Looking for a cocktail with class? London has a drink to meet your needs, from elegant negronis to underground old fashioneds.
The Smoking Barrel at London Cocktail Club
A lot of the cocktails at LCC bars are a bit froufrou, doing brashly exciting rather than chic. You know, bacon-flavoured martini, caramel syrup and food colouring. But not the Smoking Barrel, a small goblet of JD single barrel, Martini Riserva, subtext of cherry from the Luxardo Maraschino, spilling hickory smoke. Flashy but chic, in a 50s Hollywood way.
The Aviation at Servant Jazz Quarters
At this small, lowlit Dalston jazz bar they use Bloom Gin, as floral as they come, maraschino and Miclo Violet spirits and lemon to make their Aviation cocktail. A soft violet colour, a bit blueish - meant to remind you of the summer sky: drink it in their tiny upstairs bar among art nouveau lamps and to the sound of jazz piano.
The King's Ginger Smash at Upstairs at the Oak
If you're willing to give up the run of the full menu in the downstairs gastropub, try Upstairs at the Oak for the tapas menu and even prettier -- and more informal -- bar. With the dark red curtains drawn and people settled into the sofas, it feels more like the drawing room of your country estate than a London pub.
For the true country estate feel you need your cocktail to be warming but powerful, comfortable but luxurious, the potable equivalent of a deep, brocade sofa. So order the King's Ginger Smash, which is all of those things: a heavy, glinting glass of King's Ginger, Rittenhouse whiskey, bitters and honey.
The Perfect Manhattan at Brasserie Zédel
Hidden behind the hustle of Picadilly Circus, this is more than French-themed, it's the full Grand Brasserie. Like the Brasserie restaurant, the cocktail bar's all high ceilings, dark wooden bar and golden detailing along art deco and beaux arts lines. The Manhattan's a drink as classic as the venue -- no fussiness, just the high ABV of whisky, the sweetness to the vermouth and the edge to the bitters.
The Negroni Superiore at Bar Termini
Props to this Soho bar for making a drink that packs this much power yet looks so delicate. Bar Termini offer four sorts of negroni, all bottle-aged and served in tiny, stemmed glasses roughly the size of a sherry glass. It feels inherently more civilised than drinking it in larger amounts, but don't let that lull you into a false sense of safety: a drink where the only mixer is... other alcohol... is never going to be soft. Small and compellingly lovely.
The Singer Old Fashioned at the Singer Tavern 5cc Bar
All the 5cc bars offer a good cocktail list in lovely, unexpected locations, taking over basements and attics of existing pubs. The one underneath the Singer Tavern, where City Road meets Worship Street, does a great Old Fashioned, elegantly balanced -- but unorthdox -- with its mix of aged bourbon, rye whiskey, calvados and cognac. As it's a 5cc bar the elegance runs to the glasses, the lowlit bar and curved leather seats -- chic like you usually just read about in noir-ish Raymond Chandler.
The Espresso Martini at the Barbican Martini Bar
Bitter espresso, small-batch vodka, martini glasses, brutalist architecture and high art. It's like the Barbican Martini Bar has taken all the most urbane tropes they could think of and fused them into this one cocktail. Drink your rich, black, night-owl alcohol in the interval at the theatre or after an evening of limited-release arthouse films.