Rum is for more than just mixing with coke or muddled with mint. Whether you’re a connoisseur or keen to get more acquainted with Jack Sparrow’s favourite spirit, here’s our pick of the very best places to drink rum in the capital.
Cottons Rhum Shack
This playful homage to all things Caribbean might not take itself too seriously, but its rum list means business. Not so much a back bar as a wall cladding, the number of bottles of different rums here heads well into the hundreds with an ever-changing and growing selection. In fact, it claims to have the largest selection in the UK. Thanks to the chilled out vibes that radiate from the bar, you could even pretend you’re in the Caribbean if you try hard enough. A good few doses of rum will help with that.
Cottons can be found in Camden, Shoreditch, Vauxhall and Notting Hill
Counting many celebs and younger members of the royal family among its regulars, Mayfair’s Mahiki is high on the list of places to be seen in the capital. For a relentlessly tacky tiki bar, it takes itself a little bit too seriously for our liking. Still, fun drinks including the famed grog-filled treasure chests (around £85 a go, but will serve at least eight) and prices not too bad for the location (there are plenty of options for little more than a tenner) make it worth a drop-in if you like your rum with a bit of razzmatazz. So long as it’s not at a time when it decides to charge entrance, of course.
Mahiki, 1 Dover Street, W1S 4LD
Rum & Sugar, Docklands
Not only does this Docklands bar and restaurant stock over 100 different types of rum and know how to whip up just about any cocktail you could imagine with them, but it’s set in a converted warehouse that was originally used for storing rum that came off ships in London’s docks. More than just an atmospheric place to enjoy a few swigs, the bar also runs Rum School classes and cocktail masterclasses, which can be booked for groups of four or more.
Rum & Sugar, 1 Warehouse, West India Quay, E14 4AL
The clue is in the title of these venues in Brixton and Carnaby. Despite being full-blown Caribbean restaurants, they are also top places to enjoy a tipple of the good stuff. From mojitos and mai tais to more creative numbers, there’s no shortage of well-made and well-priced cocktails, but it’s also worth moving on to the succinct selection of rums designed for sipping — a good introduction for those who aren’t sure what to go for and who might be flummoxed by a longer list. Before you get onto the neats, make sure you try Rattle Skull Punch, though: a sublimely sweet number mixing spiced rum with apricot liqueur, passionfruit syrup, sugar cane syrup and fresh pineapple, lemon and mango juice. Shame it doesn't come with a dentist appointment.
Rum Kitchen can be found in Brixton and Carnaby
Trader Vic’s, Park Lane
Hidden away in a Park Lane hotel, this bar has been pulling punters into its Polynesian lair for over 50 years. It’s an offshoot of the California original of the same name, where Trader Vic himself is said to have first created the Mai Tai cocktail back in 1944. The list offers many a take on this classic cocktail, including the original recipe, and modernised versions. Just about every other rum punch or tiki drink you could imagine is also available, each served in its own delightfully tacky vessel. The whole space is styled as a beach bar so expect no subtlety whatsoever, but bar snacks such as sticky, slow-cooked ribs are surprisingly good.
Trader Vic's, 22 Park Lane, W1K 1BE
Trailer Happiness, Portobello Road
This kitsch and gaudy subterranean lair on Portobello Road can easily divide opinion, but it’s an absolute must-try all the same. It’s tiki all the way, so expect palm trees and cocktail umbrellas, but it’s tongue-in-cheek rather than genuinely trashy. The retro rum cocktails might seem playful, but this belies some serious quality spirits and standards. And the perfect accompaniment? The salted plantain crisps on the snack menu.
Trailer Happiness, 177 Portobello Road, W11 2DY
This shabby chic rum bar (from the guys behind Opium and 68 and Boston) feels more hip Shoreditch than swanky Mayfair, with its hotchpotch of antique furniture, mismatched wallpaper and tattooed staff. It's an intimate place, with a Havana style barber shop in the corner, where you can sip your rum from a retro dryer chair. There are 200 rums behind the counter, from all parts of the Caribbean. Try the Off the Hook, with Ron Barcelo Imperial, Martini Ambrato, Mandarin Napoleon Bitters and a slab of home-made coconut ice. Team up your drinks with some tropical-style bar snacks, like loaded nachos or prawns with mango dip.
Burlock, 31 Duke Street, W1U 1LG
Buster Mantis, Deptford
This low-key Jamaican-style bar is located under two railway arches underneath Deptford train station. It's a simple, low-lit spot where the cool kids come to tuck into boozy rum tipples. It's a short and sweet menu with a focus on Jamaican twists on classics, and a powerful rum punch. There's also an open kitchen, complete with jerk barbecue drum, made by local Jamaican guy Everton.
Buster Mantis, 3-4 Resolution Way, SE8 4NT
Merchant House, City of London
If tacky tiki isn't your bag, check out the strong 400-long rum list at the swish Merchant House off Bow Lane. (It also has an equally strong gin list — its other big focus). The cocktail menu is more like a history book, the story of British Empire, with each of the 18 cocktails representing a particular historical event or period from this time. The Cane Field Cooler, for example, represents the boom in wealth for plantation owners in the Caribbean during the 18th century.
Merchant House, 13 Well Court, EC4M 9DN
Artesian: More than 50 rums are available in the glamorous hotel bar that's been voted the world's best.
Written by Ben O'Norum and Helen Glaberson.