The cosmopolitan centre of our capital – Marylebone and Fitzrovia – is brimming with exceptional bars, some classic, plotted within sumptuous hotels, others, brand new independents, making headlines with queues of trendsetters eager to get inside.
The sensible older sisters to Soho’s renowned raucousness, and all the better for it, these two districts are truly the places to see and be seen in the city, particularly after 5PM.
Housed in a ‘Tudorbethan’ former pub right in the heart of Marylebone, Clarette’s setting is wholly old-world English. But step through the door and into the wine bar and it’s a vividly French Art-Deco feel. Midnight-blue wood panelling and golden-sconce lamps frame the stained-glass windows in the bar, above which sits a sophisticated salon and up again to the second floor private-dining room. Our go-to order here: a Chateaubriand accompanied by a superior croque monsieur.
Flaming punchbowls, edible grasshoppers, and 200 varieties of rum stocked to the rafters make this cavernous, Havana-style speakeasy an unmissable spot. The name Burlock refers to the twine and hemp sacks used to transport rum secretively during prohibition, and there are many other touches echoing 1920’s Cuba, with a vintage lounge, Caribbean wallpapers, and grand piano taking centre stage. The extensive cocktail list features names like ‘Don Voyage’, ‘Mary’s Pickled’, and ‘Grasshopper Deluxe’ to name a few, or those hunting a smoother tipple must try the ‘Almond Butter Colada’. Who knew so much could be achieved with rum! Psst… there’s even a little Cuban barbershop inside should patrons feel the need for a trim between sips.
Inside a decommissioned fire station from 1887 you’ll find the hotel, bar, and outdoor terrace, which together comprise Chiltern Firehouse. Intimate and cosy – and a good place to celeb spot too – when it first opened, you would be looking for ways to get in, but gone are the days of name dropping. The idea that it is inaccessible is untrue, simply get there early enough to get a seat in the bar, or book a small table ahead of time and enjoy cocktails accompanied by crab stuffed donuts and fried chicken (it’s not a case of either or, both are a must here).
The Mandeville Hotel
Right in the centre of Marylebone is the Mandeville Hotel’s Reform Social Bar & Grill. Taking design inspiration from the gentleman’s supper clubs of times gone by, but with a distinctly modern twist, Reform Social is the ideal location for a quintessentially British drinking experience. Think button-back leather sofas and marble-topped tables, and walls adorned with contemporary art. The bar serves up an array of bites and small plates to tantalise the taste buds late into the night. Guests can cosy away in booths for intimate conversation or raise the roof at larger tables. The Mandeville also offers master classes in cocktail making with their expert mixologists, so you can shake up a storm and learn how to make your rum, gin, or martini-based cocktails best suited to your own individual taste.
Is Purl a bar, or the world’s classiest laboratory? Molecular mixology and scientific concoctions make this basement hideaway a seriously class-leading cocktail saloon. Making a name for itself by offering up innovative, multi-sensory creations, Purl uses aromas, fogs, and foams, twisting up classic cocktails and tantalising taste buds. The Blue Bayou (Absolut Elyx vodka, pisco, yuzu, and citrus sherbet with a foamy “Blue Air’), the smoking Citrus Myrtifolia (navy rum, red vermouth, ginger syrup, and wild strawberry bitter), and absinthe-fuelled mist of the Tinique Punch (maraschino liqueur, rums, honey shrub, and homemade grenadine) are just some of the wild libations guests can sample here, against the soundtrack of soothing strains of jazz.
Just next door to the Wigmore, and a stone’s throw from exciting Oxford Circus, this quirky, award-winning bar within The Langham Hotel complex is a dream in amethyst. Floor to ceiling lilac decorations adorn this sophisticated space, where English regency and Ming dynasty styles gracefully collide. The oriental pagodas that crown the bar are perhaps a satirical suggestion of a place of boozy worship, where congregations come en masse to sample the Artesian’s selection of 50 rums. However it’s the deliciously absurd cocktails that people truly flock here for. Expect to find exotic ingredients such as yuzu, shochu, and vetiver blended with the more familiar, but equally bizarre, artichoke and coriander, served potentially in a golden pineapple, or presented on the haunches of a giant metal ant. Every concoction is a show-stopping performance, and we can guarantee you wont become bored in the eccentric Artesian.
The Waeska Bar
Pop into this little show-stopper of a hotel bar for a tipple or three. The Mandrake is wonderfully OTT, with curiosities to discover at every turn, but it’s the cocktail joint, signposted by a shimmering peacock/deer creature bolted above the bar that makes our heart race. Peruse an intriguing cocktail menu – our pick: the Passion Flower, a Champagne cocktail with fruity, flowery notes – then kickback in the surrealist space until suppertime.
Roka Shochu Lounge
Roka now has multiple locations in the city, serving up sensational Japanese robatayaki cuisine, but it’s the Charlotte Street Shochu lounge that we’re most interested in. This subterranean den is a dark yet tranquil refuge from the hectic city above, and serves up inventive cocktails built around the vodka-like spirit that gives it its name, with some peculiar ingredient additions like plum and sweet potato. Roka’s philosophy speaks for itself: ‘Ro’ is a meeting place for convivial food and drinks, and ‘Ka’ depicts warmth and all-encompassing energy. However, don’t expect to see a traditional coy pond, this establishment is one of absolute style and class.
The Lobby at The London EDITION
The London Edition’s lobby space is a buzzing showpiece. Open to non-guests, a huge silver egg hangs above the bar area, mirroring the scenes of merriment below, directing patrons attention upward to the incredible plasterwork and stuccos that adorn the walls and ceilings. When you’re done gawping at the impressive scene, sink into one of the plush velvety sofas with a cocktail and tuck into some bar bites like Korean spiced chicken wings and some seriously mouth watering truffle mac n cheese balls. If time allows, venture to The Edition’s Punch Room – a modern reincarnation of London’s 19th century private clubs. Its namesake is the focus here: over 30 varieties of punch are available including the signature gin-based ‘Edition’. Panelled in aged oak and strewn with plush button-backed loungers, this elegant room throbs to the rhythm of soul and blues, and often has impromptu live performances.