Ten years ago, the suggestion of a Dry January would have been met with gargantuan guffaws in London bars; the very concept was alien to the majority of us, starved of sunlight in a post-Christmas malaise.
Yet increasingly, abstinence is becoming a very fashionable concept, particularly among the young. Today, colleagues gather around the coffee machine to boast about their alcohol-free days and weekend marathons. But in an era where health and fitness are now a major concern, what does this mean for London’s finest purveyors of alcoholic delights?
Thankfully, despite the growing emphasis on abstinence – or at least moderation – London’s bar scene remains as dynamic and exciting as ever. These days, the priority is quality rather than quantity, which undoubtedly explains the very healthy state of London’s leading hotel bars.
Great cocktails can be found the world over, but there is something about the pampering and yet informal service, the quality of base ingredients used and the glamorous setting which elevates London’s best above their peers. Discreet, elegant but definitely unstuffy, the following purveyors of exciting cocktails and classy service offer the perfect antidote to the drabness and tedium of Dry January.
The Berkeley Bar & Terrace
Situated in London’s most luxurious and sophisticated hotel, The Berkeley Bar & Terrace is the most discreet and refined destination to sip a cocktail in this fair city. It is the antithesis of bling – the bar is small and cosy, relying on its exceptional drinks list and utterly charming service to do all the talking, rather than thumping bass or dazzling light shows. Yet the décor is eye-catching and worthy of discussion; the interior owes its brilliance to Irish designer Bryan O’Sullivan, who used a 300-year-old walnut tree (felled in a storm) to provide the bar’s wood panelling. A rich and soothing palette of creams and pinks complements the room, with a half-moon marble bar containing only the very best wines and spirits.
However, The Berkeley Bar isn’t simply about celebrated names and big brands. We started our evening with a lesser-known grower Champagne – Eric Rodez – which turned out to be the finest fizz I imbibed in 2019. This is the bar’s key asset – its owners champion artisan and craft names, in addition to the large companies. Japanese brand Ichiro and rum producer Trois Rivières also make a welcome appearance. In warmer weather glass doors will lead you onto a small terrace with views of St Paul’s church. Best of all is the appropriately named snug – designed for parties – which benefits from seclusion and its own sound system and call-for-service button.
As you would expect, the cocktails were first-rate – a mixture of classics and bespoke concoctions, with balance, flair and imagination in every drink. It is the service, though, which really sticks in the mind. It takes real skill and precision to balance warmth and charm with professionalism and efficiency, but The Berkeley’s staff have it down to a fine art.
The Berkeley, Wilton Place, Knightsbridge, London, SW1X 7RL
020 7235 6000
Effortlessly chic, grand and intimate at the same time, Claridge’s needs little introduction. One of London’s finest hotels also houses one of the best cocktails in the capital. Hardly surprising really, considering the hotel’s renown and the flair of its designer, David Collins.
A most intimate and luxurious space to enjoy a multitude of cocktails, rare champagnes and fine wines, many available by the glass! Glamour, elegance and a quintessentially Claridge’s buzz are complemented by the quality of the staff; their professionalism and skill are second to none. A fantastic space for the great and the good to meet, which manages to remain decidedly unpretentious.
Brook Street Mayfair, London, W1K 4HR
020 7629 8860
For several years, the Artesian Bar was named “the world’s best bar”, but what exactly makes it so special? The answer is simple – everything.
There is no better place to start an evening in central London than sipping a cocktail at Artesian, a stunning destination housed inside the Langham hotel. Epically tall ceilings, Doric columns, chandeliers and insanely comfortable leather chairs set the scene, and yet this stunning venue remarkably delivers its services without a hint of pretension.
Instead, let effortlessly charming servers guide you towards some of the finest cocktails around, expertly mixed by Artesian’s award-winning bartenders. The Champagne list is no less impressive, ensuring that Artesian is a firm favourite with first date couples, friends and those searching for an intimate evening.
The Langham, London, 1C Portland Pl, London W1B 1JA
020 7965 0165
The Beaufort Bar
The décor alone is surely worth the price of a few drinks: jet-black walls, splashes of gold, individual candles and soft lighting make this sleek space the perfect spot for a bit of romance with a loved one, or drinks with friends.
The Beaufort, however, is not just about the venue and the drinks list shines with creativity and versatility, offering an extensive selection of champagne cocktails and wine by the glass. Service is similarly slick and yet discreet, attracting more than its fair share of A-listers, as I discovered during my last visit.
Undoubtedly, one of London’s best hotel bars.
Savoy Hotel, The Strand, London, WC2R 0EU
020 7836 4343
The Donovan Bar
A sophisticated cut above the rest, The Donovan Bar has an effortless chic about it. Reopening in 2018 after an extensive Sir Terence Conran makeover, The Donovan Bar is a seriously upmarket destination. Think a classic British palette of racing green, gold, pale blue and white. There’s even a small collection of his most iconic photographs on display in The Naughty Corner, a semi-private area with room for 12 people.
But, as you’d hope, the bespoke cocktails and excellent service are the real reasons that Donovan’s attracts a well-heeled, older crowd. They come for the comfortable setting, but stay for the cocktails and live music. With such expert mixologists at your beck and call, it’s not hard to see why this bar is rarely anything less than packed.
Brown’s Hotel, 33 Albemarle St, Mayfair, London W1S 4BP
020 7493 6020