10 Best Cocktail Bars in East London



East London may be better known for its dirty warehouse raves or underground dive clubs than for cocktail culture, but in fact some of the city’s most innovative and impressive cocktail bars are located right here, often with that added edge of the east. Pretty much any type of cocktail bar you’re looking is tucked away somewhere in this part of town from the high-end creativity at Viajante in Bethnal Green to the underground gloriously ramshackle Ruby.

 

More and more hot bartenders are turning to the east to open up shop, as the city’s playground for experimentation, such as super barmen Ryan Chetiyawardana and Iain Griffiths’ White Lyan, offering solely pre-batched drinks with no perishables and no prep needed. The new-fangled concept is certainly causing a stir in the cocktail world. 

 

The serious art of drinking has never been in a better state in this city than right now. The World’s Best Bars 2013 list just crowned London the cocktail capital of the world, dominating four of the top ten spots. The east’s Nightjar and Happiness Forgets both scooped a well-deserved place.

 

While bar culture changes fast in this city, there are plenty of ways to keep up from following the city’s leading independent bar guide BarChick to the many cocktail events that take place across the city. This list represents a cross-section of the best, but there are of course many more that could have been included.

 




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This cocktail bar brings a taste of the Big Easy to Shoreditch. New Orleans is a city with a rich cocktail history (arguably the birthplace of the cocktail itself), and head bartender, founding member and gentleman imbiber Dan Priseman certainly does this justice with his menu of Sazeracs and French 75s. It looks like it could have hailed straight out of Louisiana too with a parlour vibe, a honky tonk piano and a ceiling fan. There are green booths for seating and a smoking terrace out back. It gets buzzy despite the concealed entrance, but it's officially members only after midnight.


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Tacos and cocktails go together like east Londoners and funny hats; at least they do at this little neighbourhood hideout. When LA-born owner Byron adopted London as his home he blessed this market street with a taste of the street food of his childhood; the pulled pork tacos with salsa verde are the piece de resistance. Let the bartenders know what your tongue likes and they'll mix up a cocktail with your name on it. Packed out with London Fields' locals from coffee-o'clock to closing, the benches outside are a great spot to watch the world pass by. There's also a secret rum den in the basement, Portside Parlour, for those in-the-know ie. most of east London.


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Portuguese chef Nuno Mendes takes diners on a blind tasting exploration of his native land and further afield. Diners put their trust in the man himself for a 6, 9 or 12 course tasting menu, which might include anything from scallops with licorice to duck tongues with beetroot, or bone marrow in beef broth. The idea is that experimental dishes test the senses of those eating them. Boasting a Michelin Star, one of the only in this part of town, Viajante has upped the ante for dining establishments in the East, and certainly cemented the area's foodie reputation. The adjoining cocktail bar makes for an elegant pre-dinner drink, or any other time, when you want a taste of Mendes' creativity without the multiple courses.


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The entrance is hidden on one of East London's busiest streets between a kebab shop and a newsagent. Every detail in this basement bar has been considered from the retro furnishings to the cocktail menus disguised in old Czech books. It's dimly lit and atmospheric – perfect date material. You'll need to call bartender/owner Paul Tvaroh on his number to book, as it's table service only here (and no suits allowed). The shared seating gives it a sociable buzz though. The cocktails may be pricey but you're paying for the experience as much as the drink, and each one comes with a touch of the theatrical. If you want the full experience go for the five-course tasting menu (GBP 30), though it needs to be booked 24-hours in advance.


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From the people behind Marylebone's incredible Purl, this place is bringing together our rose-tinted fantasies from the days of gin palaces and all the squalor and elegance that the Victorian era conjures. The entrance is easy to miss, but once inside it is fitted out like a 19th-century bar complete with lots of dark wood, chesterfield sofas and oil lamps. They have two main rooms, as well as their own Distillery, Dram Shop and Gin Closet with a bathtub for brewing. The cocktails are inspired from bygone eras developed within the in-house lab using innovative techniques requiring the likes of a sous vide, a vacuum and a large array of enzymes. They also have their own barrel and bottle-aged drinks. The excellent nibbles should see you through the night.


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69 Colebrooke Row
Photo courtesy of 69 Colebrooke Row


 

'The Bar with No Name' may solely be referred to as it's street address, 69 Colebrooke Row, but that doesn't make it that secret. It is difficult to find however, at least for the uninitiated, located on a dark side street in Angel. You'll need to ring the bell for entry, and you generally will need a reservation. This has a 1930s lounge bar glamour, with table service only, jazz in the background and vintage alcohol posters on the wall. The flagship bar of London's pioneering cocktail creator, Tony Conigliaro, the drinks are outstanding packed with ingredients you'll only find here, made in his laboratory upstairs. Take the Terroir - distilled clay, flint and lichen creating an earthy liquor unlike anything you will have tasted before. Budding mixologists should look out for cocktail masterclasses, while lounge-lizards will enjoy regular Sunday evening jazz.


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"Callooh! Callay!" was an exclamation of pure joy and celebration in Lewis Carroll's nonsense poem the Jabberwocky, and a well-deserved utterance on stepping foot in this bar. The name is taken from the Lewis Carroll's poem the Jabberwocky, as is this bar's fabulous sense of playfulness. The antique pictures frames, old gramophones, strange light fittings and a cassette tape menu card give it an eclectic vibe, but it gets truly surreal when you pass through the wardrobe door into the secret back bar. The only thing they do take seriously here are the drinks, with some of the best and most inventive cocktails in the area.


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It's tagline is 'Great cocktails. No wallies,' which is exactly what you can expect at Happiness Forgets. Hidden away in a basement beneath wally-haven of Hoxton Square, it's just secret enough to keep out the masses, as well as the fact there's only seating space, so reservations are helpful. Brought to London from Pegu Club trained Alastair Burgess, the drinks are naturally excellent and served up faster than you would normally expect. It's dark inside (almost too dark) and old fashioned with bartenders in waistcoats and rockabilly playing on the stereo.


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Nightjar
Photo courtesy of Nightjar


 

This slice of old school glamour is hidden between two cafes on the fairly grimy City Road near Old Street tube. Head through the unmarked door, down a dark staircase and into the Nightjar: a bar with lilting jazz tunes to lift the soul and send you straight back to the time of speakeasies and seduction. The cocktail list is divided into historical eras from pre-Prohibition to Post War with a selection of vintage spirits to taste from the turn-of-the-century. Fans of the green fairy should head here for the huge range of absinthe. This place has slick service and oodles of style as well the city's most creative cocktails. They also have live music many nights of the week, all fitting with theme of course.


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Meet Tyler Wetherall

Tyler Wetherall is a freelance writer specialising in travel, food & drink, covering topics as varied as narcs in the Colombian jungle to cocktail drinking in Cuba. Tyler has lived in London...  More About Tyler

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