Can London ever be the European capital of cocktail? With Paris and Rome opening eccentric new bars, how is London competing as hidden Speakeasy and den bars replace traditional pubs… here are six of the best!
Paris has its Experimental Cocktail Club which is also a ‘Cocktail Hotel.’ It prides itself on being difficult to find, reminiscent of a 1930s Speakeasy. In Rome the Gerry Thomas Project is changing the way the way wine-loving Italians drink with emphasis on the rediscovery of forgotten Italian spirits –classic pre-Prohibition drinks with an Italian touch.
I set off in search of London’s secret drinking dens and found the city’s latest gem at Milroy’s whisky bar in Soho’s Greek Street. The first of its kind, it is the oldest whisky specialist and shop in London. (Even before Milroy brothers took over in 1964 the space had been used as a liquor shop) Milroy’s recently re opened its doors and these days features not just an atmospheric whisky bar and shop but houses a secret basement cocktail bar, The Vault, down stairs hidden behind a bookcase. This lends itself to the Speakeasy atmosphere, and in the corner of the dark cavernous bar barman Natolino was concocting a brew using smoke, brightly coloured liquids and a magical flick of his wrist. It was the Smoking Gun, one of the bar’s signature cocktails. Natolino smoked a cocktail glass ready for a heady mix of straight corn whisky, Oloroso sherry, and Earl Grey and brown sugar.
Over on Regent Street the Club Café Royal may look like an old-school lounge bar but its cocktails are breaking the mould. Here bartender Tiziano was setting out his summer cocktail stall and clearing out the winter warmers designed to make us ignore drizzly grey London such as Forget Winter (Jamaica rum, pineapple, sage syrup and coconut) and bringing in long, fruity fragrant summer cocktails reminiscent of tennis and drinks on the lawn.
Under the supervision of bar manager Milos Popovic, both bars at the newly renovated Quaglino’s in St James’ serve a variety of innovative drinks which use new techniques and reference Quaglino’s 1930’s heritage with several champagne cocktails; the Prince of Wales being a signature mix.
A glass of blood red liquid topped with an oyster may not be your idea of a lunchtime tipple or an after work reviver. But the Bloody Mary Oyster Shooter is one of many new cocktails on offer at The Richmond near Hackney - also home to East London’s first and only raw bar serving several types of oysters and clams.
The cocktail bar at Craft London is a destination in its own right, with its outdoor terrace and quintessentially English view of the Greenwich Peninsula Garden’s meadow, orchard, smoke house and bee hives, as well as the Thames and Canary Wharf. Barman Adam Wyatt has put together a list that focuses on sourcing small batch British products like fruit liquors from Wiltshire and Cider Brandy from Julian Temperley.
Last of all I headed to Coya, London’s first Peruvian restaurant and bar in Piccadilly, where barrel aged pisco is used to create its signature pisco sour and classic cocktails. These are given a Latin American twist and include the “Negroni in Lima”, a pisco-based aged Negroni. The lemon and chilli Margarita looks weird, but tastes great