The Best Craft Cocktail Bars in London

London is home to, arguably, the world’s most progressive cocktail culture. Its bars dominate “best of” lists, and bartenders from all over the globe come here to earn their stripes. As the UK’s diners become increasingly serious about what they eat, taking issues of provenance and craft into consideration, equal attention is being given to what they’re drinking. Cocktail bars are full of locally foraged ingredients, artisan spirits and housemade infusions. And cocktails are no longer preserved for special occasions or hotel lobbies, but enjoyed alongside a meal or at a corner bar. From intimate and seductive speakeasies to relaxed neighborhood joints to shrines of molecular wizardry, this is where to find some of the best cocktails in the world. —Tyler Wetherall

  • 1

    69 Colebrooke Row

    The glowing lantern on a quiet Islington backstreet signals the intimate mood at 69 Colebrooke Row. It's half 1950s Italian café, and half Federico Fellini film with gentle jazz and attentive suited staff making exacting drinks behind the bar. The cornerstone to Tony Conigliaro's lauded cocktail empire, Colebrooke Row's reputation may precede it, but in its essence it's just a quiet little bar serving the best drinks you've ever had.

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    KNOWN FOR

    • live music
    • bar food
    • craft cocktails
  • 2

    The Cocktail Trading Co.

    One of the growing crop of experimental London cocktail bars, The Cocktail Trading Co. is the handiwork of three veteran London bartenders. While there are plenty of well-executed classics to be had, the bar's eccentric streak is the real draw. Here they serve drinks in everything from Chinese take-out boxes to rain boots to trash cans garnished with Sesame Street’s Elmo.

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    KNOWN FOR

    • craft cocktails
    • live music
    • low wine markups
  • 3

    Callooh Callay

    “O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay! He chortled in his joy.” Anyone familiar with Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky will approach this bar primed for playfulness. A surreal mishmash of styles with lounge seating, retro disco tunes and gold-framed family photos, this bar still churns out consistent drinks and friendly service after years on the scene. The menu changes twice yearly, and is always a marvel; past incarnations have included an "oyster card"’—the London metro card—which unfolded into an 18-recipe-strong feat of cocktail imagination.

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    KNOWN FOR

    • bar food
    • full menu
    • craft cocktails
    • outdoor / patio
  • 4

    Experimental Cocktail Club

    ECC's original Parisian location kickstarted the contemporary bar scene in Paris and shockwaves were felt throughout Europe. Its second location in London occupies three floors of a Chinatown townhouse designed to be seductive and quirky, with stylishly decrepit Chesterfield sofas, an antique kissing chair, teapot lampshades and ornate chandeliers. The entirely French staff maintains an air of effortless sophistication, and cocktails are naturally outstanding, though—compared with bars today—not actually all that experimental.

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    KNOWN FOR

    • craft cocktails
  • 5

    Happiness Forgets

    While the rest of Hoxton Square is awash with the mainstream Shoreditch masses, Happiness Forgets remains a bastion of civilized drinking headed up by luminary Alastair Burgess and DJ Andy Bird. In an unmarked bunker beneath a restaurant, the décor is simple (bare brick, a handful of tables, onion lamps, a few Polaroids of wild nights) because the focus here is on the drinks. Without fail you’ll be greeted warmly by the bartenders who—despite a ratio of 50 customers per—still have time for a bit of banter before whipping out a perfect drink.

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    KNOWN FOR

    • craft cocktails
  • 6

    Hawksmoor

    The Hawksmoor, a steakhouse founded in East London, built its reputation on bone marrow burgers, grilled meats and cocktails. Since opening in 2006, it has expanded to other locations and added a vaulted basement cocktail bar with antique mirrors, chemistry lab tables and a shining copper bar top. Dubbed Spitalfields Bar, after the surrounding district, it serves meaty snacks like pig’s head poutine alongside its seasonal drinks.

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    KNOWN FOR

    • bar food
    • full menu
    • craft cocktails
    • good wine
    • day drinking
    • lots of rum
    • lots of whiskey
    • lots of tequila / mezcal
  • 7

    London Cocktail Club

    A club only in name (no membership is required), London Cocktail Club's original location is a punk gin palace outfitted with graffitied images of swallows and wenches, shelves of dusty books and a snack menu offering "food porn" in B-movie poster format. Nothing is taken too seriously here, which is half the pleasure. Owners JJ Goodman and James Hopkins rose to fame after winning BBC’s The Restaurant with Raymond Blanc, so the cocktail focus is gastronomic, but not fussy. The prices are low, while the standards remain high.

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    KNOWN FOR

    • bar food
    • craft cocktails
    • cheap date
  • 8

    Lounge Bohemia

    Lounge Bohemia can be visited by appointment only with—ironically—a strict no-suit, no-office-wear policy. The unmarked door is like a porthole into 1970s Czechoslovakia with antique furniture from top hat-wearing owner Paul Tvaroh’s private collection. Bohemia is an eccentric take on the speakeasy, and aesthetic credentials aside, it was doing molecular cocktails long before many others in London, thanks to teetotaler Tvaroh’s culinary background.

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    KNOWN FOR

    • craft cocktails
  • 9

    Milk & Honey

    The late Sasha Petraske's NYC original ignited the neo-speakeasy craze worldwide, and in 2002 its UK equivalent opened. With no signage and only a subtle entry bell, it still feels secret, intimate and seductive. If accompanied by a member, access to the Red Room—where a frozen ice block is carved and chipped throughout the evening—is granted. Make friends fast, and play by the house rules. They’re strict.

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    KNOWN FOR

    • bar food
    • craft cocktails
    • good wine
    • outdoors / patio
  • 10

    Nightjar

    Behind an inconspicuous wooden door, tucked between two junk food shops on the chaotic Old Street roundabout, is Nightjar. The moodily lit basement bar harkens back to jazz-era clubs with a pressed tin ceiling, mirrored friezes and nightly bands playing everything from boogie-woogie barrelhouse to Delta blues. Bartenders serve drinks that are divided by historical epoch, as well as Nightjar Signatures that employ a range of exotic ingredients, like plankton air, Riaženka (Lithuanian fermented milk) and (once) whale skin. The garnishes are equally flamboyant, including conch shells, flaming honeycomb, dry ice and a ...

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    KNOWN FOR

    • craft cocktails
    • bar food
    • live music
  • 11

    NOLA

    A love letter to the city that gave us the Sazerac, Dan Priseman’s NOLA is a pocket of Southern hospitality in Shoreditch. Located above Rivington Street’s Bedroom Bar, it’s not an obvious find. With slow spinning fans, Parisian café tables and tropical foliage, there is an easy translation of the French Quarter, whose sentiment is expressed in the drinks, where New Orleans classics rule.

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    KNOWN FOR

    • live music
    • craft cocktails
    • singles scene
    • outdoor / patio
    • tiki
    • dancing
  • 12

    Satan's Whiskers

    This brilliant Benthal Green neighborhood bar with bad boy attitude is decked out with taxidermy, including a cigarette-smoking monkey and a stout with a jaw-dropping vegetable appendage. And just on the right side of naughty, it's friendly with a strictly hip-hop soundtrack for the young crowd that populates its seats.  The drinks are hard hitting, and a welcome surprise from such a low-key venue; the food is excellent, too. In short, the locals are lucky.

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    KNOWN FOR

    • cheap date
    • full menu
    • bar food
    • craft cocktails
  • 13

    Trailer Happiness

    This brilliant little tiki den has kept Notting Hill's drinkers happy for over a decade. An oddball world filled with psychedelic kitsch, Tretchikoff prints, shag piles and beanbags, the rum-focused bar delivers drinks with theatrics verging on absurd. At any moment a flaming cocktail served in a sombrero or a skull might be slid across the bar. Trailer's dim sum service is equally as delightful with rum cocktails in place of tea service.

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    KNOWN FOR

    • bar food
    • craft cocktails
    • tiki
    • lots of rum
  • 14

    White Lyan

    Truly radical, White Lyan pushes the boundaries of what we've come to expect from a cocktail bar. There’s not a shaker or an ice cube in sight. In fact, there are no perishables—including juices—or spirit brands. The brilliant Ryan Chetiyawardana and his team make everything in-house, including their own Mr. Lyan spirits. An enormous amount of preparation goes into each drink, which is entirely pre-batched. There is also no backbar to speak of, just rows of Mr Lyan’s branded bottles frosting in the refrigerator. The rest of the space is equally minimal: black walls, illuminated panels, chrome furniture and, a bit ...

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    KNOWN FOR

    • craft cocktails

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