Once just a town for provincial pints at the local pub, London has long since blossomed into a cosmopolitan cocktailing city with as many options for getting tipsy as there are nightlife personalities.
Sure, you can still pop into a classic tavern for an afternoon brew, but you can also pair your drinking pleasures with sultry lounge scenes, bumpin’ dance floors, and master mixology.
And whether you’re in town for business or pleasure, you’ll surely need to kick back with a drink or two. Here are five of our favorite London bars to fit a range of moods and occasions, from the relaxed to the rowdy.
For the Afternoon Pint: Commercial Tavern
This amiable spot departs from the usual dark wood tavern style with eccentric décor: Whimsical touches include settees, framed bicycles, cuckoo clocks on the ceiling, and a wall of tea cups and saucers (a little “Mad Hatter,” if you will).
Despite the appearance, though, it still maintains a semblance of a historic tavern feel, especially with a motley crew of regulars and four hand pumps at the bar (they’ve got ales, lagers, and even organic cider on tap). In nice weather, knock back your pint at one of the outdoor picnic tables.
For the Casual Reveler: Crazy Homies
Riotously colorful south-of-the-border decorations and pounding of-the-moment Latin tunes set the festive scene at this offbeat Mexican restaurant and edgy black-walled basement bar. There’s not a lot of seating, but the quasi-communal tables make fraternizing a cinch, and the strong drinks are worth braving the crowds for. Plus, you can just roll in with jeans and a funky t-shirt—perfect for an impromptu evening of tequila tasting or delish margaritas with your amigos.
For the Aspiring Mixologist: Milk & Honey
The unmarked entrance and members-only vibe add to the mystique of this storied mixology den (non-members are only admitted with a reservation until 11:00 PM and restricted to the early part of the week). If you’re lucky enough to get in the door, you’ll be greeted with dark chocolate leather sofas, low lights, and candles aplenty—a stylish setting for seriously stellar drinks.
The bartenders squeeze their own juices, glassware is chilled to precision temperatures, and they count the number of shakes and stirs to ensure the perfect mix. Savor flavorful concoctions like the Pisco Punch (pisco, pineapple, lemon, falernum, and champagne) or the French Pearl (gin, mint, lime, sugar, and absinthe), or challenge the barkeeps with a bespoke request.
For the Lounge Lover: Beach Blanket Babylon
Go Rococo at this hot, sexy lounge and club modeled after a French country chateau. The space itself is gorgeous (boho chic décor, stunning marble bar, oversized flower arrangements), and the beautiful crowd tucked into intimate nooks and candlelit tables is pretty nice to look at, too. Get your lounge on with eclectic, well-made cocktails from the Lychee and Chilli Sling (gin, lychee liquor, and red chili pepper) to the extra delicious BBB Mojito. There’s a dance floor downstairs should you want to stir things up, but it’s enough to simply wet your whistle and drink in the scene.
For the Dancing Crew: Mahiki
Shaking your tail feathers while sweating coconut rum is a surefire way to beat the London gloom, and this tiki hotspot is the perfect place to do it. It’s a little like the classic Trader Vic’s but on Polynesian steroids: Coconut Grenades are served in whole frozen coconuts, the space is covered in tropical kitsch, and the dance floor in the downstairs Aloha party room is humid enough to rival a hot afternoon in Tahiti. Prince Harry has been known to pop in, but there’s no attitude here—the royals party like the rest of us.
For more information on these hotspots, see our Passport to Hip London Nightlife. And for even more great tips on everything to make your trip to London fabulous, see our complete London guide online or in eBook format.
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