By Alwynne Gwilt.
Booze, like all life's great joys, can be a wee bit addictive. Ahem. And sometimes, it seems, one type of alcohol can take over more than any other and you find yourself spending hours learning all about your favourite new tipple ad nauseum.
The absolutely delightful thing about London is that it can be easy to indulge those new desires by heading to a bar that takes a single type of tipple very seriously. Londoners have an extraordinary choice of bars and the cocktail scene seems to be heating up, month on month.
I started musing over this one night at a tequila competition put on by El Jimador recently. Not a fan of tequila, myself, I decided to push my boundaries and give it a go; I used to say the same thing about whisky, after all, and now I spend much of my life writing about it.
The competition saw some of Europe's top bartenders shake things up and show off their mixing skills in an attempt to be crowned the champion of all tequila champions.
My goal was simpler: I just wanted to start liking the stuff. And, not that this will come as a massive surprise, I did. I did like it! The cocktails I tried were fantastic and the gorgeous aged tequila, which was super smooth, a bit sweet, and just a tad like a great bourbon, really made me go “Wow”. What a breakthrough!
As such, I decided to investigate which bars Fluid London readers can go when they get a hankering to imbibe a specific drink, like I did with tequila.
Here are my findings:
Wahaca's Azulito Bar, Soho:
Located underneath Wahaca restaurant on Wardour Street, Azulito bar boasts and incredible 80 agave tequilas and a South American, laid-back atmosphere. Hanging chairs swing from the ceiling, wood panelling keeps it a bit kitschy, and DJs spin some great tunes on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights until midnight.
Just up from Warren Street – away from the hustle and bustle of Soho and the West End – is Mestizo Restaurant and Tequila bar (pictured right), with a praise-worthy list of tequila cocktails. The tequilas include lip tingling Mestizo Spice (a chilli infused tequila, brandy, strawberry and fresh red chilli and lime concoction) and the sumptuous sounding Gold Margarita (Patron reposado with Cointreau, lime, lemon syrup de gomme and tamarind juice).
Albannach, Trafalgar Square:
At the corner of Trafalgar Square is this (sometimes-missed) whisky bar that is popular with people in the know. It's shiny and immaculate, with a large whisky selection and knowledgeable staff. The venue hosts many whisky tastings and offers “flights”, meaning: you can try a selection of whiskies and learn about them, if you're new to the drink.
Athenaeum Whisky Bar, Mayfair:
This hidden gem of the whisky world (pictured right) sits inside the Athenaeum Hotel on Piccadilly. The boutique hotel really pulls out all of the stops to impress those who like a good dram. Boasting one of the only whisky sommeliers in London – in the form of the ever intelligible and friendly Angelo Gobbi – the bar offers patrons a choice of more than 270 different bottles, from a rare 1948 Glenlivet to a more standard 15-year Dalwhinnie. This bar is a whisky lover's dream. The menu also includes specific whisky and cheese pairings, in case you get hungry and fancy really getting your taste buds going.
Boisdale, Canary Wharf:
Boisdale has multiple locations in London, all with fantastic whisky offerings. But, it is the brand's new location at Canary Wharf that has the whisky world's tongues wagging. Its glorious wall of whisky and shiny-windowed setting over the bright lights of the surrounding big buildings makes it a step away from the more “Scottish and tartan” designs of its Belgravia restaurant. Despite its size, the bar still keeps a cozy feel, and a large stage brings a whole host of fantastic jazz bands to entertain you while you sit back and drink your dram.
Blues Kitchen, Camden:
This staple on the Camden high street (pictured right) brings a little bit of southern jazzy influence to North London's bar scene. Offering up a huge selection of carefully chosen bourbons and very knowledgeable bartenders (I once said, “I like this whisky, what bourbon can you recommend?” and was then given a full rundown of two that would exactly match my needs). On Thursday nights, free music acts keep the place buzzing with big, brassy southern blues bands and 1920s style hot jazz acts. Warm, welcoming and perfect for a cold winter's night.
JW Steakhouse Bourbon Bar, Mayfair:
This posh and pricey Mayfair bar (and restaurant) with an American flair, doesn't only offer up sizzling steaks but also houses a bourbon bar to get you going before your meal. An impressive selection of small batch bourbons (to sip solo or in a cocktail) adds another one-drink bar to the West End list. To book a table at this venue, use the booking form below.
Rum & Sugar, Docklands
This newcomer to the Docklands scene makes a show of its history as a rum and sugar warehouse by celebrating all things rum on its menu. There is a long list of quality rums, from aged Santa Teresa to some very cool varieties from Martinique to Guyana. And, the food – all locally sourced and seasonal – is very good, which is handy if you get bored of drinking your mojitos while staring at the lights of the Docklands skyscrapers. To book a table at this venue, use the booking form below.
Cottons Rum Shack, Camden:
If you prefer a Caribbean vibe with your rum, then a trip to Cottons on Chalk Farm Road near Camden tube will be up your street. The restaurant boats the “rum shack” featuring more than 250 varieties of rum so you'd have to come back time and again to get through them all. Finish the night with some spicy dishes in one of the themed restaurant rooms and a few more tasty drinks.
Buena Vista Cuban Café, Clapham
This small hideaway in Clapham North is known for its buzzy vibe and fantastic live music; from jazz to salsa, Havana to lounge. But, it also has an extensive rum list from Cuba, The Dominican Republic, Guatemala and Venezuela so you'll have some great drinks to go with the tunes.
The Absinthe Bar at Brompton Bar & Grill, Knightsbridge:
Hailed as “London's first absinthe bar” when it opened in July 2011, this downstairs 1920s themed bar is dark and cozy; the place you could sip the night away on absinthe cocktails and nostalgia. It features some top-notch absinthe – such as La Clandestine, a version made to the original, clear Swiss recipe and made in the same town widely recognised as the “birthplace of absinthe” - and perfectly sculpted ice fountains to allow you to taste absinthe as it should be drunk!
CellarDoor, Aldwych and Purl, Marylebone
Both CellarDoor and Purl are two, top-notch London bars that feature absinthe on the menu so, while they are not one-drink bars per se, they are helping contribute to the growing demand for absinthe cocktails. The former – located at Aldwych – offers up the Fairy Martini (made with Pernod Absinthe) along with the Le Fee Suisse brand. Purl, meanwhile, tempts taste buds at its Marylebone location with La Clandestine, Butterfly Boston (an American absinthe) and an ice fountain offering.
This Golden Square hotspot is top choice for lovers of mother's ruin. With an impressive collection of more than 60 types of gin, the bar can serve it straight up or in one of a number of cocktails. The bar also has the “Juniper Society” which has events every second Monday of the month for those who want to learn more about (or drink more) gin.
Portobello Star Bar's Ginstitute, Notting Hill:
Located in Notting Hill, this bar has installed its own tribute to the beautiful drink known as gin. With a recreated mini Victorian gin-palace bar, gin artefacts, historical bottles and advertisements, it is free to view but also open to people wanting to try a cocktail there on a Friday and Saturday evening. It offers up master classes and also the Still Room, where you can learn how to actually make the spirit with Master Distiller, Jake Burger, and create your own blend of gin to take home (at the cost of £100).
Images above courtesy of Flickr users scottfeldstein, rbrwr, KittyKaht, Markyboy81, McBLG97, spacepleb, and UggBoy♥UggGirl [ PHOTO // WORLD // TRAVEL ]