G&T with a side of taxidermy? Picso Sours in a hot tub? We salute seven of the capital's weirdly wonderful drinking establishments
Local boozers, dark dive bars, chichi gastropubs and (yes, sometimes) even chain bars, all have a place in our hearts, but there's no denying the undeniably glamorous thrill to be had in an expertly concocted cocktail. London's cocktail bars are as varied as they are lethal, but with supposedly difficult to find speakeasy-style bars now, ironically, ubiquitous we've chosen seven spots that promise you something a little different, from the sublime to the beautifully ridiculous.
Ladies and Gentlemen
Admittedly many a decadent night has ended in the loos, but one of the latest additions to Kentish Town’s burgeoning bar scene is making them the main event. The creation of Kentish Towner (and owner of Vestal Vodka) William Borrell, Ladies and Gentlemen is located in a refurbished public toilets on a not particularly noteworthy corner opposite the Forum. Downstairs, some of the white tiling and the cisterns on the wall are the only evidence of the bar’s past life; today find a cosily-chic space decorated with retro and salvaged items, plus live music, and a brilliant seasonal menu. Extra points for the locally sourced ingredients, including the bar’s bespoke Highwayman Gin.
The Booking Office
Once upon a time drinks at a train station meant only one thing: gin in a tin. The bar at the renovated St Pancras Renaissance Hotel, however, has taken the station bar into distinctly first class territory. Sir George Gilbert Scott’s Victorian Gothic architecture sets the spectacular scene for The Booking Office, found in the former ticket hall of St Pancras station. Among the vaulted archways, arched windows, and sweeping cathedral-like proportions, choose from a bespoke menu of cocktails and Victorian-era punches.
For sheer grandeur and bygone era elegance with that irresistible romance of fleeting moments thrown into the mix (blame it on the arrivals and departures thing, blame it on the hotel bar, blame it on the cocktails), the Booking Office can’t be beaten.
The Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities
If you like your bars sleek and minimal, then look away now. If, however, you’re looking for a spot to kick back in that’s the antithesis of Ikea-approved Good Taste then Hackney’s Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities is the place for you. The museum is stuffed full of absurd, uncategorisable, eclectic oddities from across the globe – from Happy Meal toys to dodo bones, living coral to two-headed kittens.
Amongst all this gloriously chaotic clutter, find the bar and café, which is unlike any museum restaurant you’ve ever been to before. Take a Gone With The Wynd or a Zombie – both with absinthe – to really roll with this exquisitely strange experience.
The perennially popular Frank’s Café is the reason Londoners have been indulging in an annual summertime fling with a Peckham multi-storey car park. Perched on the 10th floor, the unassuming location’s roof transforms into a bar-slash-art space (part of the non-profit commissioning art project Bold Tendencies, this year’s commission – swirling aluminium lines on the floor – comes from Richard Wentworth) each summer, with a hip crowd, slightly chaotic festival-vibe, and a well stocked Campari bar all part of the charm. And, as a thousand Instagram snaps will testify, the views over London are picture-perfect. If there’s a better way to spend a summer evening than getting slowly sloshed on Negronis watching the sun set over the city, then we’re struggling to think of it.
Founded in 1798 London’s oldest restaurant, Rules, is a veritable institution, so it’s somewhat surprising that the upstairs cocktail bar remains a relatively well-kept secret. The décor is delightfully and determinedly old fashioned – all latticed windows, patterned carpets, and dark wood – with a classic-with-a-twist cocktail menu to match. Gimmicky purees and infusions are out; Bloody Marys, Gimlets and stirred Martinis are in. And if you like your cocktails served with a frisson of clandestine goings-on (and really, that’s the best way to take them), Rules has that covered too; Edward VII used to entertain his mistress Lillie Langtry in what is now the bar. Saucy.
The Owls Are Not What They Seem
Fans of David Lynch can this month throw themselves into the weird world of Twin Peaks. The cult 90s TV show provides the fodder for an immersive dining experience entitled, The Owls are Not What They Seem, hosted by innovative events company Lemonade and Laughing Gas and experimental foodies Blanch & Shock. Opening later this month, details are scarce (even the location is top secret), but expect something seriously surreal – and we’ll assume, a slice of cherry pie. Choose from a full dining ticket, or drinking den-only entry, which promises bespoke cocktails and “A quick pit-stop at a road side bar, with potential to turn into a full on mind-bending, backwards-talking experience…” Open 27th August – 17th October.
Cocktails in a hot tub might sound very Miami, but new pop-up venture Supper Tub (see what they did there?) is bringing the experience to the banks of the Hackney Wick canal. Until the end of September 2015, feast on Peruvian ceviche and Pisco Sours from the comfort of a steaming, wood-fired canal-side hot tub. Each tub seats eight, and you can buy individual spots or book the whole thing if you’re feeling decadent.