I remember discovering the London bar scene around 1997. It was a really exciting time when Dick Bradsell’s (the U.K.’s Dale DeGroff) first generation of students were opening up amazing cocktail joints.
I was drinking at Oliver Peyton’s infamous Atlantic Bar and the acclaimed Met Bar, where you could find Ben Reed and Ben Pundole mixing fresh-fruit martinis. Before long, I was spending hours at Che, where Nick Strangeway was behind the stick, and enjoying big nights at Jonathan Downey’s pioneering Match Bar. That’s not to mention meeting legends Peter Dorelli at the American Bar and Salvatore Calabrese at the Lanesborough Hotel.
While there are plenty of new watering holes (which I will be writing about soon), I suggest you go on my tour of classic London bars when you’re next in Old Blighty. Cheers!
THE AMERICAN BAR, THE SAVOY HOTEL, STRAND, 44 020 7836 4343:
No trip to London is complete without a visit to The American Bar. It’s boasted some truly famous bartenders, including Ada Coleman, creator of the Hanky Panky, and Harry Craddock, author of The Savoy Cocktail Book. And today, the award-winning barman Erik Lorincz is shaking up drinks and running the institution.
What to Drink: White Lady (Bombay Sapphire Gin, Cointreau, fresh lemon juice, egg white)
CAFE PACIFICO, 5 LANGLEY STREET, 44 020 7379 7728:
This spot launched in 1982, making it the oldest tequila bar and Mexican restaurant that I know of in the city. Founded by renowned agave expert Tomas Estes, it is a place that represents the liquor perfectly and features quality drinks and food.
What to Drink: Estes (Olmeca Altos Reposado Tequila, Chambord, fresh lime juice, raspberries, cranberry juice, agave nectar)
CALLOOH CALLAY, 65 RIVINGTON STREET, 44 020 7739 4781:
Though this East London bar doesn’t take itself too seriously (may I add that the drinks list looks like a cassette tape?), its tipples are top-notch. It won the Spirited Award for World’s Best Cocktail Menu at this past summer’s Tales of the Cocktail conference.
What to Drink: French Bank (Banks 5-Island Rum, lime juice, lemon juice, pomegranate molasses, egg white, pink peppercorns)
DUKES BAR, 35-36 ST. JAMES’S PLACE, 44 020 7491 4840:
The Dukes Bar is a real gem hidden on a small street in St. James, just steps from Savile Row. It’s also home of the Vesper, where James Bond creator Ian Fleming often ordered the vodka-and-gin concoction. It’s worth going there just for the tableside martini service.
What to Drink: Vesper (No. 3 London Dry Gin, Potocki Vodka, Dukes Amber Vermouth, Angostura Bitters)
EL CAMION, 25-27 BREWER STREET, 44 020 7734 7711:
Even though he’ll hate me for telling people where to find him, I must reveal that Dick Bradsell is working at the raucous El Camion Bar in Soho. He is blending piña coladas and daiquiris, and happily mixing Brambles. (His Sangrita is also to die for.) But best of all, this bar is fun — lots of fun — and you’ll likely bump into half of the city’s bartenders.
What to Drink: Bramble (gin, crème de mure, lemon juice, simple syrup)
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Simon Ford is an award-winning bartender and co-founder of The 86 Co. He is also a Liquor.com advisory board member.