Welcome to our new Best Bars series, seeking out the finest drinking establishments across all of London.
From mother’s ruin to London Dry, our city has always had a special connection with gin, and is known for it around the world. This is where to drink it.
Tucked away beneath Antico restaurant, you could be forgiven for thinking that Prohibition had come to town. But this bare-brick, low-lit hideaway is not an illegal drinking den at all, rather another slice of classy cool for the ever-evolving Bermondsey area. More than 50 varieties of gin are available here and there’s a number of ‘gin-flights’ to help you taste the spectrum. Perhaps most exciting of all, though, is the homemade tonic. Made with specially imported quinine, it has a robust but unobtrusive taste that is earthier and edgier than the Schweppes we’re used to; it also very slightly glows in the low light. Pair the tonic with a measure of Bermondsey’s Jensen gin for a G&T experience made entirely in SE1.
City of London Distillery Bar
What could be better than drinking gin in the very distillery where it’s been made? Well, how about this distillery bar that as well as stocking its own gin also stocks over 175 other gins or gin products from London, the UK and beyond. The bartenders here know how to knock-up a good cocktail with the stuff, too: expect creative takes on classic numbers to be served short and strong, in delightful vintage glasses. Meat and cheese platters and other very decent nibbles are available to line the stomach. If you plan on visiting regularly, you’ll want to join the ‘Connoisseurs’ Collective’, which costs £50 a year but gives you benefits including 50% off food bills, 10% off total bills every Monday, and free shot-sized tasters of the neat gin when ordering a cocktail or G&T that it goes in.
There are over 180 different gins available at this buzzy Soho bar, putting it at the top of London’s leaderboard. If you’re in the market for a G&T or gin martini, you’ll be spoilt for choice, but the bartenders will gladly whip you up just about any gin-based cocktail you can or can’t name. The signature serves are the paint tin punches: pick from the party-sized red, yellow, green or pink buckets, each one comes filled with 2.5 litres of a different gin punch and straws for sharing for £36. Showing a complete dedication to all things gin, Graphic also run the Juniper Society every second monday of the month when there are gin-based tastings and talks as well as the occasional free cocktail.
This restaurant that’s lightly-themed as a hip Jewish deli is as cool as you’d expect given that it was created by Russell Norman, who also owns Polpo. There’s a list of more than 20 premium gins (and a budget Tesco value option when we visited), while at least nine gin cocktails firmly dominate its drinks menu. Try a Gin Sour or a Gimlet, or go off-menu and ask the bar team to whip something special up. Eat salt beef sandwiches, sliders or mac ‘n’ cheese while you drink.
The Portobello Star
Another venue that doesn’t just serve gin, but makes it as well: Portobello Road No. 171 gin is distilled upstairs. Naturally, there’s plenty of cocktails made using the stuff, along with other gins from around the world (and a good selection of other spirits). Going one step further, The Portobello Star also runs The Ginstitute, a kind of experiential museum devoted to gin. A £100 ticket includes a cocktail reception, a 40-minute-odd talk on the long and London-y history of gin, and the opportunity to head to the distillery room to taste botanicals and blend whichever ones you want together in order to create your very own gin. Making the price feel much more reasonable than on first glance, you’ll leave with not only a 700ml bottle of your own creation, but also a bottle of Portobello Gin.
The Star At Night
The good folk at this fun Soho bar love gin so much that they launched The London Gin Club a couple of years ago. We wrote about it here, and it’s still going strong offering members’ perks such as invitations to gin-themed events and a loyalty card scheme (collect 9 stamps for a £5 voucher). If you’re not a member, you can still pop-in to make the most of a menu that overflows with more than 120 fine gins, including some from the 50s, 60s and 70s; try the ‘gin jaunts’ G&T flights where you can taste different gins matched with their perfect partners in the form of different tonics and garnishes of herbs, fruits and flowers. Though the drinks list is every inch appropriate of a bar, the atmosphere and look of the place (including walls lined with old advertising signs) is much more pub. We like that.
Worship Street Whistling Shop
Styled on a Victorian gin palace, this characterful low-lit bar on the fringes of Shoreditch may do a decent line in most spirits, but gin is close to its heart. There’s a list of more than 30 varieties, with several lesser-known numbers from the Netherlands (the original birthplace of gin, in the form of jenever) sitting alongside those from closer to home. While they’ll whip-up any classic cocktail you please, the skills of the bartenders here are best shown-off in their modern, experimental specials.
This plush Mayfair hotel bar was frequented by Ian Fleming and is said to be the inspiration for Bond’s classic ‘shaken not stirred’ line. A martini here will set you back around twenty quid.
There’s always a punch-packing gin punch on the go at this sleek and cool downstairs bar beneath Soho’s Hix restaurant.
The Negroni bars at both Smithfield and Soho branches are among the best spots in town to sup this classic gin-based cocktail.