“London by night, is a wonderful sight.”
So sang Frank Sinatra.
I wholeheartedly agree. But I must say, had I been writing the song, my next set of lyrics would gone along the lines of: “With a cocktail in hand, it’s even more grand.”
And as we head nearer to London Cocktail Week – running throughout the Capital from 6-12 October – I thought what better way to start getting excited about it than to share with you some of the cocktail bars I’ve discovered over the past year that have really knocked my socks off.
At most of them, I’ve had a whisky-based libation but every once in a while I’ve strayed to another spirit (just for one drink; promise I wasn’t cheating on whisky for a whole night). What they all have in common is a great atmosphere, quality drinks and an ability to further cement my love for this incredible city.
Now, I’m aware that the Capital is not the be all and end all when it comes to cocktail bars. Additionally, this is by no means a full list of places I like to drink at – simply five places I’ve enjoyed of late. As such, I want to hear from you about your favourite places to sip a whisky cocktail (or, of course, one with another spirit base) so please do share your drinking hot spots in the comments section, below.
Located in the beautifully remodelled Rosewood Hotel near Holborn station, Scarfes bar is a classy place to unwind after a long day’s work in the city. With dark panelled walls featuring quirky political paintings by the artist the bar gets its name from (Gerald Scarfe), a seductively curvaceous bar, a huge whisky collection and nightly jazz offerings, Scarfes is a haven in a part of London that’s often teeming with fast-paced office workers and tourists lost on their way to Covent Garden.
The few times I’ve visited Scarfes, I’ve had everything from a classic Manhattan to a more punchy Humidor (Chivas Regal 18, white Port, absinthe & more), always sitting at the bar to watch bar manager Giovanni Spezziga and his team work their magic. Small tapas style food is also available and even if you just come for one after work, it’s worthwhile to take in the upscale atmosphere (and quirky hotel decor on your walk to the loo).
As a traditional nod to the speakeasy culture, it takes a knock on a side door with a sliding panel to get into this 1930s style bar. Located just off of Grovesnor Square, this bar is sumptuous: beautiful burgundy leather banquettes, cream coloured walls studded with brass buttons akin to old-school luggage, and a sleek dark wooden bar all thrust you into a bygone era.
I was so in love with the setting here that I barely needed to order a drink. As such, I stuck with a classic Manhattan – allowing the atmosphere and the libation to simply wash over me.
The famous new concept from Ryan Chetiyawardana, White Lyan in Hoxton has made headlines since its doors opened not only because Beyonce and Jay-Z showed up for a secret tipple one random Saturday but also due to the fact it was recently named World’s Best New International Cocktail bar.
I visited on a chilly March evening with my friend Miss Nathalie, and drank whatever concoctions Ryan and his team suggested we try. My brain was a bit fuzzy by the time we left, but the no-ice, no-preservatives, pre-bottled cocktail concept definitely won me over. It’s forward-thinking, it’s cosy for a winter’s eve, and it’s just far enough away from the buzzier Dalston to still feel hidden away.
When I first moved to London, I bemoaned the lacking number of bars that were at the top of buildings. Having arrived from Toronto, I was used to rooftop bars across that city and London’s lower roofline was definitely causing a lack of places with incredible views.
So, I was excited when Oblix and Aqua opened at The Shard. I’ve managed to get to both but it is the Lounge Bar at Oblix that really stands out to me. With views stretching over the city outside of the surrounding glass windows, a large whisky selection and live music offerings, the dark, moody Oblix is definitely worth a visit for a special treat. Plus, at £25 a pop to ride the lift up to the top of The Shard, I say skip that expense, take the free lift here and spend that money on a drink or two at this great bar instead.
Hidden below Harrild & Sons on Farringdon Street near City Thameslink station, this is a great place to escape to if you’re based in that part of London. Its main draw? The huge whisky selection, which is displayed on beautifully lit up shelves in the centre of the bar.
I decided to stick to my cocktail focus and tried a couple of stand-out drinks, my favourite being the Prohibition Milk Punch, made from peated whisky (I believe it was Laphroaig), Irish whiskey, Pedro Ximenez, coffee liqueur, vanilla and fresh cream, all served in a paper bag (pictured). It was rich, satisfying and indulgent but you could still really get the whisky hit, which made it all that much better. Delicious!
For more information about London Cocktail Week – which features cocktails on offer for £4 from 200 of the city’s best cocktail bars – head to: www.londoncocktailweek.com