Cocktail Hour: London Edition

I’ve been back in the States in a real way since the new year, and back to posting on occasion, but first, I offer this to all my readers:

Just some friendly advice.

Because the good people at Jezebel (part of the Gawker empire) post every five minutes. They are there for you. I’m here only when the inspiration strikes.

So let’s hit the title subject now, shall we?

After re-entry, I’ve gotten a lot of questions about what London was like, how I’m feeling about New Jersey now, when I might go back, etc. However, HANDS DOWN, the most popular question is:

Where should I go for a good cocktail in London, Jen? WHERE?

This question (based on my extensive non-scientific research) seems to be weighing equally on the minds of the French, the British, the Australians, and the Americans. Bespoke cocktails will unite us. You can consider this the first plank of my party platform.

So, in no particular order, here’s the short list of places that serve great cocktails worth their price:

1. Hakkasan
Just off Oxford Street, tucked behind Tottenham Court Road Tube (which based on its reputation and my experience would make this stop a kind of liquid dinner theatre,) is the original Hakkasan. It’s down an alley (off a narrow street with a great record shop, an after-hours bar–which means less now in 2013 than it did in 2002, and a low-key Korean restaurant.) You descend into the bar (which is also a restaurant, though I’ve never eaten there.) Ignore the icy door staff of women all wearing the same dress and go straight to the bar. I think this place is best when it’s nearly empty–5:30 on a Tuesday is a great time. The decor makes you feel like you’re in a movie, and the bartenders are smart and no-nonsense. Plus, you feel as if you have descended into another world, and when you hit Tottenham Court Road Tube on the way out, you somehow feel you’re in Bladerunner.

2. VOC
Yes, it’s a 17th-century inspired punch house, and yes, the speciality is punch. But this is the punch that you hope you get when you dip a tiny cut glass curvaceous mug into a giant cut glass punch bowl. The bar is tucked into a new development near Kings’ Cross that feels narrow and labyrinthine once you get inside (and the counterpoint of the tapas restaurant that always spills diners out in the courtyard makes the isolation feel paradoxically vibrant.) VOC is small and dark and intimate and focused. Try the Flogged Flip on a cool night.

3. Worship Street Whistling Shop
This place was the second stop in a “time travel though cocktails” night I organized for some friends who visited London last fall. I loathe to use this word, but the place is a little bit steampunk, but in the best, most extraordinary sense of the word. It feels both of the past and of the moment. I had a gin drink with an enormous square ice cube, some kind of grapefruit powder and a chewy anise lollipop–at least that’s how I remember it. It was both drink and game (and still delicious.) The basement setting feels like a hideout, and everything is infused with a sense of play and science. Plus, the service was warm and thoughtful–no snobbery in a place that might seem at first glance to be built with the bones of departed hipsters. It’s not–though gents with novelty mustaches will be greeted especially warmly.

4. 69 Colebrooke Row
It’s a bit trendy–“the bar with no name” and all, but it’s full of magnificent cocktails and charm. When I first visited, it was on an empty Tuesday night. A young couple made out by the front window, and my husband and I sat alone at the bar. There was a sleepy quality to the place, and after our first cocktail (we’d only planned on one,) the bartender brought us two of these. Sincerely, that “drink” is one of the most excellent things I’ve ever had the pleasure of drinking. . . and sort of eating. On our next visit, the place was packed. An oversized mustachioed gent played 30’s style jazz on the piano, and every table spilled over to the other resulting in fevered conversations about footie and American education. Just go. The Bar with No Name is stellar. (And they offer masterclasses!)

5. The Zetter Townhouse Cocktail Bar
Wouldn’t it be nice if Wes Anderson owned a cool townhouse in London? Wouldn’t it be great if he just invited friends over every night and let them have the run of the first floor and he served drinks? Wouldn’t it be great if you were one of these friends? Ok. I don’t know Wes Anderson personally, but The Zetter could give you affirmative answers to all the aforementioned fantastical questions. Faux luxe interiors, overdecorated casually in a style that feels both rich and shabby? Check. Wacky taxidermy? Check. Great simple cocktails that you might serve at a Rushmore Academy alumni event? Check. This is a place to linger and talk about smart things and feel somehow quirky and glamorous at the same time.

NOTE: Drinking at Hakkasan is best done at the bar during a non-peak day/time. However, for the other four on the list, you can (and should) book a table in advance. Yes, sports fans, you read that right: In London, you can book a table at a bar. Rule Brittania, indeed.

FINAL NOTE: Mustaches reference count for this entry: 2!

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