COCKTAIL HOUR: THE BEST OF LONDON BARS

I didn’t realize how many times I actually went out for drinks in London until I began drafting this guide. The thing is I rarely ever purchased more than one drink in a sitting. But hey, it’s an easy excuse to get together with friends, meet new people, and let loose after a week of whatever it is that consumes you.

There is something about a glass of wine on a Friday night. Or a refreshing glass of champagne on a Sunday afternoon. But there is something even better about sharing those things with someone. And actually getting to share the moment. Which is why I don’t particularly enjoy a night ‘out on the town’, per say. I’ll take an afternoon of cocktails on a rooftop over a dark, loud nightclub ANYDAY. And that’s what you’ll find in this {slightly biased} guide to London bars.

Cahoots

I almost wrote an entire blog post titled ‘In Cahoots Over Cahoots’ but {1} that seemed incredibly cheesy, even for me and {2} it’s an establishment best kept secret, until you actually visit of course. I had a really hard time finding this place. But that’s the point. Like any good Speakeasy, the location is disguised to the normal passerby. In this case, Cahoots disguises itself as an underground tube station, specifically ‘Kingly Court Underground Station’.

Even so, unless you are looking for the subtle ‘To The Trains’ station sign, you will miss it. Sarah and I decided to wait in line which ended up taking over an hour. Regrets? Never, but we didn’t have much else planned for the rest of the afternoon so the wait was manageable. I suggest making a reservation! Or, as an alternative to this, you can dress up in 40’s vintage clothing and skip the line altogether. This is highly, highly encouraged. I felt out of place in the standard fit kids are wearing these days.

Upon entry into the bar, you will follow signs as you would in any other underground station in London, but as if you were set back in time. A ticket teller will hang your coat and present you with a physical train ticket that you must then give to the ‘bouncer’ at the entrance. Once you walk through the doors, you honestly feel as though you are stepping back in time. The seats are old underground train cars {like, the real deal} and all the staff is dressed head to toe in 40’s getups, along with at least half of the customers. This was one of the highlights during my time in London and give it the utmost praise.

Reservations: Yes, and you will want to make them!

Location: Kingly Court in SoHo – 13, Kingly Court, Carnaby, London W1B 5PG {Look for the ‘To The Trains’ sign, that’s the only way you will spot it in the small alleyway}

Top Tip: You will skip the line {and it’s a long one without reservations} if you dress in 40’s vintage clothing. It is encouraged!

Jam Tree 

I mentioned Jam Tree previously in my Gluten Free Brunch Guide to London, but it makes the list again for one reason. Netflix and Chill. We all know the saying. We all do it on the reg. But when it is listed as a drink at a bar, it becomes that much more intriguing. Let me just say, this was the most amazing drink I’ve ever purchased. In the sense that it came with a snack.

The drink arrives in a traditional popcorn bucket, you know the ones you get at the cinema? And it’s filled with popcorn. Yup, no joke. Underneath the popcorn lies a pile of ice and an extremely sweet cocktail. The cocktail itself was pretty shit to be honest. I partially hated it. BUT, you can’t beat the snack and drink combo or the definition of a photo opportunity.

Reservations:  Yes

Location: 13-19 Old Town, London SW4 0JT, UK

The Churchill Arms

Built in 1750, one of the oldest pubs in London lies right on the outskirts of Kensington. Winston Churchill’s grandparents were regulars of the pub back in the 1800’s, but I’m sure they weren’t serving their famous Thai dishes back then. Yes, you heard correct. The Churchill Arms is the first pub in London to serve Thai food, and it is pretty effing incredible.

This pub is also the most decorative of its kind with flowers lining every available space on its surface. Cozy up in one of the small corners of this {undoubtedly} crowded spot and admire the history surrounding you over a pint. For how popular this pub is, you will surprisingly be able to locate a seat even during peak hours. And, drinks are reasonably priced! If I remember correctly, they were actually cheaper than most we had visited in London.

Reservations: For a table yes, otherwise walk-in for ‘drinks only’

Location: 119 Kensington Church Street, London, W8 7LN {Notting Hill Station on the tube}

Top Tip: As stated above, try the Thai food! It is some of the best ‘bar grub’ out there.

Madison 

Before visiting Madison, I had seen hundreds of images of St. Paul’s Cathedral taken from the view point of some unknown {to me} rooftop. The Instagrammer in me immediately made it my mission to find out where it was. Lucky for me geo-tagging is a thing. So my private investigator skills were of little to no use.  However, after locating Madison, my friend Crystal and I went up for a glass of wine where we shared the roof with a handful of others hoping to enjoy the view.

We watched the sunset, because we are romantic like that, and sipped on our overpriced drinks. Had London had an actual summer while I was there, it would have been the perfect {and I mean perfect} spot to spend an afternoon in the sun. The views are spectacular, and it is not overly crowded for being what it is. Once the blanket of stars began to drape over London, we made our way to the restaurant portion of Madison. We were in no state to be sitting down for a fancy-schmancy dinner, but a bowl of popcorn and some more wine sufficed, and allowed us to take in the views. Which again, were remarkable.

Reservations: For the restaurant, yes. Bar, not necessary.

Location: Madison Restaurant, Rooftop Terrace, One New Change, St Paul’s, London, EC4M 9AF

Top Tip: You can only access the rooftop via glass elevator which can be found in the One New Change shopping center.  But you must actually enter the shopping area to find it.

Queen of Hoxton 

Queen of Hoxton was a ‘local’ spot for my friends and me while living in London. And by local I mean we had a friend that lived in the same building and could get us in without having to pay a cover most nights, so duh. And by most nights, I mean two or three times we actually showed our faces past 10 PM because I am part-time traveler, full-time grandmother. The night scene at Queen of Hoxton is an entertaining one, but one that can ultimately be missed.

The rooftop however, is an entirely different story. The rooftop opens ‘around’ summer {how does one define summer in London?}, but for reference sake, we first visited in late-May. The décor/artwork/layout of the rooftop changes twice a year. And completely changes, never to be seen again. For example, we were lucky enough to experience ‘A Tribute to Dr. Strange’ which included obscure exhibits, a rainbow of color {literally} splashed everywhere, peace signs, and an old turquoise car. It actually reminded me a lot of California with its hippie vibe and relaxed atmosphere. And the fact that it was 80 degrees Fahrenheit the day of our first visit… which was simply unheard of for London.

Reservations: No

Location: 1-5 Curtain Road, London EC2A 3JX

Top Tip: Take full advantage while you are there {that means take a shit ton of pictures!} as each rooftop ‘exhibit’ is only temporary!

Steam and Rye 

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If you are an American abroad and missing home, or you ‘ain’t from round here’ in London and want some ‘American Culture’, I suggest you head over to Steam and Rye. This American themed bar does a great job at removing you from the cobblestoned streets of London, and putting you back in the homeland for a few hours. Of course, everything is extremely exaggerated, but it is entertaining.

Ironically enough, I accidently went to this bar due to a last minute invite from one of my kiwi babes. It was our friends going away party and I didn’t meet a single American from the time I arrived, to the time I stumbled out. I did drink out of the head of a former US President, Mr. Lincoln himself. Yes, they have cocktail mugs that are formed into the faces of our presidents. I’m telling you, I got a kick out of this place. A live band eventually took the stage, but I had had my fix of American-ness at that point.

Reservations: Yes

Location: 147 Leadenhall St, London EC3V 4QT, UK

Aqua Shard/Hutong  

The Shard is one of the most iconic, modern buildings in London. It is very hard to miss it when you find yourself in the surrounding area. At the tip-top {well, not quite but close enough} there are a number of restaurants and bars. I was lucky enough to be treated to a going-away dinner by my au pair family before leaving for Spain in August. And what a delight that was! The food was all kinds of decadent and the wine was just as good.

That being said, if you are ballin’ on a budget {like myself} and do not have someone to treat you, treat yoself! And do so by going to one of the bars at the top of the Shard. The drinks are ‘reasonable’ for London standards. But you only need to purchase one to have an entire bird’s eye view of the city we all love so dearly. Best views in London for under 15 GBP? Not too shabby. Any of the bars will suffice, however my friend Abbie and I took a seat at Hutong and had a view of Tower Bridge and the Thames.

Reservations: Yes

Location: Level 31 The Shard, 31 St. Thomas Street, London, UK SE1 9RY

Top Tip: You don’t even have to visit any of the bars or restaurants to take a peek at London from above. Simply take the elevator up to the Aqua Shard floor, step out and act as if you are going for a drink at one of the bars. There should be no questions asked and you will be able to mingle on the staircase and soak up the views! Without paying a shilling!

 

 

 

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