28 January 2014

Bex's Guide to London: Top Ten Cocktails

Somehow I end up visiting more new cocktail bars in New York than in London, where I tend to revisit old favourites instead. Nonetheless, I've put together a list of my ten favourite cocktail joints in London. With the exception of Hawksmoor, these are all bars rather than restaurants-with-cocktails, although the Big Smoke does host many restaurants that have impressive cocktail lists. As regular readers will know, gin is my poision of choice, so there is something of a gin bias in this list — and I was tempted to add in  another, the Peters & Co gin palace, but I've only been there once and only last week. Here is my top ten:

Nightjar (Shoreditch). Situated a stone's throw from the Old Street roundabout, Nightjar offers a gorgeous, decadent haven from the chaos above. A very New Yorky, prohibition-style bar, Nightjar is one of my favourite places to drink in London. The drinks menu is so long and complex, it requires instructions, but whatever you order will be utterly delicious and beautifully presented. I've had a Kama Aina before (gin, elderberry infusion, triple sec, honey, lime and sparkling coconut water), which was served with a mini coconut shell and cinnamon sticks. You can't really go wrong here. 129 City Road. ReviewWebsiteTwitter.

214 (Bermondsey). An underground gin joint only ten minutes' walk from my flat? Of course I like 214! They have a huge variety of gins, including my local favourite (Jensen's Bermondsey Gin) and an impressive cocktail menu. If you can't decide which gin to go for, you can try a gin flight. Inside, it's dark, sexy and unsurprisingly, it's often very busy. 214 Bermondsey Street. Mini-reviewWebsiteTwitter.

Little Bird Gin (Bermondsey). The Maltby Street Market is the king of Saturday brunch destinations and every good brunch spot needs a good hipster cocktail joint. In one of the arches underneath the train tracks, Little Bird serves gin-based cocktails, including the Perfect G & T (with grapefruit), served in old-fashioned glasses, jam jars and tea cups. Their spicy Gin Mary tastes so fresh, it almost feels virtuous. Almost. Cool but low-key, this is what Saturday afternoons are all about. The Ropewalk, Maltby Street. Mini-review. Website. Twitter.

Callooh Callay (Shoreditch). This loosely Lewis Carroll-themed bar is very Shoreditch. Downstairs, it's a little bit Mad Hatter's Tea Party, and the wardrobe hides an entrance to the sort-of-secret upstairs lounge. Cocktails have playful names and quirky ingredients and are served with free nibbles. The menu has changed since I last went, but I like the sound of the #cocktail, with tequila, pink peppercorn syrup, pink grapefruit, ginger ale and way too many hashtags. 65 Rivington Street. Review. Website. Twitter.

69 Colebrooke Row (Islington). Also known as 'the bar with no name' — but an address you should remember. It's intimate (read: tiny) inside, so try to book ahead. The menu is filled with creative cocktail combinations and changes seasonally. One of my favourites on the current menu is the Blenheim Gimlet: black pepper cordial and Beefeater gin. 69 Colebrooke Row. Website. Twitter.

Bourne & Holingsworth (Fitzrovia). A sort of London equivalent of New York's Back Room, Bourne & Hollingsworth is hidden away in a basement at the bottom of Charlotte Street. You could almost be having tea at your gran's: most of the cocktails are served in tea cups and the decor is very '50s, with faded, floral wallpaper. But once you get beyond the chintz, there are some seriously good drinks to be had here. 28 Rathbone Place. Website.

The London Gin Club (Soho). Unsurprisingly, this small bar, just off Oxford Street, is another good choice for gin fans. The gin tasting menus are what this place is all about, but with a huge selection of gins, tonics and garnishes, their G & Ts are pretty damn good too. 22 Great Chapel Street. Website. Twitter.

Purl (Marylebone). Tucked away in the basement of a quiet Marylebone side street, Purl is a secret speakeasy of the New York variety, of which I am so fond. The bar occupies a number of vaulted nooks and crannies and has a cosy, intimate vibe. They like their molecular mixology and some of the drinks are big on theatre. Mr Hyde's No 2, for example, involves rum, homemade cola and chocolate bitters, served in a 'sealed potion bottle' and infused with smoke. If you like your cocktail a little lighter and fruitier, the Hanky Panky, which involves gin and assorted citrus, is a good choice. 50–54 Blandford Street. Review. Website. Twitter.

The Experimental Cocktail Club (Soho). I love the original Experimental Cocktail Club in Paris. It can be a bit of a hassle to get past the doorman of the London branch, but it's well worth the effort. for the expertly mixed, creative drinks. I struggle to choose between the Saint Germain des Près (gin, St Germain liqueur, lime juice, egg white and cucumber) and the Get Buck in Here (gin, lemon juice, absinthe, ginger ale and grapefruit zest). The aggressive door policy also means that although it's always full, there is usually room to stand or perch, if not to sit. 13a Gerrard Street. Review. Website. Twitter.

Hawksmoor (Soho). Technically, Hawksmoor is a restaurant, not a bar, but their hefty menu of tempting cocktails — organised chronologically, from 'refreshing eye openers' to post-prandial — means I couldn't leave them off my list. I like the Marmalade Cocktail (gin, Campari, lemon juice and marmalade) and the Hawksmoor Collins (Beefeater 24, Campari, orange bitters, lemon and soda). And no, this isn't the place to come for a light, fruity tipple. 5a Air Street. Mini-review (and review of the Spitalfields branch). Website. Twitter.

Part 1: Top 10 London coffee bars
Part 2: Top 10 London burgers
Part 4: Mapping my London food and drink favourites

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