10 bars every American should visit in London

The Royal Automobile Club on Jenography.net

There are world-class bars in cities across the globe, but the best ones in London have a particular style when it comes to drinking.

You can lift a glass in a room bedecked in period lavender cornicing or in a historic music hall that references several eras of its history all at once. For Americans, these drinking hotspots showcase the grand buildings, the hidden societies, the plummy style and the London buzz that captivates residents and visitors alike. NOTE: Some of these establishments may be temporarily closed due to Covid-19.

Here, the places I recommend every American (as well as other visitors) should go for a drink in London. Don’t think of it as mere “drinking”. Think of it as cultural and historical research.

1. The Blue Bar, The Berkeley Hotel, Knightsbridge

Best for: Dress-up cocktails

Sultry, sophisticated and, yes, blue, this bar designed by the David Collins (who also designed The Wolseley) oozes savoir faire of the British variety. Drinks both classic and complicated are poured by attentive bartenders, served with ice chipped from a crystal clear block at the end of the bar. It’s chic enough to bring your tech friends who work in Mountain View, California, and cosy enough that other patrons won’t overhear you pitching an idea that Google will acquire for billions in 2 years’ time.

The Blue Bar on Jenography.net

2. Wilton’s Music Hall, Grace’s Alley, Tower of London

Best for: Run-down glamour

You’ll get a real taste of East End heritage at Wilton’s, which bills itself as the world’s oldest music hall. The buildings that make it up began life in the 1690s as individual houses and over the years the property has been an ale house serving Scandinavian sea captains, a saloon theatre and a music hall, before falling into disrepair for three decades. Thanks to a restoration campaign begun in 1997, it’s home again to theatre, music, and events. Go for drinks in the delightfully scruffy bar and stay for a show in the historic hall.

Wilton's Music Hall front door on Jenography
Picture by James_Perry. Courtesy of Wilton’s

3. The Grand Cafe at the Royal Exchange, Bank, The City

Best for: After-work Champagne

Socialising in this interior courtyard of The Royal Exchange reminds me when I used to have cocktails in Grand Central Terminal in New York City: Here it’s all dazzling space and buzz. The imposing columns outside were inspired by the Pantheon in Rome and Queen Victoria officially opened the building in 1844. If you try to take a picture, one of the nice security guards will tell you it’s not allowed, so sit at the circular bar or one of the tables and simply enjoy the hubbub from City drinkers, the grand soaring space, and the lure of the luxury shopping boutiques.

The Grand Cafe at the Royal Exchange on Jenography
The Grand Cafe at the Royal Exchange

4. The Boundary, Shoreditch

Best for: Rooftop views

You can’t help but feel a little bit more chic when you visit this East London destination, which features 3 restaurants, a hotel and one of the best rooftop bars around. In summer the open-air garden space beckons, while an enclosed heated orangery populated with citrus trees keeps things warm in cooler months. There are sofas, blankets, an open fire and views across the trendiest quarter of London.

The Orangery at The Boundary / Picture by Paul Raeside
The Orangery at The Boundary / Picture by Paul Raeside


5. The George Inn, Borough

Best for: A traditional pint in a cobbled courtyard

London is full of great, picturesque pubs, but this one has some quite special hisstory behind it. Owned by the National Trust, it’s the last remaining galleried coaching inn in London, built in 1677 and mentioned in Dickens’ Little Dorritt. On fine days, sit at one of the outside tables in the courtyard, overlooked by the galleries, or enjoy a pint in one of the snug interconnecting rooms with oak beams and latticed windows. It’s just a few minutes from London Bridge station and if you visit on one of the days the full market is running at Borough Market, you can combine it with a wander through the mouthwatering food stalls.

The George Inn in London on Jenography
Image courtesy of The National Trust

6. The Beaufort Bar, The Savoy, Covent Garden

Best for: Jazz Age-inspired hijinks

Everyone knows about (and recommends) the American Bar at this iconic London hotel. With a name like that, it seems made for Americans, and it is nice. But the Beaufort Bar, just off the hotel’s Thames Foyer, is a stunning, low-lit Art Deco venue for sophisticated drinking. (Some of cocktails feature rare and vintage spirits that run to three figures.) Come and listen to nightly entertainment, catch the regular cabaret and burlesque performances, or order a gimlet and canoodle at one of the tables that gleam like ebony piano keys.

Beaufort Bar at the Savoy on Jenography.net

7. The Nightjar, City Road, Shoreditch

Best for: Artful drinking

Bartenders at other hip spots in London will tell you where they like to drink: The Nightjar. It regularly makes every list of best bars, but don’t go here to get a dry white. Drinks are described as Pre-Prohibition, Prohibition, Post-War and Signature, and ingredients range from truffled potato puree to bee pollen to pumpkin bitters. You might be drinking something nestled in a cloud of dry ice smoke or out of container akin to a bong. There is live music every night (a cover charge can apply). Make reservations early — they book up — or check out their sister bar, The Oriole.

The Nightjar bar in London on Jenography
Picture by Jerome Courtial

8. Bars at the Shard, London Bridge

Best for: Sky-high views

Bars at this iconic skyscraper are situated on levels 31, 33, and 52 and they’ve got a system for people who want to visit them. We’ve rocked up on a last-minute whim, waited 20 minutes, then been escorted into Gong on the 52nd floor at a small table in the middle of the room. Thirty minutes later, a woman approached us: “Would you like a window seat?” We were duly moved to seats up against the glass, overlooking the Thames and London Bridge. Aqua Shard (31st floor) has double-height windows. It’s dramatic, pricey, and fun. Leave your trainers and shorts at home; the dress code — as one would expect — is smart casual. Gone one further: Match the view by dressing with pizzazz.

Aqua Shard
The bar at Aqua Shard

9. Experimental Cocktail Club, Chinatown

When you’re in this part of town, near the chain wine bars and crowded restaurants of Leicester Square and West End theatres, a decent drink can seem like a tall order. The Experimental Cocktail Club is in the heart of Chinatown’s Gerrard Street, amid the noodle shops and golden ducks hanging in restaurant windows. Look for the anonymous door at No 13a and dress smart to gain entry via the doorman (or better yet, book ahead via their website). Up the stairs in this townhouse, you’ll find brick walls, cut glass tumblers and masterful mixology. The vibe is Parisian louche (the French owners also run bars across La Manche) but without a whiff of pretension. Night owls take note: They’re open til 3am.

Experimental Cocktail Club Chinatown on jenography.net
The door of the Experimental Cocktail Club Chinatown

10. Private members’ clubs, Pall Mall, Soho, Shoreditch, and more

You have to finagle an invitation from a member to get inside one of these clubs, but it is oh so worth it. Long-established places like the Reform Club (with architecture by Sir Charles Barry, best known for the Houses of Parliament) and the Royal Automobile Club have stately architecture and guidelines for comportment. Relative newcomers like The Groucho or Shoreditch House promote bohemian buzz. Whether you’re in an 18th-century, Grade II listed building or amid media screening rooms and art galleries, visiting one of these private enclaves is an exclusive — and coveted — experience. See a list of some of the best clubs in this article and start cultivating friends who can get you in.

The Royal Automobile Club on Jenography.net
Picture courtesy of The Royal Automobile Club

Where do you like to drink in London? I’d love to hear your suggestions!

Pin for later

10 best bars for Americans in London

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Author: Jennifer Howze

I'm a journalist and blogger. Previously I was The Times's online lifestyle editor and Alpha Mummy blogger. Now I'm co-founder of BritMums and BritMums Live! - our annual blogging conference that draws hundreds. Follow me on Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter and Google+.

17 thoughts on “10 bars every American should visit in London”

  1. I have been to remarkably few of these – Wilton’s is one I’ve always intended to though. And extra suggestions for cocktail drinking are always good *books babysitter*

  2. Great list – and there are so many more bars I’d love to shout about. Gordon’s Wine Bar, Charing Cross. Le Beaujolais, Covent Garden (apparently the downstairs dining room is amazing and I’m on the lookout for someone with membership who can get me in!) Little Nan’s Tropical den, a pop-up bar where they serve cocktails in chintzy teacups. I went when it was in Deptford, but it’s now moved to Peckham. So many to choose from!

    1. Nell, I love the sound of Little Nan’s Tropical Den. Will have to check it out. And I agree about Gordon’s Wine Bar — it’s a good place to get a drink in an area where there aren’t that many options. Thanks for the suggestions!

  3. Most of these bars look so glamorous! It would be lovely to get dressed up for a night of cocktails and people watching at the Beaufort. For something a bit more casual and wine focused I can recommend Antidote off Carnaby Street. They also do great food

    1. Hey Katy, thanks for the tip. I’ve never been to Antidote but am often around Carnaby Street — great to know a new place for a good glass of wine. x

    1. Ruth, thanks for commenting! I love the Royal Exchange — even just walking up to the building you feel steeped in the glamour of London and inside it’s spacious without being echoing or immense. See you at the bar sometime?

  4. OMG< I ahve not been to even 1 of these! What a fab list Jen, next time we have a date night with hubby, will check some of these out! Love the Shard one for the views!

  5. Fantastic list. I particularly fancy The Blue Bar. I’ve been to a few of the private members’ clubs which is always a treat and I also like the glamour of the Fumoir Bar at Claridge’s. You’ve reminded me that I should definitely come into London more in the evenings! #citytripping

  6. LOTS of bars I need to try out- there are just so many options in London and the past nine months have put a bit of a dent in my boozing (not long until I’m back on it). Love the Experimental Cocktail Club and The Connaught does fab martinis. My husband keeps going on about Mr Foggs which I need to check out. Thanks for inspiring and linking to #citytripping

  7. The Boundary is absolutely one of my favourites especially in the summer, I also love the outdoor bar at Sushisamba for drinks – it’s very pretty with it’s fairylit tree in the middle of the bar. Such a great list – I’ll remember this when I get the chance to escape my two year old:)

  8. Some gorgeous suggestions here. Love the look of The Beaufort Bar.
    I was surprised, when we were staying at The Mondrian, that people have to book to get into some cocktail bars. We rocked up to their own bar, Dandelyan, and were asked if we had a reservation. Thankfully we were early enough to be given a space at the bar but I’m curious to know if this is the norm? You being the expert, Jen, might be able to enlighten me.

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