James Bond would have a field day. Cocktail lovers in London are spoilt for choice right now. And it’s not just the perfect Martini. From bespoke ingredients in hidden venues to the best of the classics served in landmark bars, from bottled takeaways to draught cocktails, there’s an almost bewildering variety of London cocktail bars mixing it up for your attention. So, whether your taste is for in-house vermouth, smoky South African spices or simply the best Bloody Mary in Soho served in a bar that thinks it's in Rome, we’ve come up with 15 select picks. Stand by for the best cocktail bars in London right now.
Best cocktail bars in London 2023
Winner of multiple awards, Bethnal Green's Coupette has developed a cult following and deservedly so. In cosy French-style surroundings, the emphasis here is on the cocktails and nothing else. Glasses are classic, mixing takes place behind the scenes, philosophy is all that counts is what you taste, an approach that's won rave reviews. Cocktail menu mixes classic with avant garde: expect additions such as mandarin leaf, sage, smoke and edible clay. Regulars suggest making a reservation, too.
The small but perfectly formed cocktail menu at Old Compton Street's Bar Termini makes it one of Soho's most beloved watering holes: walk in and you'll begin to understand why. Distinctive Italian style is inspired by Termini train station bar in Rome, top notch bartenders are on hand to make sure your Bellini is as it is served in Venice, and that your Garibaldi or pick-me-up Bloody Mary is exactly as it should be, no more no less. Coffees are world-class.
Three Sheets' witty name extends to a cocktail menu allowing guests to choose between One Sheet - a fruity French 75 perhaps, Two Sheets - a neat Whisky Ginger for instance, or the full Three Sheets - an Earth Martini with olive oil and beetroot to add a fresh kick to Bond's favourite. The venue is an unassuming walk-in with minimalist decor just off Hackney's Kingsland Road, the atmosphere is that of distinctly casual neighbourhood bar, the expertise is exemplary.
Choose from locations in Shoreditch or Soho to experience the adventurous cocktail specialists at Swift. While - as their menu points out - true classics are always available, you might try a summery Kew Gardens, featuring gin with cucumber, basil, lime and Prosecco or a Freja where vodka and vermouth meet lychee and lemon. Equally refreshingly there's a more-than-decent selection of non-alcoholic cocktails too, such as Tempest, featuring Darjeeling kombucha, lemon and elderflower.
Satan's Whiskers looks like an intimidating dive bar in hipster Bethnal Green, but inside it's a much-loved neighbourhood bar. Beyond the quirky touches - the abundant taxidermy is a trademark, as are the vintage bar posters - there's a serious intent, as you'd expect from a team who previously worked at Soho institution Milk and Honey. Cocktail menu changes daily with fresh produce foregrounded, service from staff in shirts and braces wins praise from reviewers.
The Connaught Bar
When only the best will do, put on the glad rags, charge up the credit card and head for The Connaught Bar. Winner - again - of World's Best Bar, the Connaught Bar is a sybaritic enclave in Mayfair's storied Connaught Hotel. Decor is inspired by cubism, cocktail menu majors on the classics with edges of avant garde for the adventurous. Choose a Martini for the full performance from a trolley discreetly wheeled to your table. Among the available gins is one that's - of course - distilled at the hotel. Unbeatable.
Created by multi award-winning bartender Ryan Chetiyawardan - known as Mr Lyan - Lyaness occupies the ground floor of Sea Containers Hotel, with lush contemporary decor - think blue velveteen banquettes - overlooking the Thames. Idea is to bring a cook's approach to the business of making cocktails, so ingredients are paramount. Changing cocktail menu organises offerings by their exotic ingredients - such as blood curaçao, green sauce liqueur or fruit furikake. Deluxe in every sense of the word.
When it's time to go old school, there's no place like Dukes. Ian Fleming drank here, and Dukes Bar is said to be the inspiration of his most famous creation's preference for "shaken, not stirred". First choice, then, has to be a Martini, and there's a plentiful variety available, mixed next to you from a trolley. Location is in St James's and the distinctly gentleman's club decor reflects that, with velvet armchairs and a wood-panelled bar. Smart casual dress code is exactly as you would expect.
American Bar at the Savoy
A true London classic since 1893, the American Bar is quite simply one of the most best cocktail bars in the world, and one of the oldest. Winston Churchill drank here, and so did Ernest Hemingway, so you'll be in good spiritual company. Among its key inventions is the Hanky Panky, cocktail menu mixes classics with unexpectedly contemporary offerings. Surroundings are precisely as luxuriously traditional as you'd hope, and then some. Every true cocktail lover has to go, at least once.
Looking for a uniquely South African take on cocktails with a railway arch setting in über-trendy Peckham? Done. Smokey Kudu is the side project of Kudu restaurant, serving much-praised South African cooking nearby. Smokey Kudu is beneath busy Queens Road, which gives the speakeasy feel added heft. Cocktails mix familiar with unfamiliar: Amarula, which uses the fruit of the African marula tree, makes a regular appearance, as do smoked spices and South African whisky.
Hugely popular Hoxton stalwart, now with new branch on Carnaby Street. Low lighting sets the Prohibition mood, choose your cocktail based on its place in history from witty menu, or one of Nightjar's adventurous bespoke creations, often featuring made-on-the-premises ingredients. There's also a selection of sharing cocktails for your own personal Nightjar cocktail party. Make sure to book: Nightjar's charms are much-loved.
Music, not just cocktails, are centre stage at Spiritland, with branches at Kings Cross and the Royal Festival Hall. Choose Kings Cross Spiritland for high end professional-quality record decks and speakers, not to mention a stellar roster of live peformances, newer Royal Festival Hall location for mid-century glamour. Both serve twists on the classic cocktails: expect fennel, rooibos, rhubarb, bergamot and foam to make an appearance.
Tayēr + Elementary
Ranked at number two - just below the stellar Connaught Bar - in the latest World's Best Bars list, Old Street's Tayēr + Elementary seeks to reinvent the cocktail experience with a two-in-one venue. Elementary is where you'll walk into: instant cocktails on draught, served without fuss and with an unrelenting focus on what you're tasting. Tayēr majors on the theatre of the experience, with ever-more unusual ingredients melded to long-established techniques. Walk-ins only.
Tucked away in a stark basement on Hoxton Square, where a window looks out on a bare wall, Happiness Forgets saves its brilliance for its drinks and its service, which have had reviewers reaching for a five-star rating. Served in low candlelight, classic cocktails are the big story here, mixed and served at the bar in front of you, no fuss, no pretension, just great drinks in a great atmosphere. Book early to avoid the queues.
Little Mercies is a Crouch End neighbourhood favourite that's worth travelling for. Exposed brick walls and concrete bar speak of low-lit minimalism, audaciousness is reserved for bespoke cocktail ingredients and a distinctive take on the classics. Vermouth is an in-house version, changing with the seasons, your bourbon can be washed with caramelised white chocolate if you choose their spin on an Old Fashioned. If all that's not enough, bottled cocktails are available to take home, too.