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London’s Must-Visit Hotel Bars

Helen Alexander

Senior Contributor

You don’t have to book a room in order to enjoy the atmosphere at London’s city-centre hotels. From modern cocktail lounges and communal co-working tables to elegant drawing rooms, take time out from your sightseeing itinerary to socialise in these stylish spots.

Travel back in time

Order a martini at Dukes and you might just enjoy the pleasure of long-time bar manager Alessandro Palazzi serving you with a theatrical flourish from his table-side trolley. Sitting in a handsome red-brick building in the middle of Mayfair, this intimate bar consists of a few cosy living rooms overseen by friendly bartenders in white jackets and bow ties. Classic cocktails are mixed while you watch and have a reputation for being super-strong. Settle in among the oil paintings and antiques, and soak up this charming slice of old-school England.

Nearby, close to the high-end fashion labels that line New Bond Street, Claridges is another hotel that has been welcoming guests – from royalty and heads of state to A-list celebrities – for decades. The art deco-inspired interior is the backdrop to a selection of Prohibition-era whiskies sourced from America. However, if you like your cocktails more contemporary, the ever-professional bartenders are happy to oblige. Hidden next to the main bar, The Fumoir’s marble horseshoe bar and twinkling mirror and gilt decor is an intimate spot for a signature Julep (served in luxury Lalique glasses, naturally).

Dukes Cocktail Bar

Pick up interior design inspiration

Offering a relaxing retreat from the fast-paced streets of Soho, the Ham Yard is all about bringing the outside in – the hotel revolves around a tree-filled garden, and the plant-packed bar includes a light-filled conservatory area while tables and chairs fill the stone terrace out front when the sun’s shining. Guests even have access to the rooftop kitchen garden, where herbs are sourced for a selection of cocktails. Blink, and you might forget you are in the middle of London. Admire the bright and bold interiors from award-winning modern British designer Kit Kemp while deciding what to drink – the menu is divided into signature and sparkling cocktails, and many feature house-made syrups, bitters and tonics.

Head over to Clerkenwell and the Zetter for a treasure trove of mismatched lampshades, vibrant rugs and sumptuous armchairs and sofas. Sitting across the lower floors of a 13-bedroom Georgian townhouse, assorted curiosities collected from around the world are on display and even include a stuffed boxing kangaroo. The lounge serves a range of specially created recipes, and ingredients are inspired by the area’s distilling heritage – the apothecary-style counter is lined with vintage bottles filled with cordials and infusions whipped up by the team.

Meanwhile, for a more restrained approach to interior design, the bar at the Connaught was inspired by English cubism and 1920s Irish art. Expect to find candlelight flickering against the platinum silver leaf walls and a cool grey bar that exudes subtle sophistication. The Champagne Room offers an extra-special space that’s overlooked by Sophie Dickens’s life-size bronze diver sculpture. Drinks are served in Baccarat crystal glasses and, while the bar specialises in rare Champagnes and liquors, you can order whatever cocktail you want – the bartenders have an encyclopaedic knowledge of all things spirits.

Connaught, London

Credit: Jamie McGregor Smith

Work, rest and play with the locals

There’s a new generation of hotels in town, and to see one of the bright young bars currently offering an alternative to the historic big-hitters, then head to The Hoxton in Holborn. From afternoon networking over a laptop and a latte to pre-party espresso martinis and post-dinner nightcaps, there’s an always-open feel to the modern Living Room with its large wooden tables that encourage co-working and conversation.

Another option is the minimalist surrounds of the Ace Hotel, where dark wood floors and concrete walls give way to playful touches like the vintage photo booth. Plug in and catch up on your emails during the day, before venturing downstairs to the underground music venue or up to the roof terrace for a view over East London’s sparkling skyline.

Hubbard Bell, London

Order a creative cocktail

With its roaring fire, collection of antique books and velvet armchair, Scarfes Bar in the Rosewood might look like a traditional gentlemen’s club, but the satirical sketches decorating the walls are bang up to date. Named after British artist and caricaturist Gerald Scarfe, this Covent Garden bar hosts live jazz performances seven evenings a week and serves a themed cocktail menu – most recently, the drinks have been inspired by famous musicians, from Prince’s Purple Tears and Aretha Franklin’s Memphis Punch to the Spice Girls’ Tell Me What You Want.

Get up close to the award-winning creations of cocktail king Ryan Chetiyawardana at his latest venture Lyaness, which is situated within the fancy Sea Containers. Sitting next to the Thames, the bar’s blue upholstery and gold fittings and fixtures channel a nautical vibe, while the menu is designed around seven core (and very unique) ingredients. Find out what’s behind the inventive names – from Infinite Banana and Ultra Raspberry to Aromatised Milk Wine – for yourself as you work your way through the masterful menu.

Over in Mayfair, drinks maestro Salvatore Calabrese has been busy coming up with a 1960s themed ‘Our Generation’ cocktail menu for Donovan Bar at Browns. Gaze up at celebrated photographer Terrance Donovan’s black-and-white works before ordering a Swinging Sixties, which is inspired by Mary Quant’s eyebrow-raising mini skirt, a Flower Power gin cocktail that’s bursting with botanicals or a whisky-fuelled ode to David Bowie – a Starman. 

Scarfes Bar, Rosewood, London

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