One for the purists, the old fashioned is a stripped-back cocktail classic conjuring images of ‘Mad Men’ types propping up the bar and looking, y’know, proper suave. London bars go one step further, though, doing away with the machismo by putting a unique spin on the simple blend of sugar, bitters and booze (typically whiskey, occasionally brandy). So whether you like yours buttered, smoked or laced with chocolate, birch sap or even charcoal, London bars have got you covered. Just promise not to break out the Don Draper impression, yeah?
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The best old fashioneds in London
This jumping Shoreditch joint has a whole host of whiskeys racked up behind the bar, but chooses to showcase its Japanese produce in this modern and smoky old fashioned. A hefty, peaty kick from coconut charcoal is tempered by a lick of chamomile syrup, and best of all, both ingredients are actually meant to be good for you. So knock it back with a guilt-free conscience, even if this drink looks alarmingly black.
Three whiskies, walnut bitters and a smoked maple syrup go into the Conference Call, DSC’s potent take on things. They even light a match and peg it to the drink before rubbing it with orange zest to exaggerate that smokey, orangey taste we all know and love. If you’re not lucky enough to visit when the Conference Call is on the seasonal menu, don’t fret. The team are happy to whip up off-menu staples, so just order a classic old fashioned.
This is probably the old fashioned on our list that strays most from the original, but we’ll allow it because mmm, chocolate. The Michelin-starred Mayfair Indian has a cocktail menu that deserves stars of its own, but the Chocolate Old Fashioned is particularly worthy of recommendation as an after-dinner must-have. Skip pudding and go straight for this nightcap of cognac with chocolate and chilli liqueur and a host of chocolate and citrus bitters.
You’ll forget all about whisky once you sink your lips around this old fashioned, made with rum as its base. Beurre noisette (browned butter) and spices are left to blend with the spirit before all kinds of sciency filtering. Add coconut water in syrup form to the equation and you’re onto something really special. The bar brings you back to reality with a light ‘bourbon spray’ to finish.
We say anyone can wear the trousers when it comes to drinking old fashioneds. But the good folk at Ladies & Gentlemen seem to think it’s grandad’s job, decorating this drink with a Werther’s Original. Fair play though – they add in butterscotch to the actual drink too, making it accessible to pretty much anyone with a thing for sweet stuff. It’s a sugary, syrupy version that’s hard to resist.
Order a sazerac and you’re essentially getting an old fashioned with a hint of absinthe for good measure. Where better to try the drink than at London’s marvelous interpretation of a New Orleans bar – where the sazerac was invented. Much like in Louisiana, there’s a bluesy soundtrack and slowly revolving ceiling fans to lull you into a whiskey stupor.
The setting is just right: a moody little ’60s-style den with carpet and a roaring fire – it’s like drinking in your dad’s living room from back in his bachelor days (ew). With that in mind, you’ll need a stiff drink. Thankfully they pour a ‘smoked’ twist on an old fashioned with a traditional bourbon base. It’s served in a copper flask and you can dial up that smokiness by leaving the flavours to mingle a while before lifting the lid.
Not only does Oskar’s Bar blend a bourbon base with a ‘suggestion’ of scotch single malt for a smokey start to proceedings, but it adds a curious ingredient – birch sap. This tree nectar can only be harvested once a year, making this classic cocktail even more of a rare treat. It’s the kind of ingredient you can find the fashion set flocking to in Whole Foods, which is only right for such a slick and stylish bar.
Subtle and lightly spiced, this is an old fashioned to stir the senses fresh off the train at King’s Cross. Bourbon is mixed with bay leaf and green tea and the whole thing left to mature through the bottle-ageing process. The herbaceous, almost medicinal outcome adds to the charm of drinking at the Permit Room, which takes its name from imperial India’s Prohibtion bars where you needed a licence to drink on ‘medical grounds’. Any excuse, eh?
Scotch, bitters and beeswax. Don’t act surprised, this mix is served in White Lyan, one of the capital’s most creative watering holes. The honey-hued drink is mixed with the bar’s own whiskey and is served – perhaps controversially – without ice, like all the drinks here. Still, this old fashioned is well chilled and the venue is as cool as ice, anyway.
Make a classic London cocktail
According to booze legend, the first espresso martini was poured right here in London in 1983. Working at a bar in Soho, cocktail king Dick Bradsell was asked by a customer to mix up something that would 'wake me up, then fuck me up'. With its generous measure of vodka, this version from The Blind Pig has certainly got the second part covered.
The Grazing Goat
Another proficient operation from the Cubitt House group – the people who brought us elegant spots such as the Thomas Cubitt in Belgravia, and the Orange Public House in Pimlico. Marble Arch may seem a bit north for them, but this is Portman Village, where their contemporary country house look goes down as smoothly as a glass of champers. Certainly, this ex-pub is not a destination for real ale enthusiasts (Deuchars IPA the only tap beer on our visit); the wine list is well chosen, but the prices are West End-high, with £18 the starting point for bottles of pinot grigio and merlot. There’s also a choice of ten cocktails, as well as fresh juices including watermelon, and an apple, lemon and lime combo. Food is mostly British, with plenty of French and Mediterranean influences, though, refreshingly, this is a chorizo-free zone. You’ll find a ploughman’s, roasts (with suppliers name-checked), and a lamb and rosemary pie, but also the likes of seared scallops with cauliflower, fennel and saffron dressing, and stuffed courgette flower with goat’s cheese and tomato and basil. Breakfast sounds a treat, with own-made muffins and granola, blueberry pancakes and the expected full english (including black pudding) and eggs benedict.
Venue says: “Located in Marylebone, our pub offers a warm, rustic and comfortable interior with a delightful seasonal British menu.”