I’ve written a little about the history of gin here, but I know that’s not what you’re really interested in. Judging by the number of “could you recommend a bar…” texts I receive, what you really want to know is where to drink it. Lord knows there are enough of these round-ups, but here’s my spin: the best cocktails, bar-by-bar.
Tasting menu, London Gin Club at the Star at Night
Four gins, plus Fever Tree mixers and garnishes to match each one. Mix, sniff, sample and share to your heart’s delight. What’s not to like? The Star at Night might look like a grotty boozer from the outside, but inside the deal is table service and reservations.
Stiff upper lip, Mark’s Bar
Expensive, yes, but this louche lounge beneath Hix is worth the cover charge for the atmosphere alone. It’s also the only place where you can try green-pea-infused gin with ginseng, cider vinegar and mint. Their claim on the menu is right: it is time to give peas a chance.
Paint-tin punch, Graphic
Graphic, er, really does deliver what it says on the tin. Aside from a collection of nearly two hundred different gins, there’s a short range of easy-drinking paint-pot cocktails that suit the laidback atmosphere. Try the green one: a mix of Hendrick’s, cucumber and lemon sherbet. Whether the glittery film on top is designed to be ingested remains up for debate.
St Germain des Prés, ECC
I’m loath to include ECC. Their rude staff, bemusing walk-in policy and ridiculous prices are well documented – and I’ve experienced them all – yet, well, sometimes it’s fun to disappear through an unmarked door in Chinatown and ensconce yourself in a velvet armchair for an hour or two. The price of a basic two-course meal will buy you a champagne saucer of St Germain des Prés: Hendrik’s, egg-white, cucumber and a mysterious spiced tincture.
A custom job, The Savoy’s American Bar
You might as well put bartenders of this pedigree through their paces. Sit at the bar and request a bespoke creation from their arsenal of Tanqueray No. 10, Sipsmith and more. This slice of old London needs no introduction.
Gin and tonica, Port House
Gin and tonic might be firmly enmeshed in the history of our capital, but more recently it’s made inroads in Spain. At the Port House, alongside generous plates of tapas, you can try the daily “gin and tonica” special, served in a balloon-shaped copa glass. Impressive for a Spanish restaurant that hails from Ireland.
Gardeners’s tea break, Bourne & Hollingsworth
Bourne & Hollingsworth were doing prohibition-style drinking well before Shoreditch covered itself in flocked wallpaper. The gardeners’s tea break is another Hendrick’s and cucumber job, with added green tea and mint. Best of all, it comes with a tiny cucumber sandwich on the side.
Dry martini with a twist, Gin Joint
Everyone knows how they like their martini, and this is how I have mine. Gin Joint is a bit corporate – it’s a Searcy’s brasserie after all – but they can mix a damn fine drink. Brutalism sceptics need not apply: you’ll probably spend an hour lost in the Barbican centre before you get here.
Negroni, Café Kick
Sure, this might not be the best-made negroni in town, but there’s no beating this gin, Campari and vermouth combo on a summer evening on Exmouth Market. I’ll always remember a American friend’s incredulity that drinking on the street is allowed here. The only downside is that gin and table football skills do not go hand-in-hand.
Black cat martini, Worship Street Whistling Stop
I don’t have a clue how they make this. The secret ingredient is “removed cream”, which turns Tanqueray and vermouth into something special – and very strong. The Worship Street Whistling Stop is the sister bar of Purl. It’s a sort of speakeasy crossed with a Victorian apothecary.
Winter negroni, Duck & Waffle
I really hope Duck & Waffle bring this cocktail back. It came in a tiny bottle sealed with a beer cap, along with a glass of ice, twist of orange and a bottle opener. Fiendishly bitter, this was one for the hardened negroni fan. One two many and the forty-floor descent became even more nerve jangling.
Shoreditch and Hoxton
Negroni, White Lyan
Yes, there are too many negronis on this list. (I’m a big fan.) But this one is different. White Lyan use no ice and no citrus, so what you’re left with is a centimetre or so of intense, lightly chilled booze. The real surprise? It tastes almost exactly like the original.
Hendricks and tonic, Boundary Rooftop
If you’re going to wrap yourself in a rug and watch the sun set over the City, you might as well stick with a classic drink. It feels like a members’ club up here, yet the only barriers to entry are the queue and slightly pricy menu.
Ramos gin fizz, NOLA
There’s nowhere better in London to try this “decadent New Orleans classic”, gin shaken with lemon, sugar, orange-flower water, cream and egg white. Spot-on decor and regular live jazz go a long way to evoke of the spirit of the French Quarter. Those prone to sudden bouts of wanderlust beware.
Bombay bomfire, Bar Story
A neon-green, gin-kiwi-elderflower-lime martini somehow feels much less twee when drunk at a picnic table in a cloud of cigarette smoke. Bar Story‘s excellent bar staff also go some way to make up for the most terrifying toilets in London. In summer, Peckham’s infamous rooftop Campari bar is just a stumble away.
Jensen’s gin and tonic, 214 Bermondsey
When on Bermondsey Street, you have to try Bermondsey’s own gin: Jensen’s. It’s super-dry, designed in the style of gins from the 1800s. The bar itself is tucked beneath the Italian restaurant, Antico, and they are serious about their spirits: they even mix their own tonic.
Have I missed your favourite? Let me know below.