imagine your nan’s front room and times it by ten. And throw in some Princess Di and Pat Butcher memorabilia. You’re part-way there to the weirdest trip of a bar in south London.
When to visit: Evenings when they crank up the Abba tunes, or afternoon tea with your ma.
What to drink: Fizzy cocktails from teapots, of course.
What’s the vibe? It’s the dolce vita at Bar Termini, with Continental-style service and Italian aperitifs (and espressos). Lively and always busy, but quiet because of its size, the minute setting offers the rare luxury of peace and quiet in central London.
When to visit: Early evenings are perfect for a cocktail before dinner in Soho.
What to drink: Marsala martini (gin, sweet marsala, dry vermouth and almond bitters) .
What’s the vibe? A home for Italo disco and vermouth-laced cocktails in the basement of a King’s Cross pizza joint. It’s brought to you by audiophile haven Spiritland, so expect some slick sounds with your sipping.
When to visit: Happy hour runs from 5pm until 7pm, when you’ll get a plate of cicchetti and a cocktail for £6. Then get grooving under the mechanical mirror ball.
What to drink: An Amer Citron is a citrussy two-tone wonder that looks ready for the party.
What's the vibe? Imagine if Rick James and Jay Gatsby got together to throw a bash filled with delicious cocktail confections.
When to visit: Perfect for an early evening tipple.
What to drink: Try the Vesca Negroni, a classic drink lifted with coconut and rosehip.
Venue says ‘Do You Like Chocolate?’ Chocolate inspired, paired cocktail afternoon tea. Friday – Sunday 12-3pm
What's the vibe? Super-friendly service and on-trend cocktails all the way up in Crouch End, brought to you by the team behind Bar Three (see above).
When to visit: Come here for group catch-ups over cocktails – large, tall tables help you keep it social.
What to drink: Served from a bottle like sparkling rosé, the bar’s reimagining of a pornstar martini makes the UK’s most popular cocktail seriously cool again.
What’s the vibe? Rustic French wine bar in central London serving Gallic small plates to match what’s in your fancy flute.
When to visit: Looking for some oh là là in your life? Come away feeling fancy and well-fed.
What to drink: Natural wine – discover something weird and wonderful.
Venue says Winter Cheese & Wine Tasting with Geoffrey Nivard Wed Feb 19, 7pm, £35pp, 6 Cheeses & 6 Wines. Book via email@example.com
What’s the vibe? Casablanca style in the basement of Mayfair restaurant Momo, brought to you by a former head bartender from the American Bar at the Savoy (aka cocktail royalty).
When to visit: When you don’t fancy a hotel bar, but you still want a splash-out drinking experience.
What to drink: Our Gimlet is a great example of the posh, perfumey cocktails this smart bar can turn out.
What’s the vibe? Dalston’s tropical party shack where disco tunes rule and refreshing drinks will cool you down after a stint on the dancefloor.
When to visit: If you want to kid yourself you’re on a Caribbean holiday.
What to drink: The ginger mojito is one of London’s best drinks and it’s yours for just a fiver.
What’s the vibe? Broodingly dark bar shining a light on whisky, Black Rock takes any fustiness out of the spirit. Sample from bottles in cabinets or from a tree, cut lengthways, running across the room and filled with two ‘whisky river’ house blends.
When to visit: For serious, considered whisky drinking given a fun edge.
What to drink: Whisky, obvs. From the tree or bottle, or served in cocktails and high balls.
What’s the vibe? It’s warehouse meets beer-hall in here, with rows of long tables for group drinkers and up-turned barrels for smaller parties. What all visitors have in common is an urge to sip beer fresh from the tank – these stand in glistening rows behind the bar.
When to visit: On a weekend afternoon, when you can put some serious time aside to test the brewery’s full output.
What to drink: There are ten from the tank to try, but start with American Pale XX, whose hoppy notes explode when sampled straight from the source.
What’s the vibe? Walworth wine bar named after the Greek philosopher.
When to visit: Hit up this bar when London makes your lonely – staff give the warmest of welcomes.
What to drink: Let the friendly team guide you. Staff are mostly trained sommeliers and the list is a blinder filled with weird and wonderful wine.
What’s the vibe? Retro, disco party lounge with a cute little cocktail bar next door. Make Ruby’s your one-stop drinking shop in Dalston.
When to visit: On Friday nights, the bar dedicates itself to the humble piña colada. Then on Saturdays, the lights are down low and the tunes are up high.
What to drink: If piña coladas aren’t your style (why not?!), select from any of the cocktail classics.
What’s the vibe? As classy as they come, the Connaught Bar is a must-try for any Londoner. Sip mega-dollar drinks in a mega-dollar Mayfair setting, among a clientele of flashy hotel guests. Hey, you’re worth it.
When to visit: That very special occasion.
What to drink: Order a martini and they’ll roll a trolley to you table. You may need rolling out after, too.
What’s the vibe? A rooftop bar in Peckham to rival Frank’s – Forza Wine has a snug indoor set-up, an expansive drinking terrace and an Italian drinks list. Not to mention the great views.
When to visit: It’s a rooftop bar that works year-round. Come when you’re hungry; the bar snacks are exceptional.
What to drink: Wine is the bar’s strong suit, so choose something low-intervention and robust.
What's the vibe? Like a museum to drinking, this Coal Drops Yard newbie is covered with posters and artwork paying homage to Italian vermouth brands – which are in strong stock behind the bar.
When to visit: Pick a sunny day and make the most of a sweet terrace designed for spritz swigging.
What to drink: Vermouth by the glass (on tap or from the bottle), lengthened in a spritz or made as strong as you like in a negroni.
What’s the vibe? Kingsland Road by way of Oaxaca, this light-filled spot is London’s first agaveria, specialising in tequila, mezcal and more.
When to visit: When you’re in need of a very stiff drink, as well as a bit of booze education.
What to drink: Dive in deep with a flight of mezcal, or prepare to be dazzled by the Mirror Margarita – a totally see-through take on Mexico’s classic cocktail.
What’s the vibe? An industrial-looking brewery taproom in the backend of King’s Cross dedicated to two things: brews and tunes.
When to visit: Check the music line-up on Two Tribes’ website – DJs kill it here on the regular.
What to drink: A changing beer selection pours across 15 taps. Pick one of Two Tribes’ own brews, from a not-too-hoppy Urban Rye IPA to Copycat, a silky-smooth Brut IPA.
What’s the vibe? Chic Bethnal Green calvados and cocktail bar serving French-tinged tipples to an in-the-know crowd.
When to visit: When a pint after work just isn’t going to cut it, an apple brandy should do the trick instead.
What to drink: The Champagne Piña Colada. Filled with coconut sorbet, it’s the stuff dreams are made of and has fast become east London’s most popular drink.
What’s the vibe? There’s eye-opening dusky glamour any time of the day at this hideaway of supreme style. The setting is as rich as you’ll find in London, with walls embossed in gold for the mega-dollar effect.
When to visit: To remind yourself that such places exist in your city. Make the most of them.
What to drink: A champagne cocktail. What more of an excuse do you need?
What’s the vibe? There’s not much to the decor, since Four Quarters says it all with retro arcade games available to play at 25p a pop. Swap pals for Pac-Man with a drink in hand – this is London’s nostalgia craze at its best.
When to visit: When a Scrabble session or a night of karaoke won’t cut it in the entertainment stakes, sign up for one of the regular Mario Kart tournaments.
What to drink: Cocktails and craft beers. But remember to focus your energy on beating your Street Fighter score.
Venue says Situated on Peckham’s bustling Rye Lane, London’s first arcade bar boasts more than 15 original arcade cabs along a selection of craft beers
What’s the vibe? A hotel bar with a muted wood-panelled look and a soul soundtrack, Punch Room is way more contemporary than its name suggests. All guests are offered a complimentary swig of the punch of the day before ploughing into the cool cocktails.
When to visit: Hit up Punch Room for a hygge-style hideaway by the fire.
What to drink: The shrubs and punches are where it’s at.
What’s the vibe? Luxe hotel bar that’s so polished in pink, it’s almost as sparkling as what’s in your glass. Perfect for its glossy clientele.
When to visit: This is a destination for a pick-me-up tipple, a girly catch-up or a business meeting when you’re out to impress.
What to drink: The bar boasts one of the largest menus of English sparkling wine in town. Order up a glass of something (relatively) local and fizzy.
What’s the vibe? Art class meets night out at Bermondsey’s Doodle Bar, where a railway arch’s two main walls are decked in chalkboards for tipsy punters to get creative. Street food vans pull up outside making it the height of hip.
When to visit: Date night could get fun with some suggestive scribbling.
What to drink: Try Doodle’s pale ale, created especially for the bar.
What’s the vibe? A beer bar owned by the brewery that occupies a neighbouring railway arch in Hackney’s aptly named Bohemia Place.
When to visit: When spring and summer are in the air – a big beer garden is accommodating and the beers can be easily classified as ‘sessionable’.
What to drink: Their own IPA is lightly sweet and fruity.
What's the vibe? A surprisingly upmarket party place just opposite West Hampstead station. Upstairs is Heads; the basement is Tails.
When to visit: A cocktail bar to suit all moods, Heads is about low-abv drinking done in style while Tails is a dark, brooding basement dedicated to the darker, harder spirits.
What to drink: Genuinely, the low- and no-alcohol cocktails are some of the bar’s best.
Venue says Have you tried our aperitivo hour yet? We have a delicious selection of aperitivo-style cocktails available for £5 every day until 7pm!
What’s the vibe? A kitsch Fitzrovia joint that comes across as cheeky as ’80s Tom Selleck – whose face, coincidentally, is plastered on the walls of the ladies’ lav.
When to visit: For group get-togethers. Like boozy bingo, there’s a form to fill out to make your order, and pizzas are great share-and-tear fodder.
What to drink: The ‘cha-chunker’ – a cocktail crafted from a fizzy drink can, with a mini booze bottle inverted and shoved in the top. The flavour isn’t all that finessed, but it’s fun with a capital ‘F’.
What’s the vibe? With its impeccably pleasant staff and classy drinks, Original Sin kicked off the Stoke Newington cocktail revolution. The narrow room holds booths for groups to nestle into or a pool table for a tipsy match . Cocktails should always be this fun.
When to visit: Low lights mean this bar is primed for a nightcap.
What to drink: Red Hook (rye, maraschino and Punt e Mes).
What’s the vibe? Irish-run Homeboy honours the homeland without any of the shamrocks, fiddles and cliches.
When to visit: It’s heaving on the weekends, so go seek out the craic. Alternatively, have a cosy catch-up in ‘London’s smallest Irish pub’ – a bookable booth at the rear of the room.
What to drink: While Guinness is popular, cocktails are the business. The Irish Coffee is unmissable, but a Wogan is just as easy to quaff.
What’s the vibe? A super-chic cocktail and wine spot in an old tabacconist’s and with more than a touch of the French about it.
When to visit: When you’re in the mood for romance.
What to drink: The Lemon Garden is a fresh and aromatic twist on a Gin Martini. Or go all-out Parisian with a glass of wine from the bar’s own enomatic machine.
Venue says Electric energy, endless wine, unrecognisable cocktails and happy hour every day, 5-6pm. The place to be tonight. Where are you?
What’s the vibe? Spanish-themed bar within London’s very own ‘gin hotel’, The Distillery. Find colourful tiles and even more colourful G&Ts.
When to visit: For authenticity’s sake, visit later in the day and wash down tapas with goblet-sized serves of gin and tonic. Come in a group to work your way through the many gins in stock.
What to drink: Duh!
What’s the vibe? Yes, it’s another take on the Prohibition theme, but it’s classy as hell and Jason Atherton’s at the helm. Rich, dark oak furnishings and white marble features (and even a mirrored ceiling) juxtapose playful, decorative drinks. Think ‘Bugsy Malone’ for grown-ups and you’re about there.
When to visit: After an indulgent dinner in Atherton’s Social Eating House below.
What to drink: The bar’s take on Butter Beer from a menu inspired by childhood stories.
What’s the vibe? If you’re heading for a night on the cocktails you’re probably prepared to spend a penny. Well, this Kentish Town cocktail magnet has something for every taste, and is all set in a disused public loo.
When to visit: When you want to flush away the cares of the day.
What to drink: Rhubarb and Custard (gin, Bird’s custard, rhubarb syrup, lemon).
What’s the vibe? Fun-time cocktail bar on Hackney’s Morning Lane where it’s small and convivial enough to make friends with the whole room.
When to visit: When you’re on the Dry January flex – or you’re just watching what you drink. Soft options are just as delightful and won’t cost you the earth
What to drink: Glacier Dark – a fruity, alcohol-free cocktail made from blackcurrant soda and liquorice cordial.
What’s the vibe? Small, secretive and playful but always serious about the cocktails. Look beyond the pink umbrella in your drink for full-on flavour and watch the barmen at work for a masterclass in mixing.
When to visit: When you’re up for a chat with your local barman – they’re a friendly bunch at CTC.
What to drink: The menu changes regularly, but all cocktails have wacky decorations that won’t disappoint.
What’s the vibe? In the midst of Tooting Market sits this teensy bottle shop and bar where craft beer rules. It’s rustic for sure, with plywood tables and orange steel barstools, but boardgames and cheerful staff offer comfort.
When to visit: On warmer evenings when you don’t mind the chill of the semi-outdoors.
What to drink: Ask for something weird and see what happens.
What’s the vibe? Incredible cocktails, and, in our experience, dazzlingly wonderful service. Join laughing locals quaffing classy cocktails in a Shoreditch bar that’s stood the test of time. As the website says, ‘great cocktails, no wallies’.
When to visit: On a late East End night out that demands something a bit classy.
What to drink: Tokyo Collins (gin, yuzu saké, lemon, grapefruit, sugar, soda) .
What’s the vibe? Sharp-looking hotel joint within the Town House Kensington, complete with a marble-topped bar, velvet-covered chairs and oak-panelled walls. It’s a surprisingly buzzy spot for an aperitivo or a nightcap.
When to visit: Don’t just stop by – you can easily make a night of it here.
What to drink: The cocktail classics are done well. Class in a glass.
What’s the vibe? Peckham cocktail bar with just as much know-how when it comes to playing the tunes.
When to visit: Hit up the bar after dinner for a groovy nightcap and a chat with fun regulars.
What to drink: The Kalakuta Sour is a Fela Kuti-honouring cocktail that’s like a New York Sour but with Nigerian bitter leaf.
What’s the vibe? A big beery playground along the Bermondsey Beer Mile
When to visit: When you tire of crawling along this famous hoppy stretch of London, make this jumbo HQ your one-stop shop.
What to drink: Select from Fourpure’s ever-growing range or branch out on a 20-strong beer list.
Discover even more top bars in London
So many cocktails, so little time. So just stick to the best cocktail bars in London by using our ranked list below. You'll find everything from dark and dirty speakeasy joints and secret bars to bold and brash party spots meant for a night out on the tiles. What they all have in common is mixed drinks that will blow your mind – and hopefully not your budget.
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