Eight Great Bars in London

London has its share of private members’ clubs—Shoreditch House, Groucho Club, Morton’s, to name just a few—which made some sense when these elitist clubs were among the few places where you could legally get a drink after 11 p.m. But not anymore. The licensing laws changed in 2005, and getting a decent drink, in a pleasant bar, has never been easier.
8 great london bars

1. Terroirs

An enterprising Frenchman has set up this new wine bar specializing in “natural” wines—organic or biodynamic—in the heart of London, to great critical acclaim. The tapas-style small dishes are great, but the place is insanely busy, no doubt because it’s perfectly placed for commuters downing a quick one before catching a train from Charing Cross. 5 William IV Street, Covent Garden (020-7036-0660; terroirswinebar.com)

2. Skylon

You could pay through the nose to eat at Skylon, the restaurant, which affords grandstand views of the Thames from the South Bank arts complex. But why bother when you can just pop into the tiny bar and admire the same view for less? There are only a few stools, but they’re the perfect perch while waiting for a performance at the Royal Festival Hall. South Bank Centre, Waterloo (020-7654-800; toptable.com)

3. Blue Bar

This clubby hotel bar has been fashionable ever since David Collins, a designer pal of Madonna’s, gave its original Lutyens interior a new lick of (blue) paint in 2000. Being the flagship bar of The Berkeley, it never ceases to attract a glamorous international crowd. The cocktails are made with premium ingredients, and there’s also an extensive selection of Scotches and beautifully crafted nibbles. Be warned that it’s tiny, so arrive early and be prepared to pay at least double what seems reasonable. Wilton Place, Knightsbridge (020 7235 6000; the-berkeley.co.uk)

4. The Connaught

Recently refurbished, the grand old lady of London’s luxury hotels has retained its gravitas despite some daring new lipstick and hemlines. It now has two gold-standard bars: the Coburg, which is old-school and perfect for quiet conversations; and the Connaught, where people attracted to the bright, shiny, and new flock to check each other out. They’re both brilliant, with cocktail lists that are second-to-none. Carlos Place, Mayfair (020-7499-7070; the-connaught.co.uk)

5. French House

Old Compton Street is now the gay heart of Soho, but many of the older bars still reflect an earlier, theatrical heritage. “The French,” just around the corner, is still the first choice of thespians, eccentrics, and poseurs attracted by its nonconfirmist ethos and low prices. French wine or Breton cider are the things to order; mediocre beer is grudgingly served in half-pints. It’s standing room only, with crowds often spilling into the street. Forget cellphones here; they’re strictly interdit, as staff are keen to point out. French House, 49 Dean St., Soho (020-7437-2799; frenchhousesoho.com)

6. 1707

If you’re meeting a wine-loving friend in central London for lunch, the wine bar inside Fortnum & Mason’s food hall is a good choice. Service is well drilled, you can hear each other speak, the food’s good, and the wine list is outstanding. Most of the wines from Fortnum’s extensive, expertly chosen cellars can be sampled for a mere $15 corkage fee (on top of the retail price), which makes splashing out on something very special seem like a bargain. It closes at 5 p.m., though. 181 Piccadilly, St James’s (020-7437-2799; fortnumandmason.com)

7. Buddha Bar

The original Buddha Bar in Paris might have become a tired marketing vehicle for a million chill-out CDs, but clearly no one told the visitors who flock to this London branch, which opened in 2008. It’s a good place to see and be seen and has appealing, predictably on-message music and decent cocktails. Bouncers permanently guard the door and are the best clue to finding the entrance, which is literally underneath Waterloo Bridge. Don’t even think about trying to get past the big guys after 10 p.m., when it’s guest-list only. 8 Victoria Embankment (020-3371-7777; buddhabar-london.com)

8. Milk & Honey

Phone first to book your table—non-members are admitted only before 11 p.m.—then roll up to enjoy London’s worst-kept “secret” bar. One of the things Brit shaker-makers excel at is using fresh fruit juices in cocktails, so it would be a shame not to try whatever the bartender recommends. The bar shares the same drink consultant—top mixologist Dale deGroff—as its New York affiliate. 61 Poland St., Soho (044-7292-9949; mlkhny.com)

Subscribe to Gourmet