As the traditional pub is said to be on the decline, the cocktail scene here is flourishing as one of the most progressive and trend-setting in the world.
The spirit most associated with Britain’s capital is gin, whether your taste runs to the sweeter Old Tom (the choice brand for a Tom Collins cocktail) or the juniper-forward London Dry style. You’ll find plenty of gin-soaked cocktails to sip in the growing ranks of the pricy bars and nightclubs around town.
John Glaser, London-based whisky maker for Compass Box, shared some of his favourite spots to take clients for a tipple, such as Mark’s Bar (http://www.marksbar.co.uk) beneath the trendy SoHo restaurant Hix. Here, barman Nick Strangeway draws on historical influences to create a wide array of gin punches, slings and other libations.
Glaser’s go-to cocktail at Mark’s is the Artist’s Special (Peat Monster Whisky, Cortado Sherry and homemade redcurrant syrup). However, “if you are there slightly hungover,” Glaser points to the restorative Hix Fix (Morello cherries soaked in Somerset Eau de Vie, topped with sparkling wine).
Meanwhile, for “expense-account drinking,” Glaser opts for The Coburg Bar (http://www.the-connaught.co.uk/the_coburg_bar.aspx) at the Connaught Hotel in Mayfair.
“The word ‘tony’ only begins how to describe this place,” he adds. The Coburg and its cheekier sister Connaught Bar (http://www.the-connaught.co.uk/connaught_bar.aspx) have developed an international reputation for stellar drinks.
At the Coburg, historically correct classics like the Pimm’s Cup No. 1 are the draw; at the Connaught, the thing to do is ask the bartender to create a bespoke drink from that evening’s array of speciality infusions, house-made vermouths and bitters in flavours like lavender, grapefruit and ginger. Alternatively, build your ideal martini from the circulating martini trolley.
Are these the only libation-worthy bars in London? Of course not. We haven’t even touched on classic martini havens like Dukes Bar (http://www.dukeshotel.com>) or the American Bar at the newly renovated Savoy (http://www.fairmont.com/savoy/GuestServices/Restaurants/AmericanBar.htm), the growing ranks of hidden speakeasies like Shoreditch favourite Callooh Callay (http://www.calloohcallaybar.com/welcome), or the high-in-the-sky Vertigo 42 (http://www.vertigo42.co.uk/), where finance types guzzle champagne high above the City of London.
Still, of all the gin joints in all the the towns in all the world, you’ll be very glad you walked into these.