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Editor's note: Be sure to check with the bar before visiting as schedules have been shifting due to COVID-19 lockdowns.
The history of the cocktail is inextricably linked to that of the hotel and the hotel bar. Hotel bars were the hallmark of American drinking in the late 1700s, and continued to thrive until Prohibition. In those days—and as they still are today—bars were instrumental in selling a hotel to travelers, and as such, hotels employed some of the best bartenders in the world and allowed their bars to indulge in amenities such as ice—a luxurious ingredient mostly available to the rich—to lure guests in.
In the late 1880s, American cocktail culture was exported to London in the form of The Savoy Hotel’s American Bar where ex-New York City bartender Harry Craddock—author of The Savoy Cocktail Book—brought his techniques, tricks, and American cocktail recipes with him to revolutionize cocktailing in London. Unlike in America, London’s hotel bar scene was never thwarted by Prohibition, and thus, continued to flourish and quickly overshadowed America (read: New York City) as the hotel bar capital of the world. Today, London is home to some of the best bars in the world, and many of them are housed in the city’s most fashionable hotels.
Whether you fancy yourself an iconic Vesper Martini like James Bond at the Dukes Hotel’s Dukes Bar, or prefer a classic Martini crafted and served to you tableside at the Connaught Bar, London’s hotel bars always deliver on excellence and style.
Here are the best hotel bars to drink at in London.
Connaught Bar at The Connaught Hotel
The Connaught Bar, at the legendary five-star Connaught Hotel, an American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts property, opened in 2008; and since its opening has established itself as one of the most awarded bars in the world. The Connaught Bar, led by director of mixology, Agostino Perrone, was recently crowned as the world’s best bar by the prestigious World’s 50 Best Bars Awards 2020—a testament to the team’s consistent innovation over the last decade.
The bar’s current menu dubbed “Formae” pays homage to the shapes of the famous bar itself, designed by David Collins Studio, telling a story through the custom glassware, flavors, and textures of the drinking experience. “Flint,” a personal favorite from the current menu, was developed in collaboration with Rémy Martin XO and ceramicist and designer Reiko Kaeno to create a bespoke vessel bridging the gap between iconic heritage, craftsmanship, and innovation. It features the aged Cognac with tropical lacto-fermented melon and botanical soda accented with the complex green Chartreuse.
Guests can also indulge in the Connaught Bar’s signature tableside Martini trolley where a dapper bartender in a white jacket crafts a Martini to your liking right before your eyes; or opt for one of the Connaught Bar’s tried and true classics for a taste of the bar’s evolution over time. The cocktail lounge’s elegant 1920s design with art deco finesse epitomizes the London hotel bar experience: an offering of world class cocktails, unparalleled hospitality, and an ambiance that elevates every sip. You can’t miss it.
American Bar at The Savoy Hotel
The American Bar at the American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts The Savoy Hotel is the oldest surviving cocktail bar in Britain, first welcoming guests for its popular “American-style” drinks in 1893. Since then, it has enjoyed a reputation as one of the most iconic bars in the world, welcoming celebrities of all sorts throughout the years, and consistently pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in the world of cocktails.
The American Bar was voted as the world’s best bar at World’s 50 Best in 2017, and in 2018 was named the world’s best again at the esteemed Spirited Awards hosted by Tales of the Cocktail. The space is designed around a grand piano where resident pianist, Jon Nickoll, serenades guests while they enjoy one of the bar’s innovative tipples—or one of the well-known classics that originated at the bar itself, such as the gin-based White Lady, or Hanky Panky. The current menu pays homage to the legendary musicians and songwriters that have entertained guests in the bar for decades, featuring 20 cocktails that have been inspired by some of the most iconic songs played in the bar today.
The American Bar is currently closed due to COVID-19 with an undecided reopening date, but keep this spot on your bucket list because it’s a must-visit for any true cocktail enthusiast. In the meantime, The Savoy’s other award-winning bar, Beaufort Bar, will keep you satiated and intrigued with their refined cocktails, and sophisticated space.
Lyaness at Sea Containers London Hotel
If you’re someone who enjoys unique flavors that you can’t experience anywhere else, then Lyaness is your bar. Since launching in 2019, Lyaness has been dedicated to pushing the boundaries of flavor, sustainability behind the bar, and giving guests more autonomy at the bar than they’ve ever had before—just a few of the reasons why it was recently ranked as No. 29 on the list of the World’s 50 Best bars.
Led by internationally renowned bartender Ryan Chetiyawardana (aka Mr. Lyan), Lyaness’s menu is built around bespoke ingredients (e.g. infinite banana, vegan honey, and golden levain) with three suggested serves highlighting each ingredient. While there are featured cocktails on the menu to enjoy, they are designed to be a guide rather than prescriptive so that imbibers can find their preferred flavors to create the ultimate cocktail.
The space boasts views of the iconic River Thames, paired with contemporary bar design dominated by blue and green hues. It’s comfortable, chic, and perfect for small groups. Drinking at Lyaness can be as scientific and exploratory as you’d like it to be, all you need to do is get chatting with one of their clever bartenders; or just sit back and casually revel at the brilliance of the ingredients that the bar team has laboriously developed for your pleasure.
Artesian at The Langham, London
The Langham hotels are renowned for their five-star service, world class food and beverage destinations, and fashionable décor—and Artesian at The Langham, London, an American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts property, is the perfect marriage of all three.
The hotel’s Victorian heritage is embodied in the bar’s mindful design with high ceilings, eye-catching chandeliers, purple hues, and sublime glassware that harps on the concept’s undeniable attention to detail. The team is led by bar manager Anna Sebastian, who was tasked with reviving what was once the World’s Best Bar; and in the last few years since she has come on, she has helped do just that.
The current menu evokes nostalgia with a list of 1970s Disco-era-inspired cocktails that have been reimagined for the contemporary cocktail enthusiast. They take the iconic Cosmopolitan, traditionally a vodka-based drink, and serve it down over ice with a rye whiskey base instead—the cocktail still retains its visual appeal via its pink hue, but with new flavor. They take similar approaches with their innovative takes on the Espresso and Pornstar Martinis. Each is crafted with technical precision, familiar flavors, but with playful touches. It’s no surprise they continue to move their way further up the list of the World’s 50 Best bars every year—a luxurious drinking experience that demonstrates what a London hotel bar is all about.
Scarfes Bar at Rosewood London Hotel
American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts property Rosewood London’s Scarfes Bar, which opened in 2014, has seen its stock boom over the last couple of years, so much so that it was recently touted as the Best International Hotel Bar at the 2020 Spirited Awards by Tales of the Cocktail. Following the success of the 2019 menu, which put the bar on the map as a must-visit cocktail destination, the team have once again developed a list of cocktails that is both one of sophistication, yet playfulness, displaying the food and beverage team’s adeptness and ability in delivering a unique imbibing experience.
Their latest menu concept is dubbed the “Enneagram Menu,” featuring caricatures drawn by the incomparable hand of Gerald Scarfe—for whom the bar is named after. It’s a liquid analysis of the nine personality types of the Enneagram Test (e.g. The Reformer, The Helper, The Achiever, etc.) and each type features a prominent personality in society, such as Steve Jobs, Amy Winehouse, and so on. Ingredients such as pickled almond, sea buckthorn, grilled pine, and “shrooms,” make their way into the culinary-focused cocktails, and are guaranteed to intrigue and delight. The regal study-like ambiance that accompanies the creative cocktail list makes Scarfes Bar one of the most exciting hotel bars in London at the moment, and you’d be remiss to not pop-in for a drink.
Punch Room at The London EDITION
Nestled at the back of Ian Schrager’s London EDITION, an American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts property, Punch Room is an intimate cocktail lounge with oak-paneled walls inspired by the comfort of English country manor libraries and London's nineteenth-century private clubs. It’s dedicated to the predecessor to the cocktail: punch.
The award-winning team at Punch Room’s latest menu is The Five: Volume III—the latest chapter in their hugely popular ‘The Five’ series of cocktail menus. Whilst Volume I celebrated the five main ingredients of Punch, (spirits, water, citrus, sugar, and spice), and Volume II focused on key moments in Punch’s illustrious history, the third version draws inspiration from the five fundamental elements of ancient philosophy: Earth, Water, Fire, Air, and Aether. The sixth (and final) chapter of the new menu celebrates some of Punch Room’s most popular drinks from previous years—a great representation of the beverage program’s evolution. It’s a bar concept that’s enticing for both enthusiasts and the cocktail curious alike.
Davies and Brook at Claridge’s Hotel
Now, while Davies and Brook at Claridge's Hotel—another American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts property—is a restaurant-first, bar-second, their cocktail program is not one to take lightly, and the lounge is the perfect spot to enjoy some small bites and refined cocktails. It’s the first London restaurant from renowned chef Daniel Humm of the former No. 1 restaurant in the world, the New York-based Eleven Madison Park, so you can be well-assured that no detail is an afterthought—even the cocktails.
The list includes a list of seasonal tipples that rotate depending on the time of year and availability of ingredients. The bar’s drink list has featured elixirs with avocado, rhubarb (in the form of a clarified milk punch), beetroot, blood orange, and even yogurt. Each cocktail is crafted to perfection with elegant glassware, and custom luxury cocktail ice. And since this destination is dishing out some of the best bites in London, you need to have the Claridge’s Fried Chicken—like, seriously. It pairs well with the Dirty Martini on the menu, too.
Donovan Bar at Brown’s Hotel
The bar at Brown’s Hotel has always been one of the best bars in Mayfair, as one of the most famous mixologists of all-time, Harry Craddock, was tasked with launching the American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts property's first cocktail program back in 1947; but in 2018, the hotel reopened after a complete redesign and they pulled out all the stops to position themselves as one of the best bars in the city by bringing on legendary mixologist, Salvatore Calabrese, previously of Dukes Bar.
Donovan Bar’s menu features a list of rotating themed cocktails (currently 60s themed), in addition to timeless signature serves—such as Calabrese’s iconic Breakfast Martini, augmented by orange marmalade—and vintage cocktails made with Calabrese’s own personal collection of rare and historic spirits—it’s one of the world’s largest collections of vintage spirits.
Donovan Bar is a quintessential British hotel bar with glamour, refinement, and style. The bar, named after one of the 20th Century’s most revered fashion photographers, Terence Donovan, includes the largest private collection of his work in existence, making the bar an attraction for photographers and art enthusiasts as well. As is the case with all of the best bars in London, the bar goes beyond just the delectable cocktails—there is also a story to be told, and listened to.
Dukes Bar at Dukes Hotel
If you are a Martini aficionado, then Dukes Bar is an absolute essential. The bar is known as the place where Ian Fleming—a regular at Dukes—came up with James Bond’s iconic phrase “shaken not stirred” that changed the way people drank Martinis all over the world. To be frank, it’s the place to have a Martini, and is as much a cultural experience as it is a drinking one.
The bar team is led by storyteller and bartender, Alessandro Palazzi, who will undoubtedly guide you in the right direction and make your experience in the quaint, living-room-esque space an unforgettable one. He’s the one you want tableside with their famous Martini trolley waxing poetic about the silky, ice-cold elixir of gin (vodka is okay too, I guess), vermouth, and bitters that he is crafting for your pleasure. They go down exceptionally quickly, so don’t get too carried away or you may need to actually be carried out. Dukes Bar is one of the best in the world, and a true London staple for all of the cocktail history housed within its intimate space.
NoMad Bar at NoMad London
This inclusion is an exception to the rest of the list as it has yet to open (slated for a April 2021 launch), but if the NoMad Bar is anything like the award-winning New York City edition—which it is anticipated to be the case with renowned mixologist Leo Robitschek leading the staffing the program development—then London is in for a genuine treat with this esteemed hotel bar.
The cocktail program in the Atrium Bar will showcase classics, NoMad favorites, and a brand new selection of boundary-pushing cocktails that will focus on the seasonality of London. Guests can expect a menu crafted closely with the kitchen, meaning culinary-focused ingredients will be at the forefront of what they do making the drinks enjoyable with food, or on their own.
The space’s more maximalist point of view provides yet another physical space for the confluence of decorative arts seen throughout the hotel. Aesthetic movement furniture, Delft objects, and Italian modernist lighting are in harmony within the collective cacophony of its periods and styles. This space is a celebration of “more is more and less is a bore.”
While NoMad Bar’s pedigree is likely to steal the show, Side Hustle at NoMad London is also a spot worth keeping tabs on as it’ll be a bar focused on a curating a large selection of agave-based spirits, showcasing the flavors and traditions of Mexico along with classic and contemporary British and European offerings. The space is the NoMad’s take on the classic British pub seen through a New York lens.