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Grand hotels, elegant, timeless bars, vintage glassware and innovative cocktail menus: it's all happening in London. This month, our Flying Barman Marc Plumridge is back on his home turf and armed with a bevvy of recommendations for the very best bars in town.
"For me, London is one of the best cities to sit back and watch the world’s greatest bartenders create some of the finest liquid libations on earth. You may have experienced Michelin starred cuisine and dining rooms: now it’s time to try the cocktail world’s equivalent…
"As one of the central hubs for setting new trends within the industry (with the likes of San Franciso, New York and Melbourne not far behind) London continually strives to be the birthplace of innovation within the cocktail world.
Current big trends are all about bringing back the glamour of yesteryear with the resurgence of the sophisticated 'hotel bar', so here are some choices that are a must for anyone who wants to impress and enjoys the fine art of mixed drinks."
Artesian Bar, The Langham Hotel
The Langham Hotel has been synonymous with glamour since 1865 and The Artesian Bar continues to offer a true source of indulgence in the heart of London. Since being led by the ever-charismatic persona of head bartender Alex Kratena, Artesian has truly come into its own.
I just love to sit at the bar and watch the magic hands of the bartenders working. After studying the art of Japanese bartending techniques, they brought this style back home to London and gave it a European twist, creating a host of incredibly well-crafted mixed drinks made with precision and care, with a particular emphasis on rum.
Let the bartenders guide you to something that suits your personality and taste or simply use the flavour map found within the bar menu to find the ideal drink for you.
My highlights include the Landau Martini made with Grey Goose La Poire and finished table-side with a spritz of XO Cognac to perfume the drink, or alternatively, what I consider my favourite drink of all time: the classic Daiquiri made with Bacardi Superior Rum - fresh, elegant and truly refreshing…
Artesian Bar at The Langham Hotel, Regent St, W1B 1JA
The Connaught Bar
The Connaught Bar is another favourite of mine, with a timeless decor, unparalleled service and drinks to match. Manned by Ago Perrone - a true heavyweight in the bartending world - it's tucked away within the Connaught Hotel and as soon as you enter you'll be invited to sit down and enjoy a complimentary welcome drink while you glance over the well-balanced menu.
I'd recommend trying a classic Sazerac or the house Martini made with Bombay Sapphire Gin. I won't spoil the show but when you order one you'll realize why this venue consistently wins award after award for its level of service and offering....
I love the fact that every drink has its very own cocktail card placed with the receipt once you pay, enabling you to recreate each and every drink at home if you choose to (and are brave enough!)
The Connaught Bar at The Connaught Hotel, Mount St, W1K 2AL
The Hawksmoor Seven Dials
Opened in November of last year, the Hawksmoor Seven Dials is a low-key but simply fantastic steakhouse and bar which has everything a steak lover and cocktail enthusiast could ever dream of. The first time I ventured there, I was recommended the Chateaubriand served alongside the now famous beef dripping chips and wow, I wasn’t disappointed. There's in excess of 700 wines to choose from too.
Follow the stairs down and you'll be greeted with an intimate cocktail bar that precedes the dining room, and when you read the menu you’ll soon realize that cocktails are taken very seriously here. The collection of vintage glassware painstakingly collected by the owner is also a lovely touch.
I’d opt for a twist on a cobbler made with Bacardi Superior and Martini Bianco or perhaps a classic gin cocktail such as the Aviation made with Oxley gin.
Hawksmoor Seven Dials, 11 Langley Street, WC2H 9JG. There is another branch in Spitalfields at 157 Commercial Street, E1 6BJ.
The American Bar
Recently re-opened after a long refurbishment, the Savoy prides itself on elegance and grace and the American Bar found within is no exception. As soon as you walk in you'll feel your feet sinking into the plush carpet, and as you make your way to the bar you start to appreciate its historical signifigance as a mecca for any cocktail enthusiast.
Here Erik Lorincz heads up the bar team and offers his signature cocktail the Malecon, which is a must for any visitor. Watch the guys at work as they create a host of Savoy classics and contemporary twists in an ambience that will make you feel like a star.
The American Bar at the Savoy Hotel, Strand, WC2R 0EU
Away from the central London crowds in trendy Notting Hill, Montgomery Place is an intimate venue that pays homage to the art of classic mixed drinks. It's often full, so it’s always advisable to phone ahead and reserve a table. Once you're in, feast on the great tapas-style bar food and have fun sampling creations from the well-designed drinks menu.
There's also an extensive and extremely broad wine list with bins from vineyards across the world, including Mexico, Morocco and Lebanon. But if you still can't make up your mind, simply prop up the bar and ask the guys to lead the way.
I always opt for the classic Tommy's Margarita made with Cazadores Reposado, or an old school Century Club Punch to start the night...
31 Kensington Park Road, Notting Hill, W11 2EU
Quo Vadis has come a long way since the 1860s, when Karl Marx wrote Das Kapital while living in grim conditions on the 3rd floor of the building. With a long and varied history since opening its doors as a restaurant in 1926, it's still one of London's hottest addresses, with casual dining and drinking downstairs and the private members' club up above.
Once it reaches 6pm here, the bell rings and it's Martini Time – truly bringing back the glamour to the whole drinking experience. Your very own mixologist will wheel the drinks trolley over to you and educate you or your group on the art of making the perfect martini cocktail. Ask for Grey Goose Vodka, and you’ll see it being stirred down and simply finished with a lemon twist: pay close attention as it’s a true skill and certainly something to master for dinner parties at home. If, however, whisky is more to your taste then try a drink called the Penicillin and that will certainly hit the spot.
Quo Vadis, Dean St, Soho W1D 3LL. The restaurant and QV Bar are open to the public - see the website for more information on membership to the Quo Vadis Club. Dukes Bar
Probably the most famous bar in which to enjoy a well deserved Classic Dry Martini, a staple in the London bar scene.
Here at Dukes Bar at the Dukes Hotel (frequented by James Bond author Ian Fleming and said to be the inspiration for the classic line 'shaken, not stirred'), the house martini is delivered naked at a glacial -18.3c straight from the chiller and mixed right in front of your eyes. A great place for an aperitif before dining out or before you pop over to the Wolseley for an early dinner.
Dukes Bar at Dukes Hotel, 35 St James Place, SW1 1NY Check out Marc's previous guide to the best bars in Los Angeles.
Have you ever been to any of Marc's recommended bars? What did you think of them? Which other bars in London should we try? Share your recommendations in the comments below.
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About the author: MaxineMaxine Sheppard
Maxine is the editor of the Virgin Atlantic blog. Travel and music are her joint first loves, and despite having written for Virgin for more years than she cares to remember she still loves nothing more than jumping on a plane in search of new sights and new sounds.