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The most-loved bars and pubs in London

From much-loved locals to cracking cocktail bars, check out Londoners’ favourite places to drink in the capital

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Whether it’s a cosy local, cool cocktail bar or a secret speakeasy, London’s awash with delightful drinking spots.

Below you’ll find London’s most-loved bars and pubs during the last week, the last month and since the beginning of time. Don't see your favourite? Click the Love It button and it could make it into London’s most-loved.

Swift
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Bars and pubs
  • Cocktail bars
  • Soho
  • price 2 of 4
From the couple who brought us cult faves Nightjar and Oriole comes Swift, swooping into the former site of the celebrated, groundbreaking Lab Bar. Frankly, if they’d named it Tit I’d have still been excited, since here they’ve also teamed up with folks who’ve worked across Milk & Honey and Callooh Callay, to overwhelming success. Swift is split in two: a buzzy, casual-yet-sparkling bar on the ground level and a dark lounge below. Upstairs, the look is faintly Italian, mirrored in a menu of affordable aperitivos. This includes an unmissable sgroppino – a thick and frothy prosecco-based drink with lemony sorbet floating on top. For snacks, nearby drinkers ordered oysters, but I was happily ensconsed in a Guinness welsh rarebit, heavy with pungent cheese and onion. Pongy titbits notwithstanding, Swift makes a great date spot. If it’s going well, take it downstairs. The basement is lit for romantic trysts, the showy side of Oriole and Nightjar eschewed in favour of pared-back sophistication. Staff are attentive, guiding you through an original menu edging towards nightcaps. I tried a powerful Amber Cane, a reinvented manhattan using rum in place of whisky. So taking over the spot where London’s cocktail-making reputation was cemented doesn’t seem too bold. Doing it in such a stripped-back way was the ballsy move, but, boy has it paid off. Time for a Swift one.
Experimental Cocktail Club
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Bars and pubs
  • Cocktail bars
  • Chinatown
  • price 3 of 4
Experimental Cocktail Club isn’t the kind of place you’d expect to find in Chinatown. In fact, it’s not the kind of place you can expect to find very easily at all: don’t be surprised if you walk past the bar’s unassuming battered door several times before realising it leads to this buzzing three-floor joint filled with trendy groups and dating couples absorbed in lively chatter. Many of them will have reserved – it's a good idea if you don't want to be left disappointed and standing on Gerrard Street. The drinks aren’t so experimental that they come in test tubes, but they’re consistently outstanding, making choosing what to order an almost impossible task. Throw in a gently lit backdrop of minimalist brick walls, mirrored walls and cut-glass tumblers and you're left with an opulent and cosy bar which, once found, you won't want to leave.
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Wun’s Tea Room and Bar
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Bars and pubs
  • Cocktail bars
  • Soho
  • price 3 of 4
Bun House: a whole lotta fun with its steamy takeaway counter, informal layout and Cantonese decor on a buzzy corner where Old Compton Street meets Greek Street. But there’s even more fun hidden below ground at the Chinese joint’s speakeasy-bar-meets-tea-room. It’s lit by the glow of Cantonese lettering in green neon, which bounces off luxurious red drapes, creating a room as saturated in colour as a Nicolas Winding Refn film (although the owner is said to have been more inspired by Wong Kar-wai’s ‘In The Mood for Love’). In among gorgeous design, there’s a lot of novelty in a trip to the Tea Room. The menu is printed on a newspaper and a jukebox loaded with vintage vinyl sourced from Taipei, Singapore and Hong Kong warbles out ’60s tunes, although a bold sign warns punters to look but not touch. Authenticity is in your glass as well as on the airwaves, with drinks featuring Chinese spirits and flavours. There’s a whole list of imported baijiu, China’s national drink sometimes referred to as ‘Chinese vodka’. If you’re not up for a one-way journey on the vodtrain, ease yourself in with a Mango & Chilli cocktail, which features baijiu in the background of a bold fruitiness and heat that builds and tingles. It’s also the base spirit in the Peanut & Goji, a syrupy-sweet short drink served over a large rock of ice and good enough to treat as a dessert. Both were served with playful, almost-garish garnishes. Bar snacks were just as good to look at, with the likes of pork-neck skewe
Bloomsbury Club Bar
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Bars and pubs
  • Cocktail bars
  • Bloomsbury
  • price 3 of 4
With a twinkly, cosy, vine-clad terrace beckoning us into The Bloomsbury Club bar from the street, I was taken aback by the frosty manager who said there’d be no space – outside or in – for me and my friend for at least two hours. Perhaps we weren’t as preened as the average punter. But on a detour (okay, snoop) around the rest of the hotel we found the indoor section of the bar, where seats were offered up by more friendly waistcoated staff. I’m so glad we persevered. Wood-panelled and dressed to the nines, The Bloomsbury Club oozes plush appeal: English gent’s club meets library, the cabinets filled with booze rather than books. The analogy is apt, as the bar takes its inspiration from the group of writers and artists who hung out together in this area in the early twentieth century. There’s a drink named after each of the Bloomsbury Set’s ten core members, so you can sip on a Virginia Woolf or a Duncan Grant (a gorgeous whisky drink with a maraschino sweetness). The room is decked out with chesterfield armchairs, punctuated by modern, teal velvet stools. A semicircle of high-backed chairs rings the bar, a prime spot where I was able to soak up the expert mixology while peering at a jazz duo twanging at the foot of the room. So plan ahead if you want a seat in one of the leaf-covered alcoves on that alluring terrace. But don’t be disheartened if it’s full – the indoor bar is the real deal.
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Bar Américain at Brasserie Zédel
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Bars and pubs
  • Cocktail bars
  • Soho
  • price 2 of 4
The greatest thing about the scene here is that there is no scene. This basement bar, part of the Brasserie Zédel complex, is equally wonderful whether you’re treating it as a way-station en route to dinner, a nightcap-dispensary before heading home, or an evening’s entertainment all in itself (with terrific bar snacks). It’s also one of the loveliest bars in London, with an art deco look that’s changed little in decades of its existence (under various names). And just as lovely (and unchanging) is its approach to building a cocktail list: short, classic, no need to blind with science. The Martinez (vermouth, gin, maraschino, curaçao and orange bitters) is as good as we’ve had in London; and everything except champagne cocktails comes in at under £12. When people ask for a bar recommendation around Piccadilly Circus, we always raise the Américain flag.
Discount Suit Company
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Bars and pubs
  • Cocktail bars
  • Spitalfields
  • price 2 of 4
After finding the DSC (not easy for first-timers), descend the steep stairs and watch your head so you don’t bump it on the incredibly low ceilings. The effort is worth it: DSC may look like just another wood-heavy, dimly atmospheric London ‘speakeasy’, but in quality it’s made-to-measure rather than prêt-à-porter. What marks it out is profound and polished skill behind the bar: we’ve watched a single bartender manage three large orders at once, doing everything in the right order and not wasting a second. The changing cocktail list can sound wacky (Captain Cobbler is dark rum, amontillado sherry, kumquat, ginger and honey marmalade, pink grapefruit and IPA top), but in our experience here wacky always equals wonderful. Ordering off-list is always a safe bet. Gents in suits love it. So do those wearing denim, ink and facial hair. One size definitely fits all here.
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Double Standard
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Bars and pubs
  • Cocktail bars
  • King’s Cross
  • price 2 of 4
No, you haven’t stepped into the Transport Museum. This bar with its ‘TfL-inspired’ interior is at London’s Standard Hotel and it’s one of London’s coolest new hangouts. Maybe it’s because the hotel group carries its hip credentials with it from across the Pond (with outposts in New York, LA and Miami). There’s also music, talks and broadcasts reeling in a young crowd to its Austin Powers-esque lobby, and Double Standard is doing well out of it. But it makes its own atmosphere, with a soundtrack that flits between The Cure and current smashes from the likes of Normani. Plus, staff dressed in an Ivy Park-style uniform worked the room like they were just hanging out. There weren’t enough of them, though – sitting at the bar looked best for American-style service direct from bartenders. Americanisms continued on the menu, from spot-on, mustard-smothered mini hot dogs to big, greasy pretzels. Whitebait was more London, a great sharing option. Meanwhile, Brooklyn lager adorned the taps and cocktails came across seriously NYC – especially a very effective Pickle Martini. Other flavours were on the sweet side, from a prosecco-filled Pick & Fizz, saccharine with strawberry, to a Chocolate Stout Martini. Made from orange liqueur, stout and coffee, it was Terry’s Chocolate Orange meets Espresso Martini – and bound to be as big a hit as the bar’s pitchers of Aperol Spritz. Prices were fair for the hotel world, cocktails ranging from £8 to £12. And as for that TfL look – well, it’s actua
Churchill Arms
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Bars and pubs
  • Pubs
  • Kensington
Not that most tourists would know, but there seems to be a contradiction here. The Churchill, a celebration of the wartime leader (they even estimate the number of champagne bottles the man consumed), is in fact an Irish pub – didn’t Ireland remain neutral during World War II? Regardless, this is a fine establishment, part homely tavern (it’s a Fuller’s, and the beer is excellent) and part Thai restaurant. Character is provided by the lived-in feel and mass of junk – portraits of prime ministers and American presidents, the documented triumphs of the Clare GAA hurling team, shiny copper things. The verdant frontage, embellished by an image of Churchill giving the V, is a regular winner in its category of the London in Bloom competition. Tourists love it, yes, but the regulars here include locals, and not just the posh ones.
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QUEENS Skate Dine Bowl
  • Bars and pubs
  • Queensway
London’s only permanent ice rink location has recently undergone a major revamp. Queens Skate Dine Bowl has been around since the 1930s, and now boasts a fancy new look with a slick ice-skating rink, 12 state-of-the-art bowling lanes and west London’s only outpost of the cult-status burger joint MEATliquor. There are also two cafés, and a fun retro games arcade.
The Vault of Soho
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Bars and pubs
  • Cocktail bars
  • Soho
  • price 3 of 4
Lovers of the malted grain have being paying homage at the whisky specialist Milroy’s since 1964. It has accumulated an enormous range of whiskies: around 400 from Scotland alone. A small tasting bar on the ground floor has been a feature for some years, but now – under new, independent ownership – the bar side is considerably expanded. There’s a small copper-topped bar with just a few stools, plus a table for two in the window. The ground floor is whisky-and-whiskey-only. If you’re looking for other spirits, head downstairs. The basement bar, aka The Vault, now calls itself a ‘speakeasy’ bar. This misleading bit of marketing-speak might be regarded as passé, and it isn’t particularly convincing here: it’s just a shorthand way of describing an dimly lit basement bar with dark-hued furnishings. But it's an attractive and comfortable room, and there is a rather splendid touch in the entrance to the stairway down the basement – you enter via a ‘hidden’ door in a fake bookcase. In the bar’s early days the service, though sweet and smiling, lacked the polished sheen of professionalism. But this didn’t detract from the perfection of a martini made with the bartender’s recommendation of The Botanist gin. The main cocktail list is heavy on experimentation, and the bartender’s evident expertise might make it worthwhile dipping in there. Drinks hover around £10, which is not unreasonable in this part of town. Soho’s not short of cocktail bars, but Milroy’s has lit a bright new spark in
Swift
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Bars and pubs
  • Cocktail bars
  • Soho
  • price 2 of 4
From the couple who brought us cult faves Nightjar and Oriole comes Swift, swooping into the former site of the celebrated, groundbreaking Lab Bar. Frankly, if they’d named it Tit I’d have still been excited, since here they’ve also teamed up with folks who’ve worked across Milk & Honey and Callooh Callay, to overwhelming success. Swift is split in two: a buzzy, casual-yet-sparkling bar on the ground level and a dark lounge below. Upstairs, the look is faintly Italian, mirrored in a menu of affordable aperitivos. This includes an unmissable sgroppino – a thick and frothy prosecco-based drink with lemony sorbet floating on top. For snacks, nearby drinkers ordered oysters, but I was happily ensconsed in a Guinness welsh rarebit, heavy with pungent cheese and onion. Pongy titbits notwithstanding, Swift makes a great date spot. If it’s going well, take it downstairs. The basement is lit for romantic trysts, the showy side of Oriole and Nightjar eschewed in favour of pared-back sophistication. Staff are attentive, guiding you through an original menu edging towards nightcaps. I tried a powerful Amber Cane, a reinvented manhattan using rum in place of whisky. So taking over the spot where London’s cocktail-making reputation was cemented doesn’t seem too bold. Doing it in such a stripped-back way was the ballsy move, but, boy has it paid off. Time for a Swift one.
Experimental Cocktail Club
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Bars and pubs
  • Cocktail bars
  • Chinatown
  • price 3 of 4
Experimental Cocktail Club isn’t the kind of place you’d expect to find in Chinatown. In fact, it’s not the kind of place you can expect to find very easily at all: don’t be surprised if you walk past the bar’s unassuming battered door several times before realising it leads to this buzzing three-floor joint filled with trendy groups and dating couples absorbed in lively chatter. Many of them will have reserved – it's a good idea if you don't want to be left disappointed and standing on Gerrard Street. The drinks aren’t so experimental that they come in test tubes, but they’re consistently outstanding, making choosing what to order an almost impossible task. Throw in a gently lit backdrop of minimalist brick walls, mirrored walls and cut-glass tumblers and you're left with an opulent and cosy bar which, once found, you won't want to leave.
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Wun’s Tea Room and Bar
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Bars and pubs
  • Cocktail bars
  • Soho
  • price 3 of 4
Bun House: a whole lotta fun with its steamy takeaway counter, informal layout and Cantonese decor on a buzzy corner where Old Compton Street meets Greek Street. But there’s even more fun hidden below ground at the Chinese joint’s speakeasy-bar-meets-tea-room. It’s lit by the glow of Cantonese lettering in green neon, which bounces off luxurious red drapes, creating a room as saturated in colour as a Nicolas Winding Refn film (although the owner is said to have been more inspired by Wong Kar-wai’s ‘In The Mood for Love’). In among gorgeous design, there’s a lot of novelty in a trip to the Tea Room. The menu is printed on a newspaper and a jukebox loaded with vintage vinyl sourced from Taipei, Singapore and Hong Kong warbles out ’60s tunes, although a bold sign warns punters to look but not touch. Authenticity is in your glass as well as on the airwaves, with drinks featuring Chinese spirits and flavours. There’s a whole list of imported baijiu, China’s national drink sometimes referred to as ‘Chinese vodka’. If you’re not up for a one-way journey on the vodtrain, ease yourself in with a Mango & Chilli cocktail, which features baijiu in the background of a bold fruitiness and heat that builds and tingles. It’s also the base spirit in the Peanut & Goji, a syrupy-sweet short drink served over a large rock of ice and good enough to treat as a dessert. Both were served with playful, almost-garish garnishes. Bar snacks were just as good to look at, with the likes of pork-neck skewe
Bloomsbury Club Bar
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Bars and pubs
  • Cocktail bars
  • Bloomsbury
  • price 3 of 4
With a twinkly, cosy, vine-clad terrace beckoning us into The Bloomsbury Club bar from the street, I was taken aback by the frosty manager who said there’d be no space – outside or in – for me and my friend for at least two hours. Perhaps we weren’t as preened as the average punter. But on a detour (okay, snoop) around the rest of the hotel we found the indoor section of the bar, where seats were offered up by more friendly waistcoated staff. I’m so glad we persevered. Wood-panelled and dressed to the nines, The Bloomsbury Club oozes plush appeal: English gent’s club meets library, the cabinets filled with booze rather than books. The analogy is apt, as the bar takes its inspiration from the group of writers and artists who hung out together in this area in the early twentieth century. There’s a drink named after each of the Bloomsbury Set’s ten core members, so you can sip on a Virginia Woolf or a Duncan Grant (a gorgeous whisky drink with a maraschino sweetness). The room is decked out with chesterfield armchairs, punctuated by modern, teal velvet stools. A semicircle of high-backed chairs rings the bar, a prime spot where I was able to soak up the expert mixology while peering at a jazz duo twanging at the foot of the room. So plan ahead if you want a seat in one of the leaf-covered alcoves on that alluring terrace. But don’t be disheartened if it’s full – the indoor bar is the real deal.
Advertising
Bar Américain at Brasserie Zédel
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Bars and pubs
  • Cocktail bars
  • Soho
  • price 2 of 4
The greatest thing about the scene here is that there is no scene. This basement bar, part of the Brasserie Zédel complex, is equally wonderful whether you’re treating it as a way-station en route to dinner, a nightcap-dispensary before heading home, or an evening’s entertainment all in itself (with terrific bar snacks). It’s also one of the loveliest bars in London, with an art deco look that’s changed little in decades of its existence (under various names). And just as lovely (and unchanging) is its approach to building a cocktail list: short, classic, no need to blind with science. The Martinez (vermouth, gin, maraschino, curaçao and orange bitters) is as good as we’ve had in London; and everything except champagne cocktails comes in at under £12. When people ask for a bar recommendation around Piccadilly Circus, we always raise the Américain flag.
Discount Suit Company
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Bars and pubs
  • Cocktail bars
  • Spitalfields
  • price 2 of 4
After finding the DSC (not easy for first-timers), descend the steep stairs and watch your head so you don’t bump it on the incredibly low ceilings. The effort is worth it: DSC may look like just another wood-heavy, dimly atmospheric London ‘speakeasy’, but in quality it’s made-to-measure rather than prêt-à-porter. What marks it out is profound and polished skill behind the bar: we’ve watched a single bartender manage three large orders at once, doing everything in the right order and not wasting a second. The changing cocktail list can sound wacky (Captain Cobbler is dark rum, amontillado sherry, kumquat, ginger and honey marmalade, pink grapefruit and IPA top), but in our experience here wacky always equals wonderful. Ordering off-list is always a safe bet. Gents in suits love it. So do those wearing denim, ink and facial hair. One size definitely fits all here.
Advertising
Double Standard
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Bars and pubs
  • Cocktail bars
  • King’s Cross
  • price 2 of 4
No, you haven’t stepped into the Transport Museum. This bar with its ‘TfL-inspired’ interior is at London’s Standard Hotel and it’s one of London’s coolest new hangouts. Maybe it’s because the hotel group carries its hip credentials with it from across the Pond (with outposts in New York, LA and Miami). There’s also music, talks and broadcasts reeling in a young crowd to its Austin Powers-esque lobby, and Double Standard is doing well out of it. But it makes its own atmosphere, with a soundtrack that flits between The Cure and current smashes from the likes of Normani. Plus, staff dressed in an Ivy Park-style uniform worked the room like they were just hanging out. There weren’t enough of them, though – sitting at the bar looked best for American-style service direct from bartenders. Americanisms continued on the menu, from spot-on, mustard-smothered mini hot dogs to big, greasy pretzels. Whitebait was more London, a great sharing option. Meanwhile, Brooklyn lager adorned the taps and cocktails came across seriously NYC – especially a very effective Pickle Martini. Other flavours were on the sweet side, from a prosecco-filled Pick & Fizz, saccharine with strawberry, to a Chocolate Stout Martini. Made from orange liqueur, stout and coffee, it was Terry’s Chocolate Orange meets Espresso Martini – and bound to be as big a hit as the bar’s pitchers of Aperol Spritz. Prices were fair for the hotel world, cocktails ranging from £8 to £12. And as for that TfL look – well, it’s actua
Churchill Arms
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Bars and pubs
  • Pubs
  • Kensington
Not that most tourists would know, but there seems to be a contradiction here. The Churchill, a celebration of the wartime leader (they even estimate the number of champagne bottles the man consumed), is in fact an Irish pub – didn’t Ireland remain neutral during World War II? Regardless, this is a fine establishment, part homely tavern (it’s a Fuller’s, and the beer is excellent) and part Thai restaurant. Character is provided by the lived-in feel and mass of junk – portraits of prime ministers and American presidents, the documented triumphs of the Clare GAA hurling team, shiny copper things. The verdant frontage, embellished by an image of Churchill giving the V, is a regular winner in its category of the London in Bloom competition. Tourists love it, yes, but the regulars here include locals, and not just the posh ones.
Advertising
QUEENS Skate Dine Bowl
  • Bars and pubs
  • Queensway
London’s only permanent ice rink location has recently undergone a major revamp. Queens Skate Dine Bowl has been around since the 1930s, and now boasts a fancy new look with a slick ice-skating rink, 12 state-of-the-art bowling lanes and west London’s only outpost of the cult-status burger joint MEATliquor. There are also two cafés, and a fun retro games arcade.
The Vault of Soho
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Bars and pubs
  • Cocktail bars
  • Soho
  • price 3 of 4
Lovers of the malted grain have being paying homage at the whisky specialist Milroy’s since 1964. It has accumulated an enormous range of whiskies: around 400 from Scotland alone. A small tasting bar on the ground floor has been a feature for some years, but now – under new, independent ownership – the bar side is considerably expanded. There’s a small copper-topped bar with just a few stools, plus a table for two in the window. The ground floor is whisky-and-whiskey-only. If you’re looking for other spirits, head downstairs. The basement bar, aka The Vault, now calls itself a ‘speakeasy’ bar. This misleading bit of marketing-speak might be regarded as passé, and it isn’t particularly convincing here: it’s just a shorthand way of describing an dimly lit basement bar with dark-hued furnishings. But it's an attractive and comfortable room, and there is a rather splendid touch in the entrance to the stairway down the basement – you enter via a ‘hidden’ door in a fake bookcase. In the bar’s early days the service, though sweet and smiling, lacked the polished sheen of professionalism. But this didn’t detract from the perfection of a martini made with the bartender’s recommendation of The Botanist gin. The main cocktail list is heavy on experimentation, and the bartender’s evident expertise might make it worthwhile dipping in there. Drinks hover around £10, which is not unreasonable in this part of town. Soho’s not short of cocktail bars, but Milroy’s has lit a bright new spark in
Swift
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Bars and pubs
  • Cocktail bars
  • Soho
  • price 2 of 4
From the couple who brought us cult faves Nightjar and Oriole comes Swift, swooping into the former site of the celebrated, groundbreaking Lab Bar. Frankly, if they’d named it Tit I’d have still been excited, since here they’ve also teamed up with folks who’ve worked across Milk & Honey and Callooh Callay, to overwhelming success. Swift is split in two: a buzzy, casual-yet-sparkling bar on the ground level and a dark lounge below. Upstairs, the look is faintly Italian, mirrored in a menu of affordable aperitivos. This includes an unmissable sgroppino – a thick and frothy prosecco-based drink with lemony sorbet floating on top. For snacks, nearby drinkers ordered oysters, but I was happily ensconsed in a Guinness welsh rarebit, heavy with pungent cheese and onion. Pongy titbits notwithstanding, Swift makes a great date spot. If it’s going well, take it downstairs. The basement is lit for romantic trysts, the showy side of Oriole and Nightjar eschewed in favour of pared-back sophistication. Staff are attentive, guiding you through an original menu edging towards nightcaps. I tried a powerful Amber Cane, a reinvented manhattan using rum in place of whisky. So taking over the spot where London’s cocktail-making reputation was cemented doesn’t seem too bold. Doing it in such a stripped-back way was the ballsy move, but, boy has it paid off. Time for a Swift one.
Experimental Cocktail Club
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Bars and pubs
  • Cocktail bars
  • Chinatown
  • price 3 of 4
Experimental Cocktail Club isn’t the kind of place you’d expect to find in Chinatown. In fact, it’s not the kind of place you can expect to find very easily at all: don’t be surprised if you walk past the bar’s unassuming battered door several times before realising it leads to this buzzing three-floor joint filled with trendy groups and dating couples absorbed in lively chatter. Many of them will have reserved – it's a good idea if you don't want to be left disappointed and standing on Gerrard Street. The drinks aren’t so experimental that they come in test tubes, but they’re consistently outstanding, making choosing what to order an almost impossible task. Throw in a gently lit backdrop of minimalist brick walls, mirrored walls and cut-glass tumblers and you're left with an opulent and cosy bar which, once found, you won't want to leave.
Advertising
Wun’s Tea Room and Bar
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Bars and pubs
  • Cocktail bars
  • Soho
  • price 3 of 4
Bun House: a whole lotta fun with its steamy takeaway counter, informal layout and Cantonese decor on a buzzy corner where Old Compton Street meets Greek Street. But there’s even more fun hidden below ground at the Chinese joint’s speakeasy-bar-meets-tea-room. It’s lit by the glow of Cantonese lettering in green neon, which bounces off luxurious red drapes, creating a room as saturated in colour as a Nicolas Winding Refn film (although the owner is said to have been more inspired by Wong Kar-wai’s ‘In The Mood for Love’). In among gorgeous design, there’s a lot of novelty in a trip to the Tea Room. The menu is printed on a newspaper and a jukebox loaded with vintage vinyl sourced from Taipei, Singapore and Hong Kong warbles out ’60s tunes, although a bold sign warns punters to look but not touch. Authenticity is in your glass as well as on the airwaves, with drinks featuring Chinese spirits and flavours. There’s a whole list of imported baijiu, China’s national drink sometimes referred to as ‘Chinese vodka’. If you’re not up for a one-way journey on the vodtrain, ease yourself in with a Mango & Chilli cocktail, which features baijiu in the background of a bold fruitiness and heat that builds and tingles. It’s also the base spirit in the Peanut & Goji, a syrupy-sweet short drink served over a large rock of ice and good enough to treat as a dessert. Both were served with playful, almost-garish garnishes. Bar snacks were just as good to look at, with the likes of pork-neck skewe
Bloomsbury Club Bar
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Bars and pubs
  • Cocktail bars
  • Bloomsbury
  • price 3 of 4
With a twinkly, cosy, vine-clad terrace beckoning us into The Bloomsbury Club bar from the street, I was taken aback by the frosty manager who said there’d be no space – outside or in – for me and my friend for at least two hours. Perhaps we weren’t as preened as the average punter. But on a detour (okay, snoop) around the rest of the hotel we found the indoor section of the bar, where seats were offered up by more friendly waistcoated staff. I’m so glad we persevered. Wood-panelled and dressed to the nines, The Bloomsbury Club oozes plush appeal: English gent’s club meets library, the cabinets filled with booze rather than books. The analogy is apt, as the bar takes its inspiration from the group of writers and artists who hung out together in this area in the early twentieth century. There’s a drink named after each of the Bloomsbury Set’s ten core members, so you can sip on a Virginia Woolf or a Duncan Grant (a gorgeous whisky drink with a maraschino sweetness). The room is decked out with chesterfield armchairs, punctuated by modern, teal velvet stools. A semicircle of high-backed chairs rings the bar, a prime spot where I was able to soak up the expert mixology while peering at a jazz duo twanging at the foot of the room. So plan ahead if you want a seat in one of the leaf-covered alcoves on that alluring terrace. But don’t be disheartened if it’s full – the indoor bar is the real deal.
Advertising
Bar Américain at Brasserie Zédel
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Bars and pubs
  • Cocktail bars
  • Soho
  • price 2 of 4
The greatest thing about the scene here is that there is no scene. This basement bar, part of the Brasserie Zédel complex, is equally wonderful whether you’re treating it as a way-station en route to dinner, a nightcap-dispensary before heading home, or an evening’s entertainment all in itself (with terrific bar snacks). It’s also one of the loveliest bars in London, with an art deco look that’s changed little in decades of its existence (under various names). And just as lovely (and unchanging) is its approach to building a cocktail list: short, classic, no need to blind with science. The Martinez (vermouth, gin, maraschino, curaçao and orange bitters) is as good as we’ve had in London; and everything except champagne cocktails comes in at under £12. When people ask for a bar recommendation around Piccadilly Circus, we always raise the Américain flag.
Discount Suit Company
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Bars and pubs
  • Cocktail bars
  • Spitalfields
  • price 2 of 4
After finding the DSC (not easy for first-timers), descend the steep stairs and watch your head so you don’t bump it on the incredibly low ceilings. The effort is worth it: DSC may look like just another wood-heavy, dimly atmospheric London ‘speakeasy’, but in quality it’s made-to-measure rather than prêt-à-porter. What marks it out is profound and polished skill behind the bar: we’ve watched a single bartender manage three large orders at once, doing everything in the right order and not wasting a second. The changing cocktail list can sound wacky (Captain Cobbler is dark rum, amontillado sherry, kumquat, ginger and honey marmalade, pink grapefruit and IPA top), but in our experience here wacky always equals wonderful. Ordering off-list is always a safe bet. Gents in suits love it. So do those wearing denim, ink and facial hair. One size definitely fits all here.
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Double Standard
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Bars and pubs
  • Cocktail bars
  • King’s Cross
  • price 2 of 4
No, you haven’t stepped into the Transport Museum. This bar with its ‘TfL-inspired’ interior is at London’s Standard Hotel and it’s one of London’s coolest new hangouts. Maybe it’s because the hotel group carries its hip credentials with it from across the Pond (with outposts in New York, LA and Miami). There’s also music, talks and broadcasts reeling in a young crowd to its Austin Powers-esque lobby, and Double Standard is doing well out of it. But it makes its own atmosphere, with a soundtrack that flits between The Cure and current smashes from the likes of Normani. Plus, staff dressed in an Ivy Park-style uniform worked the room like they were just hanging out. There weren’t enough of them, though – sitting at the bar looked best for American-style service direct from bartenders. Americanisms continued on the menu, from spot-on, mustard-smothered mini hot dogs to big, greasy pretzels. Whitebait was more London, a great sharing option. Meanwhile, Brooklyn lager adorned the taps and cocktails came across seriously NYC – especially a very effective Pickle Martini. Other flavours were on the sweet side, from a prosecco-filled Pick & Fizz, saccharine with strawberry, to a Chocolate Stout Martini. Made from orange liqueur, stout and coffee, it was Terry’s Chocolate Orange meets Espresso Martini – and bound to be as big a hit as the bar’s pitchers of Aperol Spritz. Prices were fair for the hotel world, cocktails ranging from £8 to £12. And as for that TfL look – well, it’s actua
Churchill Arms
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Bars and pubs
  • Pubs
  • Kensington
Not that most tourists would know, but there seems to be a contradiction here. The Churchill, a celebration of the wartime leader (they even estimate the number of champagne bottles the man consumed), is in fact an Irish pub – didn’t Ireland remain neutral during World War II? Regardless, this is a fine establishment, part homely tavern (it’s a Fuller’s, and the beer is excellent) and part Thai restaurant. Character is provided by the lived-in feel and mass of junk – portraits of prime ministers and American presidents, the documented triumphs of the Clare GAA hurling team, shiny copper things. The verdant frontage, embellished by an image of Churchill giving the V, is a regular winner in its category of the London in Bloom competition. Tourists love it, yes, but the regulars here include locals, and not just the posh ones.
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QUEENS Skate Dine Bowl
  • Bars and pubs
  • Queensway
London’s only permanent ice rink location has recently undergone a major revamp. Queens Skate Dine Bowl has been around since the 1930s, and now boasts a fancy new look with a slick ice-skating rink, 12 state-of-the-art bowling lanes and west London’s only outpost of the cult-status burger joint MEATliquor. There are also two cafés, and a fun retro games arcade.
The Vault of Soho
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Bars and pubs
  • Cocktail bars
  • Soho
  • price 3 of 4
Lovers of the malted grain have being paying homage at the whisky specialist Milroy’s since 1964. It has accumulated an enormous range of whiskies: around 400 from Scotland alone. A small tasting bar on the ground floor has been a feature for some years, but now – under new, independent ownership – the bar side is considerably expanded. There’s a small copper-topped bar with just a few stools, plus a table for two in the window. The ground floor is whisky-and-whiskey-only. If you’re looking for other spirits, head downstairs. The basement bar, aka The Vault, now calls itself a ‘speakeasy’ bar. This misleading bit of marketing-speak might be regarded as passé, and it isn’t particularly convincing here: it’s just a shorthand way of describing an dimly lit basement bar with dark-hued furnishings. But it's an attractive and comfortable room, and there is a rather splendid touch in the entrance to the stairway down the basement – you enter via a ‘hidden’ door in a fake bookcase. In the bar’s early days the service, though sweet and smiling, lacked the polished sheen of professionalism. But this didn’t detract from the perfection of a martini made with the bartender’s recommendation of The Botanist gin. The main cocktail list is heavy on experimentation, and the bartender’s evident expertise might make it worthwhile dipping in there. Drinks hover around £10, which is not unreasonable in this part of town. Soho’s not short of cocktail bars, but Milroy’s has lit a bright new spark in
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