Over the holidays last year, between Thanksgiving and Christmas--just before the start of 2020—when life as we now know it was completely different, I spent a week in London—a city that is easily an imbiber’s nirvana.
While London pubs, short for public houses, are beloved, the city’s famous cocktail culture is just as important to London life. The way the locals see it, the pubs are for day drinking and proper cocktail bars are for the evening. Bars have thrived for centuries in London, which every year is always the city with the most bars on the prestigious World’s 50 Best Bars list.
London, especially with its posh hotel bars, is the epicenter of the modern-day handcraft cocktail craze. Its bartenders have graduated from being London mixologists to running groundbreaking cocktail programs all over the world.
On one particular overcast Sunday afternoon, I enjoyed a world class drinking extravaganza. It was the highlight of my trip; a highlight of 2019; and just one of the best damn drinking days I’ve ever had.
I started my libation adventure at Connaught Bar, named the 2019 Best Bar in Europe. A chic hotel bar, the small space was unfortunately overrun with over-privileged children on this day, just after the weekend’s theater matinee. That was a problem. But the bar is also home to world class cocktails under the guidance of Ago Perrone, the hotel’s director of mixology, and that was a good thing.
Must-have cocktails include Perrone’s famously reimagined Bloody Mary peppered with homemade spices and remarkable celery air. Another recommended cocktail is Perrone’s award-winning Mulata Daisy, a modern take on the classic Mulata Daiquiri, made with Bacardi Superior Rum, freshly squeezed lime juice, caster sugar, fennel seeds, dark crème de cacao liqueur and Galliano L'Autentico.
Not to be outdone, Perrone’s Number 11 is an embellished Vesper martini made on a vintage trolley and blends the bar's own house-made gin with vodka, Martini Ambrato, Amalfi lemon oil and five bitters, including ginseng, bergamot and lavender. Another bar favorite is the Gate No. 1, which is a blend of spirits, wines and jam, including Old Duff Genever, Fords Gin, Lagavulin 16 Whisky, Belsazar Red Vermouth, David Douband pinot noir, milk jam, and strawberry tulsi kombucha, garnished with a dark chocolate gate. It’s the impressive attention to detail and the superior customer service that will elevate your drinking experience here. It was a boozy visit but I wanted to maximize my time at the prestigious bar.
My next stop was the storied American Bar at the Savoy Hotel. This is what I was looking forward to the most during my London visit.
Perhaps the most prestigious bar in the world, the American Bar opened in 1893 and is the oldest surviving cocktail bar in Britain. According to the powers that be, the term American bar refers to a bar serving mixed or ‘American’ style drinks, more commonly known as cocktails. Named 2017’s World’s Best Bar on the World’s 50 Best Bars list it was also named 2018’s World’s Best at Tales of the Cocktail.
A swanky piano bar, the drinks are pricey even by British standards but anyone with a passion for cocktails doesn’t seem to mind too much. The ‘I Love You’ is billed as a “sharing cocktail.” This lovely liquid duet comes with a rum drink made with Bacardi Heritage Rum, Cocchi Torino Vermouth, Ruby Port, Coconut Campari, Supasawa (a crystal-clear sour mixer), and Rhum Agricole alongside a gin drink made with Bombay Sapphire Gin, Old Duff Genever, Empirical Spirits Fallen Pony, Verjus, egg white, and citrus husk syrup. It also comes with a pen, stationary and an envelope. You write a letter to anyone in the world and the bar will mail it for you. Sure, it costs £50 (roughly $64 USD) but it’s the fine and meticulous attention to detail that creates a memorable experience instead of just an ordinary drink. A big ‘thank you’ by my wonderful bartender Federico.
I wanted everything on the menu but that would have made me penny less. Again, I probably overdid it but I wanted to make the most of my time and experience. Another hotel bar, it’s not the liveliest of settings but the drinks, the service, and the attention to detail are beyond comparison. Surprisingly, not only were my expectations met, they were beyond exceeded.
I should have called it a night at this point but I opted to get some fresh air and walk 2.5 miles to Lyaness at the Sea Containers hotel. It’s not too long of a walk from the Savoy, but good luck easily finding Lyaness as it is located below street level. Who knew? But here’s all you need to know about Lyaness—it is the updated and rebranded Dandelyan (named World’s Best Bar in 2018), which means to lovers of world class cocktails that it is worth the effort to find. In its first year, Lyaness was named the #39 bar in the world. It is also unlike any other London hotel bar. This isn’t a prim and proper nor stuffy hotel bar, it’s chic and posh and borderline clubby inside. Overlooking the Thames, Lyaness is the offspring of award-winning Ryan Chetiyawardana AKA Mr. Lyan whose goal is straightforward.
“We’ve hoped to create a cocktail bar that goes beyond the simple focus of what’s in your glass.”
Here you can enjoy well-crafted cocktails in a fun and lively setting without the fear that you have to be quiet or tame. Be as bold and daring as the drinks you’re savoring.
Yes, drinking in London is as good as it gets. And my drinking adventure on this one fine December day was one for the record books. I would happily do it all over again if it were possible. Who knows when I’ll return to London? But when I finally do get the opportunity to revisit, I will definitely want to relive this splendid experience.