“Don’t bother with churches, government buildings or city squares.
If you want to know about a culture, spend a night in its bars.”
– Earnest Hemingway
From the plush environs of a classic hotel bar to deliciously-clandestine speakeasies – drinking destinations in London have always offered a fascinating lens into our life and times. Here are the darlings currently on the scene – the trendy boltholes which are as as much about the experience and their enchanting environs, as the immaculate cocktails they promise…
The Coral Room
So named after the vivid coral hues that wallpaper this capacious cocktail bar – The Coral Room is a brightly-attractive bolthole in the heart of Bloomsbury. The vivacious palette presents a captivating canvas to showcase the quirky artworks of the illustrator Luke Edward Hall; while the Murano glass chandeliers, marble-drenched bar and antique mirroring are a joy to drink in too!
Sparkling wine enthusiasts can raise a toast to the impressively-extensive menu (one of the longest in London!); while the cocktails are nothing short of a vivacious joy. My favourite – The Copper Alley – sees Hayman’s Old Tom, Pisco and Aperol combined with lime juice, egg white and lavender syrup to a velvety effect, embellished with a delicate sprig of lavender. Snacks and small plates are surprisingly substantive, spanning the likes of Lobster Mac n Cheese and a deceptively-delicate Welsh Rarebit that is really a gloriously-greasy pleasure. It’s a good thing then that there’s no dearth of cosily plush armchairs to sink back into afterwards.
The Coral Room, Bloomsbury Hotel, 16-22 Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3NN
News that the folks behind The Palomar were taking over the site of The Blue Posts (a pub in Chinatown tracing its origins back to 1739) – was met with as much intrigue as excitement. The ensuing results have certainly lived up to the hype, manifesting in a sleek pub on the ground floor; and a cocktail lounge upstairs – The Mulwray – named after Faye Dunaway’s character in Chinatown.
The wonderfully-inviting lair – complete with a snug and soft velvets – is subtly reminiscent of the stylish bars in Paris. The tipples are suitably beguiling, while the bar menu is helmed by the executive chef at The Barbary – so you can definitely expect good things to eat too! Read the full review, here.
The Blue Posts, 28 Rupert St, London W1D 6DJ
Further in Fitzrovia, the Mandrake Hotel has cast a bewitching spell on Londoners. Botanical inspirations take root in hanging gardens of jasmine and passion vines encircling the central courtyard; not to mention the potent, plant-based twists to the cocktails (featuring the likes of rhubarb cordial and sea buckthorn tincture!).
Quite possibly the new Chiltern Firehouse, the haute scene is very much a parade of people-watching too… that is, if you can tear your eyes away from the haunting piece of taxidermy jumping out from behind the bar, an illustrative metaphor of a peacock transmogrifying into a gazelle… Full review, here.
Mandrake Hotel, 20 – 21 Newman Street, London W1T 1PG
Of course, loyalists would remain faithful to the original trend-setter Chiltern Firehouse, which is as painfully-cool today as the day it was launched by André Balazs (the American hotelier behind the iconic Chateau Marmont).
I’ll level with you: the languidly laid-back tone is matched by service that is shockingly-slow to the point of being ineffectual. You won’t find yourself minding too much though, as it’s just the excuse needed to linger that little while longer, cosseted by the flickering flames in your cosy corner.
Chiltern Firehouse, 1 Chiltern Street,Marylebone, London W1U 7PA
Chess Club London
And then of course, there are the plethora of private member clubs – the original watering holes as it were, where the city’s gentry have typically sought the familiar company of their peers.
Recently opened by the avant-garde Experimental Group, The Chess Club distinctly bucks tradition with their more democratic approach to membership (favouring a roster of dynamic individuals), Jackson Boxer’s nuanced take on club fare; and the elevated role of cocktails which are charged with the creative craftsmanship of mixologist Musa Ozgül. The seductively titled “Our Man in Paris” is particularly compelling with its combination of Pierre Ferrand 1840 Cognac and champagne Billecart laced with orgeat, honey, lemon juice and mint!
Chess Club, 1A Chesterfield Street, W1 London
More bars to whet your whistle in London, here.