Charleston: The Ultimate Local's Guide
Deep within the depths of The City is one of the largest gin and rum collections you’ve probably ever seen. Unfortunately however, it seems they've gone to great lengths to hide the place; you must first venture down a small Dickensian alley, into an unassuming door, and down a winding set of stairs before this colonially styled basement bar makes itself known. Behind it, in the old cabinets at the back, they house booze rarities you might once thought of as myths, and for £25 you can get a flight of four of them (and that's not to mention the outstanding cocktails they mix them into).
Housed inside the Rosewood Hotel just around the corner from Holborn tube station, you’d never guess this grandiose-yet-ridiculously-cosy bar is hiding behind all that stone. Plush carpets, overstuffed sofas, roaring fireplaces, jazz Sundays... this place ticks all the boxes. And yet somehow there’s always room to find a nice nook to settle into and lose time, lulled into a state of relaxation by the expert service, great drinks, and delicious food.
Known predominantly as a restaurant, the kitchen here often steals thunder from the equally incredible bar. Recently taken over by Marcis Dzelzainis (who earned his stripes at Dandelyon, Satan's Whiskers, and 69 Colebrooke Row), the cocktail menu is reasonably priced, and filled with surprises like the inventive Frozen Campari & Melon, and the outstanding Ambrette Sazerac. And being the sister venue to Sager+Wilde, the California-dominant wine list is understandably excellent, too.
Although mainly known for being one of the few 24-hour licensed spots in the city (they generally close between 5-6am), and therefore a one-stop nightcap shop before heading home, Sovereign really deserves to be the first stop of the night. The drinks here are always world class, thanks to a rotating cast of guest bartenders from establishments like Milk & Honey, Trailer Happiness, the London Cocktail Club, the Punch Room, etc., and the quality never dips, even as dawn is breaking.
Despite gaining a fair bit of attention when they first opened, S&S seems to have dropped off the radar recently... which is just plain stupid, because this place is still fantastic. The menu is loaded with imaginative drinks (like the Teriyaki Manhattan w/rum, bourbon, sweet vermouth, teriyaki dressing, and salmon), and the atmosphere is cozy, comfortable, and inviting. Also? They have a late licence!
Inspired by a certain balloon-loving Victorian adventurer, this place is quirky, over the top, and pretty much overlooked by most of the glitz of Mayfair. If you can find it through (it’s on a back street, and you’ll need to press a buzzer on an unmarked door), you’ll wonder why. The furnishings are luxuriant, the service is outstanding, and the drinks are delicious, including such Verne-inspired ingredients as mushroom-infused gin and tea syrup.
If tequila and mezcal make your breath come quick, then a) you’re in the extreme London minority, and b) you need to climb the stairs to this hidden agaveria perched above La Perla on Maiden Lane for one of the in-depth selections in the nation. Headed up by Jesse Estes, son to tequila legend Tomas Estes, this is where to come for the best agave shots and cocktails you’ll find outside of Mexico. Be sure to grab some snacks as well -- being above a restaurant has its benefits.
Trust us, this is so much more than just another hotel bar. Feeling almost like someone’s living room, there are no parties or thumping music here -- just great service and near-perfect drinks, which, by the way, come from none other than Tony “the Heston Blumethal of cocktails” Conigliaro. Sadly overlooked thanks to the mass of Clerkenwell cocktail spots nearby, this one is worth going out of your way for.
Down a side-street behind The World's End, this is the Camden bar you should have been coming to for years. Refreshingly clear of tourists, this is an easy going dive bar with a great music program (admire the lineup here), a kitchen for popups (including Mother Clucker, Tongue 'n Cheek, Smoke'n'Roll, etc.), and a fantastic selection of craft brews behind the bar.