The Best Bars in London

Whether you choose to spend your evening at a humble pub or at a bespoke cocktail lounge at one of the city’s finest hotels, London offers drinkers far more than a pint of bitters. Find the scene you seek, be it classic or newly minted, at one of these favorite London bars.

10 Shepherd Market, Mayfair, London W1J 7QF, UK
Kitty Fisher’s is the antithesis to the New York exposed brick brand of cool. Named after a Georgian courtesan, this tiny restaurant in Mayfair is rather a wood-clad room flickering with candles and exuding a intimate, “make yourself at home” vibe. The food is some of the best in London: the original chef, Tomos Parry, won the Young British Foodie award during his tenure, and his successor George Barson, formerly of the River Cottage, continues to surprise with innovative dishes cooked on the wood grill. If you can’t get a booking, fear not: a second restaurant, Cora Pearl, named for a 19th-century courtesan this time, recently opened on Covent Garden’s Henrietta Street.
35 Saint James's Place
You can only drink two martinis at the hotel bar at Dukes Hotel in Mayfair. The bartenders won’t serve you any more—that’s how potent they are. This is the place to come in London if you secretly wish you were a member of a gentlemen’s club, and if you want a martini made with all the fanfare—the drinks trolley brought to your table, the bottle, straight from the freezer, shaken as you sit and watch. There are cheaper places to drink, that’s for sure, but do they have green leather armchairs and white-jacketed bartenders and portraits of distinguished 19th-century gentlemen looking at you approvingly from the walls? There’s also a cognac and cigar garden.
63 Worship St, Shoreditch, London EC2A 2DU, UK
This dark, downstairs bar, formerly called Whistling Shop, intimately recreates the gin palaces of the early Victorian era. And while the decor is faithful to the era, the cocktails offer a modern twist on the old classics: there’s even an in-house steampunkish laboratory where the mixologists create their intriguing concoctions. “Drunk For a Penny, Dead Drunk for Two Pence, Straw for Free,” offers the menu, with a wry wink to the promises made to customers at the height of the gin craze and memoralized in William Hogarth’s illustration Gin Lane.
44-46 Cranbourn St, London WC2H 7AN, UK
Drinks in London’s West End rarely come cheap. Even less so in the crowded environs of Leicester Square, but if you find yourself in the area, there’s a quiet, reasonably priced refuge known as the Cork and Bottle. It’s a basement level wine bar, and most people walk straight past its frontage (between a ticket agency and a pizza stall) without even noticing it. Down its metal spiral staircase, the cosy bar serves a great list of wines from around $5.50 a glass (as well as by the carafe and the bottle), and alongside an interesting menu it does a fabulous cheese platter (your choice from an extensive selection).
47 Chandos Pl, Charing Cross, London WC2N 4HS, UK
London is famous all over the world for its thousands of pubs. In fact, there are so many of them, it can be hard to pick out the lousy ones from the ones that are absolutely fantastic. The Harp is the latter. It’s small, it’s intimate, it’s beautifully decorated, and its focus is “real ale, real cider and real conversation.” It won the London Cider Pub last year. Don’t be fooled by its tiny size. Here, quality far outweighs quantity. If the ground floor appears to be full, go have a look upstairs, grab a seat, and enjoy your drink.
58 Poland St, Soho, London W1F 7NR, UK
Some of the most intriguing cocktails in London can be found at Jason Atherton’s bars in Soho: Social Eating House, Pollen Street Social, and the newly opened Newman Street Tavern. That’s thanks to Gareth Evans, officially crowned the best bartender in the UK in 2013, who likes a drink that will make you smile even as it makes you a bit tipsy. Hence the thermonuclear daiquiri, one of the brightest and most potent drinks on the menu at SEH, which has also become one of the hottest places to drink in London. I also love the Nightwatchman—a drink inspired by the sport of cricket, which comes complete with its own cricket bat-stirrer—and the Cereal Killer, which comes in an old-fashioned milk bottle. You cannot help but have a good time here.
22 Great Chapel Street
Julia Forte turned the Star At Night pub, an old fashioned boozer in the heart of Soho, in the London Gin Club in 2012, when she decided to start specialising in her favourite tipple: gin. Now, her bijou bar is home to 350 premium gins, including those from small-batch producers and microdistilleries, one of the largest selections in the city—and she knows just the right way to serve them all. If you want to drink the best gin and tonic of your life, while chatting to someone who cares about that spirit passionately (and eating some rather good antipasti), seek Julia’s place out. Just make sure you book first—it’s table seating only, and it’s a rather popular spot.
More from AFAR
Sign up for our newsletter
Join more than a million of the world’s best travelers. Subscribe to the Daily Wander newsletter.
AFAR Journeys
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
National Parks