Oh, how have we managed it? 31 long, dragging days of unyielding, uncompromising sobriety. True; we’ve managed to shave a few seconds off our Parkrun times — and the lack of head-caving hangovers has been lovely. But there have been frosty moments, too. There was no taking the edge off hard days, no warming ourselves on the colder evenings and toasting with a glass of sparkling water just felt downright disrespectful. Also — who knew social situations were so hard?
Thankfully, February is all but here — and we’re free to ease our way back to the bottle. That is, unless you’re a changed man, in which case we’ve found some stellar non-alcoholic beers and alternative spirits during the course of our January research. But, if you are looking forward to dipping back into tipples, we suggest you do it in style. Here are the five best London bars in which to rejoin the party…
Set sail for J Sheekey Atlantic Bar in Covent Garden
Pillar-box red and shimmering turquoise pop together in Covent Garden to form the frontage of J Sheekey’s Atlantic Bar — the kookily-named restaurant and bar serving up tip-top fish dishes in the heart of the West End. But, as good as the Drunken Mussels are (and they really are intoxicatingly good), you’ll often find us side-stepping the seafood in favour of a sparkling selection of cocktails.
So pull up a stool at the horseshoe-shaped oyster bar, ignore the bar bites and instead work your way down the cocktail menu this February. Everything from the honey-soaked Hive Mind to the all-spicey, all-maracaring Latin Spirit is worth a try, and — if you do get peckish — you could do a lot worse than the tempura oyster with white soy dressing. You’ll even get 25% off if you flash your Gentleman’s Journal Clubhouse card.
Don’t leave without trying: The Atlantic Bar Martini, a lemongrass-infused, seaweed-garnished spin on the original.
Find them at: 28 – 32 St Martin’s Court, Covent Garden
Kick up a scandalous storm at Soho’s Disrepute
Found in the notorious 1960s haunt, The Pinstripe Club, Disrepute has earned some stripes of its own. Nestled under Kingly Court, this plushly decorated, velvet-upholstered bolthole of a bar is the perfect place to turn back time; and to whittle and fritter away an evening exploring one of the capital’s most exclusive cocktail menus (Disrepute, or D.R.P, is a member’s bar, but applications are always open and walk-ins are also encouraged).
But back to that cocktail list. Concocted for adventurous drinkers, the menu is presented as a series of short stories starring characters from Soho’s heyday: from Audrey Hepburn to Cary Grant. Choose which tale you most associate with, and the good barmen at Disrepute will craft you a cocktail to match. Then, topped up by the jazziest soundtrack this side of Ronnie Scott’s, sip away at your decadent, dissolute pleasure.
Don’t leave without trying: The Between The Sheets, a scandalous swirl of rum, cognac, triple sec and lemon peel.
Find them at: 4 Kingly Court, Soho
Live music and livelier company is to be found at Nolita Social
Now here’s a bar that turns up the noise. Nolita Social throbs with a lifeblood of live music; tracks and tunes that go down all the smoother for a music-themed cocktail list. That’s right, every glassful you’ll guzzle at this Knightsbridge bar is named for a hit single from a hitmaker; from the Beatles-inspired, calvados-drenched Come Together to the Rolling Stones-influenced, barrel-smoked bourbon-based Sympathy For The Devil. And the best part? As a Gentleman’s Journal Clubhouse member, you’ll get a complimentary signature cocktail on arrival.
There’s a firmly fashionable dress code in place — ensuring a stylish drinking session, and being found underneath the storied Bulgari Hotel, there’s the option to crash in one of the many rooms above after over-indulging in a night of Studio 54-style partying. Marble tables, velour booths and an eclectic selection of throw cushions almost begging to be stolen — this is another retro night out for the modern drinker.
Don’t leave without trying: The Stayin’ Alive, an exotic vodka-banana blend topped up with a dance-fuelling espresso.
Find them at: 4 Knightsbridge Green, Knightsbridge
Up your whisky knowledge and cool credentials at Black Rock
Oh, you’re cool, are you? The sort of drinker who doesn’t need a menu, doesn’t need anything explaining — hell, who doesn’t even need a bar in your bar? Well then, roll up to Black Rock — the edgiest, most excellent whisky joint in all of London. In a small basement in Hackney, this tiny establishment organises its whisky in cabinets categorised by flavour rather than region — and features an 18-foot, 185-year-old ‘interactive cocktail ageing system’ at its centre in the form of an ancient oak tree trunk. We’ve got no idea how it works either, but it looks bloody impressive.
So, if you’re looking to dive into a wetter February head-first, then hit up the strong stuff at Black Rock. There are over 300 different bottles on offer, such as a Glenfiddich 30-year-old, and some further-flung Japanese offerings, including a Chichibu Single Malt. It’s the ideal place to fall back in love with whisky; dark, mysterious and teeming with tip-top tipples.
Don’t leave without trying: A single of straight Laphroaig Quarter Cask, the base of many a Black Rock cocktail.
Find them at: 9 Christopher Street, Finsbury
Kick off your own roaring twenties at Scarfes Bar
Of course, if you want to make your long-awaited return to the cocktail menu a real occasion — we’re talking several esteemed guests, a cocktail dress code and no scheduled end to the evening — then Scarfes Bar is the only real option. A stone’s throw from Covent Garden, this decadent drinking den can be found in the Rosewood Hotel — and is a fashionable flurry of antique books, open fireplaces and drawing-room decor. It’s a real Gatsby of a bar; ideal for your first drink of the new roaring twenties.
And what drinks it has. Approached as art, the cocktails of Scarfes Bar are carefully crafted by ‘expert mixologist artisans’ — so important they titled them thrice — and are not drinks, but potions. In a musical twist, they’re split into Piano (light and refreshing), Mezzo Forte (medium with character) and Fortissimo (full-bodied), and utilise ingredients as disparate as Green Coffee and Pineapple Milk. If you’re walking straight when you leave, you’re doing it wrong.
Don’t leave without trying: The Hope Street, a reggae-inspired rum drink with hemp and Reggae Reggae sauce (really).
Find them at: 252 High Holborn, Holborn
Returning to the bottle, but looking to keep things healthy? Hard seltzer is the new drinking trend you need to know about…
Join the Gentleman’s Journal Clubhouse here.