Guest Post by Mark Gill aka The Cocktail Geek writing for Social and Cocktail. – We are in a fortunate position in London of being utterly spoilt for choice when it comes to quality drinking. From the opulence of five star hotels, to the dark and dingy dive bar basements, we have it all. Whether you prefer something tropically Tiki or seriously sophisticated, it’s all here and everything in between. There isn’t therefore any time to mess around with dodgy venues; what follows is just a sample of the very best.

Callooh Callay photo by Social and Cocktail
Callooh Callay photo by Social and Cocktail

If there is one area of London that epitomises contemporary drinking culture in London it’s over in Shoreditch where the cool kids hang out. And for good reason, it`s home to some of the very best bars in the capital. A relative old-timer but still regular member of many ‘best of’ lists is the award-winning Callooh Callay. This whimsical Alice-in-wonderland-cum-retro-glamour styled bar boasts three different areas serving their innovative utilitarian menu famous for its regular reinvention. From tube maps, to cassette tapes to pantone colour charts, this is a place that doesn’t take itself too seriously, but does take the serving of excellent cocktails very seriously indeed. Just around the corner is the teeny tiny Casita, probably London’s best dive bar. Come here for shots and simple unpretentious classics; leave thinking the next morning is gonna hurt! Shoreditch is also home to the rapidly up and coming Happiness Forgets, where every basement ‘speakeasy’ styled bar cliché is both embraced and thrown out the window at the same time. Few places in the capital can match this bars ability to cram incredible amounts of flavour into every drink they serve, whilst maintaining an effortlessly cool attitude that makes it impossible not to declare it your new favourite place.

69 COLEBROOKE ROW, LONDON N1 8AA, 07540 528 593, WWW.69COLEBROOKEROW.COM - photo courtesy Social and Cocktail
69 COLEBROOKE ROW, LONDON N1 8AA, 07540 528 593, WWW.69COLEBROOKEROW.COM – photo courtesy Social and Cocktail

Heading North from Shoreditch into neighbouring Islington is another bar that must be on everyone’s bucket list. 69 Colebrooke Row has a reputation for serving ‘molecular’ cocktails, but is in fact the source of some of the most classy and reliably well executed drinks you’ll find. The focus here isn’t on clever techniques, but in using science to enhance the sensor experience. This isn’t a place only for cocktail geeks, come here too to fall in love with the world of cocktails. Heading South from your Shoreditch base will cause you to come across an entirely different bar from the same team. The bar at the Zetter Townhouse (I can thoroughly recommend staying here too) is based around the international travels of your fictional Aunt Whilhelmina. This is British eccentricity at its very best, complete with a boxing kangaroo and umbrella-adorned stuffed cat. The drinks each tell a story and, like their siblings over in Islington, pack a flavoursome punch that will have you settled in the games room for many an hour.

Marks Bar photo by Social and Cocktail
Marks Bar photo by Social and Cocktail

The centre of town is the place to head for unadulterated luxury courtesy of the various internationally-recognised hotels. The Connaught, the Savoy and the Dorchester all come highly recommended, and without even a hint of stuffiness. Pricey they may be, but you can’t say you have experienced the best of London without a visit to one of these. The centre of town is also home to a smattering of ‘regular’ cocktail bars; particularly those with a restaurant attached. Mark’s Bar at Hix makes a big thing of using various infusions to create a menu that is impressive in its detail and never short of an unusual flavour or two. Even more interesting is the bar at Pollen Street Social, where the blend of ideas from the culinary and drinks world cross-pollinates to create some very interesting results. Those looking for simple pleasures and informal dining to boot will do worse than pop into Polpo for drinks served almost as a casual afterthought to cause surprise by their pleasing execution. It would of course be rude not to pop into the institution that is Rules whilst you’re in the area. By far the best reason to go to Covent Garden, head up the stairs to be whisked back in time to when service was King and your drink was just perfect.

There is of course one thing that a visit to London just shouldn’t be without; a most incredible Martini. For this, you will need to head to the bar at Dukes hotel. Order a Martini here and you’ll be served tableside from the Martini trolley. Into a frozen glass will be dashed just a few splashes of dry vermouth, before being filled to the brim with your choice of straight-from-the-freezer gin. The choice of garnish is yours, but there really isn’t anything that can beat the crack of an Amalfi lemon zest over your steaming cold cocktail. If there is a better way to spend an hour in London, I’ve not found it.

Social and Cocktail is the fastest growing cocktail website in the UK, focusing on cocktail recipes, bars and reviews. The site currently has over 1000 cocktail recipes, categorised by base spirit, type of cocktail and flavour, making it much easier to find a cocktail to suit your taste. The site profiles 180 of the best Cocktail Bars in the UK and is constantly checking in to review these establishments. On top of this, the site has a daily cocktail blog, regular interviews with the movers and shakers of the cocktail world and a monthly newsletter. Have a chat on Twitter @SoCocktail

Cheri Loughlin Beverage Consultant & Photography Services

All content ©2013 Cheri Loughlin, The Intoxicologist. All Rights Reserved. Chat with Cheri @Intoxicologist on Twitter and facebook.com/Intoxicologist or str8upcocktails@gmail.com

A Londoner’s Guide to London Cocktail Bars
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