This cocktail bar and music venue stays open late and leads with live jazz and debonair drinking. Gifted bartenders have compiled a list featuring liquid legacies from cocktail’s golden era and pre-Prohibition drinks incorporating homemade infusions. The BBC, made with calvados and Becherovka cordial, is served with ‘absinthe smoke’, while misty ‘dry ice’ vapours add allure to the Fog Cutter, an alcoholic orgy of rum, sherry, gin and Cognac. 129 City Rd, London. +44 (0)20 7253 4101. Mon-Wed, Sun 6pm-1am; Thu-Sat 6pm-3am. Tube: Old Street.
Worship Street Whistling Shop
The cellar room is darkly Dickensian, full of cosy corners, leather armchairs and select antiquities. In the back is a windowed laboratory – worthy of a Jekyll and Hyde fantasy – crammed with equipment modern and antiquated, used to create the wondrously described ingredients that constitute the cocktails. The list is updated every few months, but you may find ‘chip pan bitters’, ‘Hereford soil distillate’, or ‘high pressure hydrosol’ used as ingredients. All are used to create original and stimulating drinks around the £10 mark. 63 Worship St,London. +44 (0)20 7247 0015. Tue, Wed 5pm-midnight; Thu 5pm-1am; Fri, Sat 4pm-2am. Tube: Old Street.
Milk and Honey
This is one the best bars for cocktails in London, but the lighting is so low you’ll need to borrow a candle to read the drink list. It’s a members’ club much of the time, although the rest of us can book a table in the early evening for two hours maximum – as long as you book at least a day in advance, arrive before 9pm, and make the booking 10am-6pm Mon-Sat. If you’re prepared to put up with all that, this is a great place for perfectly executed classic cocktails. We are impressed with our negroni. 61 Poland St, London. +44 (0)20 7065 6840 ext 6. Non-members: Mon-Sat 6-11pm (2hrs max, last admission 9pm). Members: Mon-Sat 6pm-3am. Tube: Oxford Circus.
The cocktails here are fabulous: innovative but with impeccable taste and a sure grasp of fundamentals. Our two gin-based drinks, the French Pearl (shaken with fresh mint, lime and a dash of absinthe) and Mar*Tea*Ni both possess flawless balance. Served in icy, frosted coupes, they stay cold for 30 minutes. Minor complaint: the sound system is turned up to full whack. Apart from that, we remember Happiness Forgets with unalloyed pleasure. And a mixed crowd (mercifully free of Shoreditch poseurs) seemed to share that feeling. 8-9 Hoxton Sq, London. +44 (0)20 7613 0325. Mon-Sat 5.30-11pm. Tube: Old Street.
69 Colebrook Row
This 1920s-style cocktail bar is in the backstreets of Islington. There are only 30 seats, and once you factor in the pianist tinkling out Gershwin jazz classics, there’s no room to swing anything. So it’s a wise idea to plan ahead and book a table. Cocktails are the most experimental in London. The Prairie Oyster consists of tomato ‘yolk’ with spices, sherry and horseradish vodka, served in a ceramic ‘shell’ and designed to be slurped back like a bivalve. The Terroir blends distilled clay, flint and lichen. It really rocks. 69 Colebrooke Row, London. +44 07 540 528 593. Mon-Wed, Sun 5pm-midnight; Thu 5pm-1am; Fri, Sat 5pm-2am.