Discovering why London has become the mixology capital of the world

Hitting the London cocktail scene and discovering just why the city has become the mixology capital of the world

  • From swanky hotel bars to mixology hotspots in alleyways, there’s been a cocktail renaissance in London
  • 10 London bars this week made The World’s 50 Best Bars ranking, with four of them in the top 10 
  • Sara Nathan flew into London from New York to test the UK capital’s cocktail concocting prowess

Here New York-based writer Sara Nathan swaps the Big Apple for the fruits of London’s cocktail scene. And she’s mightily impressed…

When you think of nights out in London, you may think of sipping a warm beer at the pub followed by dinner at one of the capital’s myriad curry houses.

But the city is thriving with some of the world’s best cocktail bars, some of which are hidden jewels – literally, in some cases you’ll really have to hunt to find them.

Sara imbibed at the American Bar in London's Savoy hotel, pictured. It's ranked No2 in the world this year

Sara imbibed at the American Bar in London’s Savoy hotel, pictured. It’s ranked No2 in the world this year

The cocktails at the American Bar almost count as works of art. This one is called Curtain Call

The cocktails at the American Bar almost count as works of art. This one is called Curtain Call

The American Bar is one of the world's swankiest watering holes

The American Bar is one of the world’s swankiest watering holes

From the swankiest hotel bars to mixology hotspots tucked down cobbled alleyways, there’s been a cocktail renaissance – and it’s no wonder that 10 London bars this week made The World’s 50 Best Bars ranking, with four of them in the top 10 (see boxout).

We flew into London this week from New York for the Virgin Atlantic-sponsored London Cocktail Week, to test the UK capital’s cocktail concocting prowess for ourselves – and we weren’t disappointed.

We landed on a sunny day, the kind of day that cries out for a glass of champagne to get your trip started. So it was off to the very posh Savoy hotel, where we sipped bubbly while overlooking the River Thames in the £17,000-a-night (yes, I know!) Royal Suite.

Then we witnessed Maxim Schulte, the newly appointed head of the famous art deco American Bar (ranked No2 in the world this year), rustling up some alcoholic amazingness.

As Maxim got to work, he told us the story of how the bar’s cocktail, First Impressions – featuring Bombay Sapphire gin, yuzu, wine, white pepper with St-Germain elderflower liqueur, Champagne, cordial and jasmine oil – is based on an iconic Terry O’Neill shot of Elizabeth Taylor sharing a cigarette with David Bowie, who had turned up for their first meeting in Beverly Hills more than a little inebriated and having partaken in a few illegal substances.

Needless to say that Bowie, who had been summoned by Dame Elizabeth to talk about an upcoming movie, didn’t get the role.

Then it was on to dinner at Cub in Hoxton, East London.

It was launched by Doug McMaster of Brighton’s pioneering zero-waste restaurant Silo and Ryan Chetiyawardana, the genius behind White Lyan and Dandelyan – which has just been named the world’s best bar. It received the accolade just a couple of days after Chetiyawardana announced it would close down and be reinvented.

Every course was teamed with a cocktail by New York bar Blacktail (voted best new bar 2017) and we then tripped out deeper into East London to Coupette in Bethnal Green, ranked No18 in the world this year. It was precisely as dark and romantic as you would hope. And I have to recommend the Champagne pina coladas.

Once recovered the next day, we went traditionally British at Hubbard & Bell at The Hoxton hotel and tried the cockle popcorn followed by fish and chips complete with mushy peas.

It was lucky that we had eaten well as it was then on to the London Cocktail Week’s cocktail village in the heart of Brick Lane in the East End, where we tried everything from a traditional Sidecar thanks to Rémy Martin and Cointreau, to a hot chocolate with marshmallows and whiskey.

Sara had dinner at Cub in Hoxton, East London. It was launched by Doug McMaster of Brighton’s pioneering zero-waste restaurant Silo and Ryan Chetiyawardana, the genius behind White Lyan and Dandelyan (pictured) - which has just been named the world’s best bar

Sara had dinner at Cub in Hoxton, East London. It was launched by Doug McMaster of Brighton’s pioneering zero-waste restaurant Silo and Ryan Chetiyawardana, the genius behind White Lyan and Dandelyan (pictured) – which has just been named the world’s best bar

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    Virgin Atlantic has recently teamed up with Hollywood heartthrob Ryan Reynolds to ensure the actor’s new brand, Aviation Gin, will be supplied throughout flights and in clubhouses around the world. (Watch Richard Branson mistakenly call the Deadpool star ‘Bryan’ in a promotional video for the partnership.)

    And at Virgin’s ‘Cocktail in the Clouds’ pop-up bar Aviation cocktails were served.

    I loved the hibiscus gin and tonic. As part of Virgin’s ‘Barmada’ I was lucky enough to travel on a flight to the UK where bartenders from New York’s brilliant Dead Rabbit bar (No16 in the world) personally mixed and served up Aviation cocktails – which totally ensured a great, if not slightly drunken, flight.

    Coupette in Bethnal Green, ranked No18 in the world this year, was precisely as dark and romantic as you would hope, writes Sara

    Coupette in Bethnal Green, ranked No18 in the world this year, was precisely as dark and romantic as you would hope, writes Sara

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      LONDON’S 10 WORLD-BEATING BARS 

      At The World’s 50 Best Bars awards on October 3, held at the Roundhouse in Camden, North London, 10 of those on 2018’s list are based in London.

      The Connaught Bar was named fifth best, and deserves special mention, since it was also awarded the 2018 Heering Legend of the List.

      Meanwhile, four new London bars have entered the top 50: Coupette (also winner of the Best New Opening Award), Scout, Three Sheets and Swift, cementing London’s status as the cocktail capital of the world.

      The 10 London bars and their ranking: Dandelyan (1st place), American Bar (2nd place), Connaught Bar (5th place), Bar Termini (6th place), Oriole (17th place), Coupette (18th place), Scout (28th place), Three Sheets (29th place), Happiness Forgets (35th place), Swift (46th place).

       Visit www.worlds50bestbars.com for more.

      We also popped into bars The Napoleon House and The Cocktail Trading Co., where cocktails came in bottles smuggled into paper bags printed with ‘Hoochie Mama’. But by far my favorite was TT Liquor in Shoreditch, East London.

      At first glance you walk into a liquor store – but walk a few steps through the store, which is housed in a building that dates back to 1837, and you’re transported into a bar made out of cells where criminals waiting to be seen at the nearby magistrates’ court were held.

      You can nestle into cells – where instead of iron bars there are bottles of booze – and there’s a tunnel that originally led to the court, but which is now closed up. Dimly lit, with booths made out of red leather, it’s a place to sit for hours. 

      After sipping the best cocktails that London has to offer there was only one thing for it – and that was to test the tastiest and most famous salt beef bagels in all of London at Beigel Bake at 159 Brick Lane.

      It’s a place that’s popular with black-cab drivers and we watched a line of them munching away outside.

      Nothing really could be more London.

      TRAVEL FACTS 

      Virgin’s latest JFK to London Heathrow fares: Lead in fare is USD502.

      Travel: 25 October – 13 December, 2018. Minimum stay: 1 Sunday. Sale ends: 30 October, 2018. 

      For more on London Cocktail Week visit drinkup.london/cocktailweek.

       

       

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