It's finally the weekend and you deserve a refreshing cocktail that will melt away the stresses of the work week and gear you up for an exciting weekend. Where do you start? A high end traditional bar, a casual after work hang out, or something in between? I've got you covered, so there's no need for you to scour search engines for hours.
Being pretty new to London, we wanted to continue our weekend nights out like we did in New York City. But the online reviews to the majority of establishment are usually very wrong and misleading in London. I'm not sure why, but they are based on my experience and every single expat I've spoken to who lives or lived in London. So where do we start?
Sometimes you need to wander the city and stumble upon a gem. If it's a pretty packed place on the weekends, you can be pretty sure that it's a great place to make a stop.
Other times, you need someone to guide you. I was fortunate enough to make a couple of friends during my first weeks in London and they were the ones who had excellent recommendations. They were very picky too, which reassured me that if they liked it place, it must be good.
These shops that I'll be introducing to you are a mix of the above. I found some on my own and I was guided to the others. Either way, they have such a wide variety of atmospheres. You can choose which ones fit with you the best before you go try them out.
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"Shaken, not stirred." It's the iconic line of the famous British character, James Bond, created by Ian Fleming. The rumor is that DUKES bar is where Ian Fleming would have his dry martini cocktails. You can find DUKES bar at St. James Place, right by the St. James Park and the Buckingham Palace. It's located inside of a beautiful, traditional hotel. Hotel patrons can book a reservation while other guests can enter on a first come first serve basis.
The interior screams "British" from the crown moulding and velvet one-seater couches to the antique painted portraits hanging on the walls. We were seated on dark velvet sofas and handed a bowl of assorted nuts and crisps. The bar tender in their white penguin suits will roll their cart of chilled glasses and spirits right next to your table and mix the cocktails in front of you. That simple act gives the bar a polished, professional feel because you're watching your drink made with precision and care. There's and elegance to the entire process. A true mixology craft.
You can't come all the way to DUKES for the first time and not order a martini. It IS where the creator of James Bond is rumoured to have found his inspiration. I ordered the vodka martini and it was as refreshing as it looks in the photo above.
Most places in the UK legally have precisely measured light pours of liquor. At DUKES, it's a true pour of liquor that I'm used to when I was in the States. The martini was perfect. Since they are a bit heavy handed with the liquor, you are cut off after two martinis. Gasp!
I think that's best for everyone, including you. Don't worry. It doesn't mean you have to just sit there and twiddle your thumbs. You can order other beverages such as champagne afterwards. But you likely won't need it.
Since DUKES was a bit high on our price range with drinks averaging £20+, we decided to switch venues to another great place nearby called Kwānt in Mayfair. You were greeted with the same white penguin-suited servers, so the level of luxury felt similar. With ambient lighting, music and classic decor, it felt much more of a sociable atmosphere. Of course, the drinks were premium quality as well and about £5 cheaper than Dukes on average.
My friends and I could spend hours at Kwānt because it felt like you're in your own world with your seated area feeling enclosed and quaint. With that fancy living room type of space with wall to wall liquor cabinets, it facilitates for fantastic conversations.
Now, if you're looking for smooth old school music, a killer sound system to admire all night with a tad brighter than ambient lighting along with large format seating for larger groups, I point you to Spiritland in King's Cross. There's a live DJ, great atmosphere, and a large selection of fantastic cocktails.
Do you want to snack and sip some cocktails with friends after dinner? That's fine here.
Are you letting the music take over and find yourself on your feet dancing between the tables? That's completely okay here, too. The DJ will keep the great songs coming your way all night.
It's that type of relaxed and fun environment that makes you sway to the music. What's great is it's located right next to the restaurant Dishoom. So, if you find yourself wanting to hang out with friends longer after dinner, you've got a spot next door.
If you're coming out of work with your colleagues and just want a hip place with chill vibes and cheaper drinks, I recommend Dinerama. I described my experience of it in another post called The Food Courts of London.
There are several booths inside Dinerama that serve drinks that aren't only cocktails including the Gin Kitchen, Winerama, the Beer Bar, and Pioneer just to name a few. The plus side of going to Dinerama is that you can also eat a variety of foods while you drink.
Dinerama is a really interesting place, because the establishment creates an outdoor feel like you're at a night market, especially with the decorated oil barrels that you can lean on or place your drinks on while you chat. Each of the food and drink stalls are individually owned and they can rotate out with other vendors. There are tons of wooden tables and seats all around the centre of Dinerama, so it's nearly impossible to run out of seats.
If you don't want the market type of vibe, you can always walk up the stairs to the wine and cocktail bars upstairs. They have proper table seats and your typical bar counters. It also feels a bit warmer upstairs with the heat lamps all around the edges of the ceiling.
There's also a rooftop area that's technically covered, but still gives you that urban rooftop drinking vibe. Those are perfect for the summer.
You now have the options of very high-end, traditional, and casual bars. Depending on whether you want a day drink, an after work drink, or dinner, it'll change where you choose to go. That's the great thing about this variety. You can choose a different style each week and still be thoroughly entertained. Wherever you end up, I hope it's an afternoon or evening of great drinks, great company, relaxing vibes, and building memories in a beautiful place like London.
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