Our Favorite Cocktail Bars in London

We like a good drink. Who doesn’t?

We certainly have done our fair share of “research” into drinking in London. And while we love gin and tonics and a good pint as much as the next person, we sometimes want something a little different, a little creative. That’s when we hit the streets of London in search of a fun and funky cocktail bar to soothe our fancy cocktail cravings.

The menu at Happiness Forgets: Cocktail bars in London

These crazy cocktail bars are places that have skilled mixologists crafting drinks with unusual ingredients like gunpowder tea tincture, Iranian date syrup, and burnt toast. Your drink may arrive in a copper pot still, or a Peruvian puzzle jug, or maybe even an oversized sea shell (not joking). You may even have to make a reservation, just to grab a drink.

But if you’re up for the adventure, we’ve done our best to narrow down the best places in town for a fancy, witty drink.

Happiness Forgets: One of our favorite cocktail bars in London

Happiness Forgets, Hoxton

Happiness Forgets (with a great tagline: “High End Cocktails Low Rent Basement”) is situated in a cozy basement in Hoxton Square that is accessed by a set of stairs in front of the Petit Pois Bistro (same owners). That is helpful information, as there is no visible signage for Happiness Forgets from the sidewalk. We tend to go right when they open at 5pm to avoid any queues, but if you want to get a cocktail at 8pm on a Friday (or almost any night really), then a booking is essential.

Like many serious cocktail bars, Happiness Forgets does not allow standing. This means that even when it is full, the atmosphere is still pretty relaxed, and the dark space and comfortable booths encourage prolonged drinking. Cocktails range from around £10-12, and the menu changes frequently, featuring around twelve cocktails at a time. The staff is super friendly, so if you can’t decide between the Gold Mine or the Tokyo Collins, just ask for a recommendation.

The Hug a Wildcat sharing drink at Nightjar in London. One of our favorite cocktail bars in London

Nightjar, Hoxton

Nightjar is yet another sort of hidden bar along a rather busy stretch of City Road, between a blue collar cafe and a fried chicken shop. The only signage is a small silver placard on the door with a drawing of a nightjar bird. Very subtle. Unless you go early, booking is essential to gain access to the basement bar. The cocktail menu at Nightjar is impressive, containing dozens of crazy concoctions, like a barrel-aged Hong Kong cocktail and Beyond the Sea, which is served in (and sipped from) an actual seashell.

The sharing cocktail section is fun for any group, with eight options, serving anywhere from 2-6 people. We liked the Hug a Wildcat, containing cachaca, tequila, pisco, gooseberry jam, kumquat juice, and Tokaji sweet wine. That mixture, if you’re curious, tastes kind of like a sweet and sour orange juice. It’s also served from a wooden Peruvian puzzle jug.

Artesian, Marylebone

Artesian is located just off the main lobby of the posh Langham Hotel, so no secret signage or hard to find location here. The space is bright and airy, and feels a little more polished than most of the bars we frequent, with grand chandeliers and spacious tables. Don’t let the hotel location deter you – from 2012-2016, Artesian has been listed #1 on the World’s 50 Best Bars list. The large cocktail menu is divided into Artesian’s Classics and Surrealism, a new section that focuses on avant-garde cocktail creation, served in crazy, imaginative vessels.

The only downside of Artesian is that it is one of the priciest cocktail bars we’ve been to with most drinks costing around £17. On the plus side, the staff are some of the friendliest in all of London (not common at bars in luxury hotels), and will happily describe any drink or provide recommendations based on your preferences.

A delicious drink at Artesian bar in London. One of our favorite cocktail bars in London

69 Colebrooke Row, Angel

This tiny cocktail bar near the Angel Tube Station is hard to find, but luckily, the name is also the address (is that cool, or just plain lazy? You decide). Behind the door, this rather cramped bar has been packed since it opened in 2009. Booking is definitely necessary.

The cocktail list is brief, containing twelve cocktails, all priced at £10.50. The Prairie Oyster (£7.50) is the exception, consisting of a tomato yolk, horseradish vodka, micro herbs, sherry, shallots and pepper sauce, though it is consumed in one gulp from an oyster shell. Very fun indeed. The one big caveat for this bar is that despite having seats for all customers, the tables are quite snug, so you’ll definitely get to know your neighbors.

Ladies and Gents, a cocktail bar in a old Victorian public bathroom. One of our favorite cocktail bars in London

Ladies and Gents, Kentish Town

Ladies and Gents is one of our favorite cocktail establishments, because of its incredible location. The entrance is in the middle of an intersection in Kentish Town, in a converted, underground Victorian-era public restroom. How cool is that!? The cocktail list is small but fun, and most drinks are under £10, a deal by London standards. The Gentlemen’s Old Fashioned is one of my favorites, garnished with a piece of Werther’s Original candy. Around the holidays they also serve a hot buttered rum which is beyond words. Ladies and Gents, the best use of a public restroom we’ve ever seen.

Peg + Patriot, Bethnal Green

Located inside the Town Hall Hotel, Peg + Patriot is a perfect place to grab a drink before heading across the hall for dinner at the excellent restaurant, Typing Room. The menu is seasonal, and every few months the bar staff come up with drink ideas in six categories: Long, Sour, Strong, Savoury, Shot, and Non-Alcoholic. They taste them all, and then vote for their top 3 in each category, which then get placed on the menu. Very democratic.

The drinks here are all pretty funky, and involve tons of ingredients and garnishes. The Bangkok Penicillin, packed with aromatic Thai spices (it is not often that ‘crustaceans’ is listed as an allergen on a drink menu) is delicious and bizarre, tasting like a Thai curry in liquid form. The Redneck Caviar, a rye-based cocktail spiked with dry peanuts and smoke, is unusual but hard to put down.

A cocktail at Happiness Forgets in London. One of our favorite cocktail bars in London

Zetter Townhouse, Clerkenwell

Set in a converted townhouse, the Zetter Townhouse Cocktail Lounge is like hanging out in someone’s Victorian-era home. Each room is decorated a little differently, but all in period pieces, including heavy drapery, vintage leather sofas, and original hardwood floors. The cocktail list is compact, containing 12-14 drinks. They focus on the distilling history of the neighborhood, using vintage spirits, bitters, herbal remedies, infusions, and cordials. Drinks are enhanced with things like dandelion and burdock bitters, or plum shrub and tarragon tincture. I don’t know what any of those things are, but I do know that they taste good!

What are some of your favorite cocktail bars in London? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

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  • July 30, 2016

    looks like an amazing pub crawl or cocktail crawl that could be done with this list. I would be heading for the under 10-pound cocktails as you say that would be a steal in London

    • August 1, 2016

      it is amazing that I consider cocktails under £10 a steal…thank you London for completely skewing my perspective over the last 3 years!

  • July 30, 2016

    Wow! Under 10 pound- we should have seen this post when we were there! Thanks for sharing. Bookmarking!!
    anna recently posted…Must Try Restaurants in Chiang Mai, ThailandMy Profile

    • August 1, 2016

      It is certainly easy to spend a lot of money in London, especially on cocktails!

  • July 30, 2016

    Good list! I love the artisian, but can seldom afford it. I like the blind pig too (above social eating house) and the bars at the Westbury and Dukes st James
    Fiona Maclean recently posted…Strawberry Breakfast Muffins with White ChocolateMy Profile

    • August 1, 2016

      many of these cocktail bars are splurges for us too, since we don’t fancy spending £15 on cocktails too often!

  • July 30, 2016

    Awesome post, very easy to comprehend and useful for travellers. Lived in London my whole life, in love with the place. The day I’ll be able to afford cocktails in London as a student will be a very happy day though ahah
    Natasha Welch recently posted…So… what even is there in Le Mans?My Profile

  • July 30, 2016

    What a perfect list! 😉 Can’t wait to try some of this cocktails next time I’m in London. 😉

  • July 31, 2016

    Coming from Nebraska and now living in a tiny Bavarian village, I think it’s funny that a place needs a reservation! BUT, when in London! I love artisan and fancy cocktails, but could only imagine the pricetag while in London, but I’m sure if you drink enough of them, you forget about that 😉
    LeAnna Brown recently posted…Budget Travel meets Travel Hacking: Getting the cheapest trips possible everytimeMy Profile

    • August 1, 2016

      you may forget about them at the time, but it could be a rude awakening the next morning when you see you credit card bill

  • July 31, 2016

    Great list! I love those hidden bars where you really have to know where they are. And also I like cocktails that completely surprise me. This list is fantastic. Unfortunately I have only been once to London for a business trip. Can’t wait to go there again and to try out one fancy cocktail bar. Thanks for sharing your tips!

    • August 1, 2016

      You have to make some time for fun cocktails next time!

  • July 31, 2016

    What a coincidence you mention gin and tonic, it’s one of my favourite drinks, especially in the summer. Thanks for putting together this bar guide – I think there is really a lot of various pubs in London, so it’s always nice to have some local recommendation!

  • August 1, 2016

    These are some fantastic looking cocktails. I think I’m most interested in the Zetter House lounge – it seems like a great mix of history and drinking – two of my great loves.

    • August 1, 2016

      a super cool venue. Relaxed and totally fun!

  • August 2, 2016

    I love the names of the bars! They’re so creative! Thanks for doing all of this research for us! 😉
    Vicky and Buddy recently posted…Should Travelers Only Eat At Local Restaurants?My Profile

  • August 2, 2016

    I guess whenever I’m in town, I’ll try to take a sip or two of these colorful drinks. 🙂
    Interesting bar names, too.
    Dave recently posted…Cycling Across Europe | Greece to England by BicycleMy Profile

  • August 17, 2016

    Wow, you just had an amazing little pub crawl adventure! Thanks so much for sharing, this is a wonderful post! I hope to find myself in London one day so maybe I too can experience the amazing fun ya’ll seem to have had! Thanks so much for all of the great information! Thanks for sharing, keep up the awesome work!

    • August 18, 2016

      Thanks for the kind words. There are certainly a lot of great places to grab a cocktail in London!