Competition

Top 10 London bars

London could well be the best place in the world to have a cocktail right now. Innovation is so high that while one venue serves bitters created in a Gastrovac with smoked frankincense to garnish, another bar completely avoids any ice or citrus. It’s hardly a surprise that bartenders from around the world are flocking to the UK capital, but it does make choosing a top 10 nigh on impossible. However, along with the creators of London’s Best Cocktail Bars app, we’ve had a go.

Woodland bitters comprises maple, cedar and redwood, with a focus on the deeper, base tones.

The Artesian at the Langham
There are a number of reasons this bar has topped the World Bar 50 for the second year in a row, but the sheer innovative excellence of Alex Kratena is the main one. Along with Simone Caporale he creates a new theme for his cocktail list every year, with creativity high. 2014 saw drinks like a mixture of gin, Americano, carrot, kombucha (sweetened black tea) and sandalwood smoke served in a large gold pineapple – called Camouflage. It’s a glossy symbol of the hospitality industry, and there’s not a hint of pineapple flavour in sight!

Happiness Forgets
Alastair Burgess cut his cloth at NYC's Pegu Club before working in Quo Vadis and Milk and Honey. Now with promoter Andy Bird he’s serving “high end cocktails in a low rent basement”, as the website has it. There’s no signage at the bar, and a short list of drinks that are “unusual without being weird” according to one visitor. The Perfect Storm is the pick, a delicious mix of dark rum, La Vieille Prune plum brandy, honey, ginger juice and lemon juice. Forums are also full of praise for the extensively trained staff that greet and engage throughout.

69 Colebrooke Row
Cocktails at this Islington bar begin life in a nearby lab that’s part of the Drink Factory outpost. There, owner Tony Conigliaro distils and extracts to focus on a specific concept, feeling, flavour, fragrance or experience. A recent creation, the Woodland Martini blends gin, amontillado sherry and homemade woodland bitters for example. Woodland bitters in this case comprises maple, cedar and redwood, with a focus on the deeper, base tones, created using a Gastrovac – following 12 months of research. Tony Conigliaro puts science first, and has a leading place in the culinary and drinks world as a result.

White Lyan
The first bar from Ryan Chetiyawardana, formerly of Worship Street Whistling Shop and Bramble in Edinburgh, is quite a place. It’s been gathering PR because Ryan uses no perishables – the less he sources, the more column inches he fills in effect. So no citrus, ice or fresh fruit is on offer. Instead he uses gums, citric acids, acid phosphates and a huge pre-batch and refrigeration system to create drinks, flavouring spirits so no branded versions are discernable. The most simple is also the most fascinating: a ‘Bone Dry Martini’ comprising vodka and tincture made from roasted chicken bones. These are dissolved in phosphoric acid and neutralized with calcium salts.

The Blind Pig at the Social Eating House
The 2013 World Class finalist Gareth Evans likes his puns and the list at this Jason Atherton owned-venue is full of them. And as he’s group bar manager for all Jason’s venues he’s had something of an input. ‘Rye n’ Air’ blends rye whisky, Campari, peach brandy, anise, sweet vermouth and grapefruit oils. ‘Robin Hood, Quince of Thieves’ is a mixture of Somerset 5 year old brandy, quince liqueur, honey mead, lemon and apple garnish. Both crazy themes and flavours work brilliantly together.

The American Bar at The Savoy
It’s where London bartending grew up, and is still maturing with age. World Class winner 2010 Erik Lorincz is at the helm of the American Bar, mixing up great Hanky Pankys and other classics in a nod to the venue’s past. The turn-of-the-century gin, sweet vermouth and Fernet Branca drink that was invented by Ada Coleman is impeccable.

Megaro
Run by Ben Clark and Nico Piazza, who first came together at The Zetter Townhouse, Megaro is a basement bar tucked under the hotel and restaurant of the same name in Kings Cross. The theme is old-style photography, with curtains and large imagery combining to pretty stunning effect. And a note to those who publish home page only-page websites: Megaro shows enticing cocktail imagery and ingredients across a series of pages, e.g. The Lost Steps: blanco tequila, cardamom sweet tea and Chartreuse Elixir.

Peg and Patriot
Matt Whiley, formerly of Fluid Movement and Talented Mr Fox, opened this outpost in Bethnal Green with Ally Martin and a rotary evaporator for company. The result is own-infused and -distilled spirits amid low-hung lights and couches along the walls so that guests can choose how much they want to speak to their bartender. The thoughtfulness extends to the drinks list, where The Brew Testament combines cold-brewed cognac, lemon verbena and chartreuse ice cream.

Nightjar
Just pipped to the title of World’s Best Bar by Artesian and New York’s Dead Rabbit, this bar from entrepreneurs Rosie Stimpson and Edmund Weil is known for its garnishes – elaborate affairs from head bartenders Marian Beke and Luca Cinalli – but flavours and conception are outstanding too. Burnt Amber, for example, is the creation of Antonio Pescatori, who moved from Soho House Group. He’s blended vodka infused with amber from the Baltic Coast, Skinos Mastiha spirit, Krucefix Pine Liqueurs and La Quintinye Dry Vermouth, but the additional interest comes with a burning frankincense-infused pine cone at the base.

NOLA
NOLA is on the first floor of Shoreditch’s Bedroom Bar, and offers a blues soundtrack, ceiling-spinning fans, high-baked seating and café-style tables. Of course the Sazerac is outstanding, but try the Grasshopper, a drink created by bartender Philibert Guichet at Tujaque’s bar by the Mississippi in around 1919, and mixing crème de menthe, white cacao and cream to indulgent effect.

Best of the rest

The recently opened City Social in the Square Mile, also part of the Jason Atherton group, has impressed. And there’s another new sister bar, in the form of Ryan Chetiyawardana’s Dandelyan at The Mondrian hotel, following on from White Lyan. Meanwhile, Milk and Honey, Worship Street Whistling Shop and Hawksmoor are still going strong, as are even older timers: Dukes with its mean Martini and Rules offering great hospitality. Plus check out High Water in Dalston, and the new bar from Happiness Forgets that’s just open – Original Sin.

Gin Monkey has produced an app that displays London’s best bars. Check it out, and have a look at the Gin Monkey site while you’re about it.