Outside of Soho, it’s hard to know where to get a good cocktail in zone 1. But fear not: just down the road is Holborn and Clerkenwell, boasting award-winning, unusual and seriously inventive cocktail bars.
Bounce Ping Pong
Cocktail Bar, Restaurant, Fast Food, $$$
Ah, the heady mix of ping pong and cocktails — why on earth did no one think of this before? This is a perfect combination: perhaps it’s because you don’t mind running after the ball every two seconds once you’ve had a drink. You’ll need to book a table at Bounce but it’s a fun night out if there’s lots of you. On top of the games, there are the cocktails — there’s a pretty lengthy list and non-drinkers are catered for, over and above the typical OJ or Coke offering.
Cocktail Bar, European, Indian
If you’re looking to impress then a date at Scarfes Bar won’t hurt your chances. It’s tucked away in the Rosewood Holborn hotel, but this is no ordinary hotel bar. The bar has become the personal art gallery of renowned cartoonist Gerald Scarfe. It’s stocked full of antique books and there’s a proper fire in the winter. Add to that their live jazz and inventive cocktails and you’ve got a romantic evening out.
The London Cocktail Club
Cocktail Bar, Fast Food, $$$
The London Cocktail Club has planted itself all over London; we reckon you’re probably never more than a mile away from one in Zone 1. Which is lucky because their Happy Hour offers and drinks deals are legendary. Always up for a good time, the staff can knock out cocktails at a rate of knots and while it might not be as fancy as some other cocktail bars, it’s always party time at London Cocktail Club.
Cafe, Cocktail Bar, European, Vegan, $$$
Cocktail Bar, North American, $$$
1920 has been at the heart of Clerkenwell cocktail life for the last 15 years and regularly wins awards for its cocktail list and sultry, anything-goes kind of vibe. There are two floors, pool tables and the possibility of a late license — everything you need really from a central bar. The cocktail list happily sits on the right side of uniqueness without being too pretentious.
Cafe, Cocktail Bar, Italian, Vegetarian, $$$
Former bar of the year, Barsmith serves up Italian food and luscious cocktails in equal measure. The bar makes its own spirit infusions, mixing the booze with botanicals, herbs and spices to create something unique — the cocktail list here is unlike any other in the city. If you know your cocktails and want to try something new, it’s definitely worth propping up the bar here.
Clerkenwell & Social
Cocktail Bar, Pub, Pub Grub, Vegetarian, $$$
This two-story pub is a great spot in the summer, sat on a cobbled square in the heart of Clerkenwell. House-infused cocktails can be balanced out with homemade pizzas — basically Clerkenwell & Social is the kind of pub you could come for lunch and end up staggering out at midnight quite happily. The cocktails are quirky (hello Breaking Good and Moby Kick) and inspired — a step up from your normal pub attempts.
The Zetter Townhouse
Cocktail Bar, European
Inside the area’s coolest hotel sits one of its coolest bars. You never know who you might spot in the cocktail bar of The Zetter Townhouse: it’s a favourite of the media and music folk who work round here. It’s not hard to see why: the quirky Victoriana of the décor (inspired by a fictional Great Aunt Wilhelmina) and the award-winning cocktails make it a place you can easily lose a few hours.
Be At One
Cocktail Bar, European, $$$
If you’re after quick off the mark cocktails that don’t take all night to make, Be At One is slick and stylish. Rather than try and mess with tried and tested, much loved recipes, Be At One has a lengthy list of traditional favourites and some less well known Prohibition style cocktails. It also offers masterclasses where you get to shake and strain your own.