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Top 5 bars in… London

A pioneer in the world’s cocktail scene, London has it all – high-end hotels, hidden speakeasies and experimental bars that constantly push the envelope. James Lawrence hails a black cab and investigates.

*This feature was originally published in the December 2017 issue of The Spirits Business

The sheer diversity inherent to London’s bar scene – not to mention the constant wave of new openings – would astonish any city dweller returning after 10 years away from home. So too would the rise of 1920s speakeasies, the transformation of local pubs into gastronomic havens, and the amount of raw talent and innovation on display.

Yet despite this radical transformation, the capital’s historic hotels still play an important role in maintaining excellence – the American Bar at the Savoy Hotel was voted World’s Best Bar in October 2017, ensuring that three London venues (including Dandelyan and The Connaught) made it into the top five on the list. However, this is not to suggest that all the excitement and innovation resides inside the four walls of London’s most exclusive hotels.

The past 10 years have witnessed a meteoric rise in American-­style speakeasies and secret bars, many of which are situated outside of Zone 1. It makes perfect sense: as formerly maligned districts such as Dalston and Shoreditch have been gentrified, so too has the investment poured in, making East London the hottest ticket in town right now.

If you’re looking to avoid the popular grind of London’s busiest venues then these hidden gems are ideal, although finding them often involves delving into fridges or stepping behind mirrors. But persevere, as the best of this new firmament are unlike anything you’ve ever experienced before.

Click through the following pages to discover the top five bars in London, England.


Photo credit: Addie Chin

12 Old Compton Street

The dynamic team behind Nightjar and Oriole has done it again: Swift is one of the hottest new openings to grace London in 2017.

Boasting an inviting, speakeasy-­style basement bar and a buzzy aperitivo bar at ground level, serving London’s finest Martini – available in a variety of guises – Swift truly can claim to be all things to all men.

NB Swift has recently launched a new whisky menu.

The Beast of Brixton

89b Acre Lane

Hidden among Brixton’s more garish nightspots is a door that leads to an utter gem of a bar and restaurant.

It has one of the friendliest vibes of any bar I’ve visited, yet your hosts are also extremely professional and set the standard for service in the capital.

A fantastic cocktail list similarly does not fail to impress – try the Pisco Sour if you only have time for one drink.


93 Great Eastern Street

Leading chef and avid forager Simon Rogan has a friend in Scout, the latest venture from bartending iconoclast Matt Whiley.

His mantra is ‘live off the land’, and Scout – in Shoreditch, of course – refuses to serve tried­-and­-tested classics. Parsnip, asparagus and knotweed make regular appearances, as does beetroot.

All the trickery happens below in a metallic lab, while patrons are housed in what looks like Ikea on steroids – think Scandi pine furniture aplenty and very tall, effortlessly attractive bartenders.

Callooh Callay

65 Rivington Street

One of Shoreditch’s most popular haunts, Callooh Callay wears its eccentricity on its sleeve: you enter the back section of this surreal bar through an old Victorian wardrobe, where a sticker­book menu and hipster mixologists (surprise, surprise) await.

Yet this is no one-trick pony – Callooh Callay is really three bars in one, with the Palace of Humbug room contrasting nicely with the stylish main bar area, and the invite-­only Jub Jub Room.

But most importantly of all, there is substance among all the kitsch style.

The Bar at The Dorchester

53 Park Lane

The Bar at The Dorchester is quite possibly the most glamorous destination to sip a cocktail in the city.

The décor alone is surely worth the price of a few drinks: sumptuous furniture and fabrics, including lacquered mahogany, mirrored glass and velvet, adds to its allure.

Furthermore, its drinks list shines with creativity and versatility, overseen by maestro bartender Giuliano Morandin.

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