London has a long history of cocktail drinking. Londoners developed a thirst for gin, a key component of many classic cocktails, in the late 17th century, particularly as unlicensed production was legal – and London gin became distinct from the Dutch genever spirit that it was based on. By 1726, London had 1,500 working stills and there were 6,287 places where you could buy gin, according to spirits company Sipsmith. One of the first printed mentions of ‘cocktail’ to mean a mixed drink was made in a London newspaper in 1798; and Cooling Cups and Dainty Drinks by William Terrington, one of the first British books to include cocktail recipes, was published in 1869. Today we remain as enamoured of mixed drinks as ever.
Drinks International’s most recent list of the world’s best 50 bars includes no fewer than nine in London, with five in the top 10 – making the city arguably the cocktail capital of the world. Some of its best mixologists are found in bars that are off the beaten track. Our choices offer innovative drinks, world-class service, a relaxed atmosphere – and a memorable evening.
Happiness Forgets is well worth the effort needed to locate it in a tricky-to-find Hoxton basement. Ali Burgess founded the bar in 2010 and it has been a firm favourite with London’s cocktail aficionados ever since. The menu features such delights as Perfect Storm, a mix of dark rum, honey, lemon, freshly squeezed ginger juice and plum brandy. Alongside the cocktails, there is also an extensive wine and beer list. Make a reservation via the bar’s website – or simply drop in, as half the tables are kept for walk-up customers.
Happiness Forgets, 8-9 Hoxton Square, London N1 6NU
A five-minute walk from Farringdon station but a world away in terms of atmosphere, Oriole brings the glamour and adventure of the 1940s into a modern cocktail bar. The sumptuous space is decked out with exotic antiques, and there is a small stage where live bands play jazz and blues. The cocktail menu is divided into three sections: New World, Old World and The Orient. Our top tip: don’t miss Cortez the Killer, a mix of Don Julio Reposado tequila, balsamic vermouth and agave tonka syrup.
Oriole, East Poultry Avenue, Smithfield Markets, London EC1A 9LH, +44 (0)20 3457 8099
With award-winning bartender Ryan Chetiyawardana and his business partner Iain Griffiths at the helm, there is little that can go wrong at White Lyan. All drinks are made with the bar’s own Mr Lyan spirits and ingredients; they are pre-mixed and include no ice or perishables (even lemon), so the bartender simply has to pour the bottle into a glass before giving it a quick spritz with an aromatic spray. If this sounds gimmicky, rest assured that the results speak for themselves.
White Lyan, 153-155 Hoxton Street, London N1 6PJ, +44 (0)20 3011 1153
The Bar With No Name
The Bar With No Name at 69 Colebrooke Row in north London references 1950s Italian café style and film noir elements. This drinking den can be hard to track down as there is no name above the door. Situated on an Islington back street, it is an intimate one-room bar identifiable by an outdoor lantern. Owner Tony Conigliaro has created a concise menu of cocktails with intriguing names such as Death In Venice – Campari with grapefruit bitters, topped with Prosecco and finished with an orange twist.
The Bar With No Name, 69 Colebrooke Row, London N1 8AA, +44 (0)7540 528593