The Cocktail Gadabout #78



[April 11, 2017] After visiting London once again in April of 2017, I realized it is unquestionably the hotel bar city of the world, and probably the best cocktail city globally.  There is a seemingly unlimited selection of exceptional hotels and typical cocktail bars.  In the end, my favourites include the venerable American Bar at The Savoy, the unbelievable neighbourhood bar called The Gibson, Bar Termini in Soho, the hotel bar at Dukes, where Ian Fleming wrote the James Bond series.  The Seymour Bar at Zetter Townhouse Marylebone, and Callooh Callay and 69 Colebrooke Row are also very impressive.

WGB refers to a World’s Greatest Bar winner, a highly prestigious list awarded annually at The Tales of The Cocktail in New Orleans. London is chock full. Any bar in bold is one I’ve visited personally.

  • imageWGB-Connaught Bar at The Connaught Hotel (pictured left):  I was initially very impressed with this bar but after visiting others, realize it wasn’t one of my favourites.  That said, it would instantly become the best hotel bar in Toronto if relocated.
  • Seymour’s at Zetter Townhouse Marylebone (pictured below): The sister to the more established Zetter property at Clerkenwell had only been open one week when my family and I had a late afternoon drink at this stunning and warm establishment.  The Madeira Sour was nothing short of revelational, and this small, outrageously cozy hotel bar instantly became one of my all-time favourites.

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  • Dukes at The Dukes Hotel (pictured below): I had a feeling I would love this place from the images online and the stories of Ian Fleming creating James Bond and his Vesper at this tiny but venerable establishment.  I wasn’t disappointed.  Tucked away in a courtyard off a quiet street, I found my way to a crowded, lively and thriving establishment seemingly teeming with locals, though as a hotel bar, it’s not likely.  Anyway, I fell in love.  It might actually be the greatest bar ever for me.  The bartender wheeled a trolley to my table and made the best damn Vesper on earth table-side as she meticulously explained the reasoning behind each ingredient (without being asked).  Their Vesper is entirely different than mine and everyone else’s… No.3 gin (made around the corner) to Polish vodka at 2:1, Sacred vermouth and angostura bitters instead of the unavailable Kina Lillet, orange instead of lemon.  Anyway, it was staggeringly good, regardless of being nothing like the one I have made hundreds of times.  What an experience.

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  • WGB-The American Bar at The Savoy (pictured below):  Where so much of the current cocktail world started.  I was like a child in Willy Wonka’s factory at The American Bar.  The bar area was breathtaking and the cocktail list I would say, overall, was the greatest I have ever seen.  My Aviation-inspired Wingspan was beautiful and it was pure joy to sit facing the bar and take it all in.  And being able to pay $10,000 for a Sazerac made from ingredients of its 1850’s date of creation was mind-boggling.  Of course I didn’t do it, but just being at a bar where it would have been possible was as close to finding God as I’m ever going to get.

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  • imageWGB-Claridge’s Bar at Claridge’s (pictured right): Though not one of my favourite hotel bars in London, Claridge’s is nonetheless worth a visit and would stand out in most other cities as an exceptional hotel bar. The service is formal and exemplary. With a menu based in the classics, you can’t go wrong here.
  • imageBassoon Bar at Corinthia Hotel (pictured left):  The Bassoon Bar had not yet opened for the day when I stuck my head in.  The bartender, however, permitted me to look around and I was totally impressed with the look and feel of this venerable establishment.  Though the cocktail list is now on tablets, which I found a bit cheesy, the list was very impressive.  I will be back.
  • imageDorchester Hotel Bar (pictured left):  To be honest, I was disappointed with the feel and look of this bar despite being at one of London’s finest hotels.  In total contrast to the opulent beauty of the rest of the hotel, the bar looked like it had been redecorated a la 1996 with jagged red glass and silly broadloom.  Not a good feel at all.  The cocktail list, however, was impressive.
  • The Hide Bar
  • The Rivoli at The Ritz:  In keeping with many of the hotel bars in London, the actual bar at The Rivoli is very small and the seating area very tight and cozy.  It all adds up to a fine bar and well worth a visit.  The hotel itself, not surprisingly, is stunning.
  • imageHawksmoor Air Street (pictured left):  The bar is actually not much more than an enlarged hallway on one’s way into the restaurant.  Though somewhat uninspiring, it is more than made up for by what happens behind the bar.  The cocktail list is phenomenal and immediately establishes the bartending staff as extremely progressive and experimental.  The cocktail I chose was made with Dolin’s Chamberyzette, a wild strawberry-infused vermouth aperitif.  It was my first time for the product and it made for a beautiful and light afternoon cocktail.
  • Playboy Club (when Davide is behind the bar)
  • NOLA
  • imageQuo Vadis (pictured right): This bar sits at the base of a hotel and restaurant complex in Soho.  I had an incredible cocktail and was very impressed by the cocktail menu.  Very small but really worth a visit.
  • WGB-White Lyan
  • Satan’s Whiskers
  • Milk & Honey London
  • The Library Bar at The Lanesborough Hotel
  • The Green Bar at Hotel Cafe Royal
  • Lounge Bohemia
  • WGB-69 Colebrooke Row: As the sister bar to one of my all-time favourites, Bar Termini, 69 Colebrooke Row’s maintains the same simple, sous-vide approach to drink making. The theme here is film noire and as tiny and formal as Termini, this bar oozes sophistication. My floralish sparkling wine cocktail was amazing. This is a special place, well deserving of its spot on the WGB list.
  • WGB-Callooh Callay: With three separate bar areas, all very different, Callooh Callay is somewhat vast when compared to the other bars nearby. I tried both the main bar and the one upstairs, whose menu is based on emotions. The drinks I had at both were some of the best in Londond. My bartender, from my neighbourhood in Toronto, was friendly and very good at what he does. Overall, I think this is one of the best bars in London, with a great feel and outstanding drinks.
  • The Cocktail Lounge at Zetter Townhouse Clerkenwell
  • The Donovan Bar at Brown’s Hotel: I kind of stumbled upon this place while we waited to be seated for afternoon tea at the famous spot and was really impressed by the bar and cocktail menu.
  • WGB-Nightjar: (pictured left) Normally molecular bars are located in swanky, modern spaces so I was surprised to learn that Nightjar’s speakeasy surroundings housed a concept bar serving cocktails out of goose eggs and conch shells. I truly appreciate the effort that went into the drinks but, alas, I’m more of a traditionalist when it comes to drinking, and some of the frilly swagger of these types of institutions is lost on me.
  • WGB-Happiness Forgets: Though a really great cocktail bar, I’m still not entirely sure how it makes the WGB list. The place is located in the basement, and has that French wine cellar feel. The bar staff and servers are very welcoming and the drinks were really good but nothing out of this world. I’d go back, though, as it’s a nice spot.
  • WGB-Dandelyan: I’m not sure what to say about this sprawling, ultra-chic spot in the lobby of the equally ultra-chic Mondrian Hotel. Located on the Thames, the place was packed with the stylish after work crowd.  The bar menu was exceptional and diverse, almost too diverse. I think it took me half an hour to decide on a drink. Well worth a visit though.
  • Swift: This bar was recommended to me by the guys at Callooh Callay and it seemed more of a restaurant than a bar. Thirties-themed, the small cocktail menu is classics based.
  • WGB-Artesian Bar at The Langham (previously rated #1 bar in the world). (pictured below) I waited many years to visit the Artesian. But, sadly, it’s really not my kind of place. That said, I give them full marks for the stunning decor, and their over-the-top approach to drinks in a classic London hotel, and I have no idea how the bar manager ever convinced the management to let him/her introduce such a wild menu. But, drinks served in rolling glasses, clouds (with lightening no less) and hollowed out seed pods, are not really my thing. In fact, I didn’t really find them overly drinkable. Oh well, to each his own.
  • WGB-The Gibson: (pictured below) I think, overall, this is my favourite bar in London, which is saying so much. I know that because it is precisely the bar I would open if I could. A true neighbourhood establishment in every way, except that the cocktails are of the highest standard. The place oozes a welcoming, eclectic vibe, that makes you want to stay forever. The night I was there, a fifties-styled gentleman in a fedora played singalong hits on the piano in the corner. My Gibson martini (could I have ordered anything else?) arrived in a brass martini glass with house-pickled onions, and locals, drunk I imagine, danced in the aisles. Truly one of the greatest bars on earth.
  • WGB-Bar Termini: (pictured below) A tiny spot meant to emulate a lunch counter at an Italian train station, Bar Termini was a revelation, and my second favourite in the city. The servers, dressed in formal white and with thick Italian accents were wildly friendly and playful. The cocktail list, though limited, was spectacular. Their sous-vide approach to drink preparation led to one of the most interesting cockails I’ve ever experienced: Terroir. They literally attempted to recreate the effect of soil and microclimate on taste in a glass. Vodka is infused with extracts of lichen, flint and clay, resulting in a cocktail that literally tastes like the earth, but drinkable. The place was packed and lively and I sat at the bar discussing cocktails with the amazing bartenders. Such an incredible spot and so deserving of a WGB designation.
  • WGB-Oriole: The new and exciting sister bar to Nightjar, Oriole is located in a basement in an industrial area outside of the downtown core. I was there on a Sunday, meaning it was quite quiet, which I didn’t mind. As per expectations, the cocktails were spectacular, if a little overthought. The bar is backed by about a million labeled containers of ingredients. It’s hard to believe they could go through all of it in time. Live hillbilly music rounds out the tropical theme. Well worth a visit.

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