Some of the world’s best bars can be found in London’s hotels – not to mention some truly spectacular cocktails. Here’s our guide to where to go and what to order, whether you’re celebrating London Cocktail Week (October 4-13), a special occasion of your own or simply fancy a truly top-notch tipple. With insider tips on historic classics to order off the menu, this list is for the adventurous. Think everything from the city’s strongest martini, and Neil Armstrong’s first drink after returning from the moon, to ‘minimalist’ cocktails. Chin chin!
The Martini at Dukes Bar, Dukes London
Iconic head barman Alessandro Palazzi is such a fan of the martini that he is never seen without the silver brooch on his jacket in the shape of one. He’s been in the business of making the perfect martini for more than 40 years. They are so strong that the hotel only allows two per guest in one sitting.
This is one of the only bars in London where you’ll never hear the clink of ice – because Mr Palazzi doesn’t serve martinis on the rocks. Instead, he freezes the spirits then shakes them undiluted until they melt. His vermouth of choice is distilled by Sacred Microdistillery, which a family runs from its home in Highgate; it’s 18 per cent stronger than average. (Martinis from £21).
The Moonwalk at The American Bar, The Savoy
The American Bar has previously held the title of Best Bar in the World, and this year comes in at number five on the World’s 50 Best Bars list. Men in ivory jackets shake cocktails with rigid vigour. The Art Deco bar is smeared with more gloss than a Chanel sheer lipstick advert. If you have a spare £20 in your pocket, try the Moonwalk cocktail (pictured below) with grapefruit, orange liqueur, rosewater and champagne; it was invented in 1969 by then-head barman Joe Gilmore to celebrate Neil Armstrong landing on the moon. It was the first thing the astronaut drank when he returned to earth.
Alternatively, order off the menu in honour of Harry Craddock – the world-famous bartender who worked here in the Thirties: he invented Corpse Reviver #2 with cognac, calvados and apple brandy. If you’re feeling very brave, ask for Craddock’s Sherry Flip – it’s an egg yolk mixed into sherry. Yes, that is all.
Read the full review: The Savoy, London
Tiki Hopster at the Blue Bar, The Berkeley
This could be London’s best-looking bar. Think thickly moulded walls a fetching shade of periwinkle, a startling carbon-fibre-net roof, and curvaceous mid-century chairs (as per David Collins’s Lutyens Blue theme). Aesthetics are credited in the menu, which breaks colour down to represent taste (green for long and fresh; blue for crisp and clean; yellow for elegant and effervescent; and red for rich and complex).
Tiki Hopster (£18) is a good option here; a punchy rum number with Amaro Montenegro, passionfruit and hops falernum and bitters. If you want to order a hotel classic off the menu, ask for a Golden Dawn, the hotel’s winning entry for the International Cocktail Competition in 1930. It’s equal amounts of apricot brandy, calvados, gin and orange juice shaken with a dash of grenadine. Toast to the inventor, Mr T. Buttery.
Read the full review: The Berkeley, London
Scan Me at Gong, Shangri-La Hotel at the Shard
No bar in London can rival the views here. Come before dusk so you can watch London’s skies bleed pink and lavender, before the world beyond the windows turns into a dark blue blanket prickled with city lights.
The cocktail theme here is the ‘miscellany of inventions’. The notion of celebrating science and technology carries well in mixology, where flavour and flair can be matched. The 15 cocktails (including three mocktails) draw on the fields of transportation, business, entertainment, medical care and everyday life. Try Scan Me (£20), a whisky sour-style drink served in a coupe and embellished with a barcode theme; an ode to Norman J. Woodland and Bernard Silver who invented the barcode in the US, 1952.
Read the full review: Shangri-La Hotel at the Shard
Cherry Blossom Swirl at Booking Office, St Pancras Renaissance Hotel London
It’s located inside the original station’s ticket hall. Grab a window overlooking the concourse and all those commuters racing for trains; the cool sense of schadenfreude is the perfect complement to one of the menu’s warming Dickensian rum drinks. The architecture is staggering: the Gothic arched walls still have their original red bricks. But it’s cosy rather than draughty, and there are plenty of quiet corners cordened off with shelves with crystal nick-nacks and orchids.
Cherry Blossom Swirl (£13) is the one to go for: a smooth whisky-based punch that uses old techniques of blending full-fat milk and citrus to create a cocktail that’s clear. It’s part of their adventure-themed ‘tails of Discovery [sic] menu, which brought resident mixologists together to create concoctions resembling their travel stories through Europe. If you’re looking for something more savoury, try the mushroom martini (£10), which uses morrel stock.
The Winkle at The Churchill Bar and Terrace, Hyatt Regency London – The Churchill
The Churchill theme is borderline obsessive. Note the knitted animals on the bookshelves (Jock, Rufus and Pig). They’re based on Churchill’s predilection for using toys as bookstoppers. Animals were chosen because Winston and his wife Clementine used to draw them when writing love letters to each other: Winston was a dog (or a pig), Clemmie, a cat. There’s as much forensic detail when it comes to the cocktails. Authentic 17th-century G&Ts are served with original East Imperial tonic.
The Winkle (£16) is also a must: it’s in honour of The Winkle Club – formed in 1900 by Hastings fisherman to help local underprivileged families. Ingredients include Pussers Rum – which the British Royal Navy issued for more than 300 years – as well as lime juice (promoted by Sir Francis Drake to fight off scurvy among sailors), chai syrup and spices.
Minimalist cocktails at Artesian, The Langham
If everything King Midas touched turned lavender, the outcome would look something like this bar. Artesian was voted the world’s best cocktail venue four times in a row between 2012 and 2015. Head barman Gabor Fodor is one of the most exciting mixologists in the city.
The menu focuses on cocktail ‘minimalism’, with concoctions inspired by the mantra ‘less is more’, created by the team at Artesian using just one flavour combination. Think Oxley & Cassis Leaf (£20), Rhubarb Sparkling & Gentiane (£20) and Melon & Thai Basil (£20).
Eton Mess at The Terrace Bar, The Chesterfield Mayfair
Molecular cocktails are not exactly what one would expect at this old-fashioned Mayfair hotel bar decorated with green leather, etchings of men in powdered wigs, and china dog figurines. But the Chesterfield has come out with a surprisingly edgy new drinks menu.
It’s really all about the Eton Mess (pictured below), which comes with a hammer – to get at its vodka, cream and strawberry liqueur centre trapped in ice. It mixes with meringue and strawberries to make a boozy take on the English dessert.
Read the full review: The Chesterfield Mayfair, London
Flower Power at The Donovan Bar, Brown’s
“I don’t stay in a hotel. I stay in Brown’s,” legend has it Mr Churchill once said, sitting in the Donovan bar at Brown’s. But the deeply patriotic statesman wouldn’t recognise the room now; the cosy wood-clad nooks have been replaced with grey-and-white walls lined with Sir Terence Donovan’s racy photography, forest-green banquettes and cut glass tables, a tribute to Mayfair’s elite fashion scene.
Nods to Donovan’s work are further evident in the signature cocktails grouped according to punchiness. Think ‘low exposure’ Gran Torino, a mellow twist on a classic Negroni made with whisky, vermouth, orange liqueur and ginger and egg-white foam, topped off with a dried lemon and served in a beautiful cut glass (£19), to ‘high exposure’, which is all about the bright and refreshing drinks, such as the floral Flower Power, which changes colour as you pour (£20).