London is home to many fabulous hotel bars. They are not just for tourists: Londoners recognize the best of them as great for cocktails and a quiet drink.
Here are my top 10.
The American Bar at the Savoy
This is probably the most famous bar in London. Its Art Deco elegance takes you back to another age. (Only the prices bring you back to the present day.) It's a fine place to sip a martini and listen to the jazz pianist who plays each night. This was one of the first bars in Europe to serve American-style cocktails. The downside of its celebrity is that it can be difficult to get a table. And yes, this is popular with tourists. The Savoy, Strand, WC2R 0EU; + 44-20-7836-4343
The Artesian at the Langham
This discreet bar has been named the world's best for three years in a row. There's an edge to the understated styling and a cheeky cocktail list, with options such as Your Room or Mine, and Bedroom Escapades. Head bartender Alex Kratena has won several awards, including personality of the year and international bartender of the year. Many guests are regulars, including executives from the neighboring BBC. I only wish they would ban men wearing shorts. Who wants to see that? The Langham, 1C Portland Place, W1B 1JA; +44-20-7636-1000.
Dukes Bar at Dukes
You come here for the martinis as countless others have before you for decades. Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond, may have found his inspiration at Dukes for the line, "Shaken, not stirred." This is a traditional luxury hotel bar in St. James, filled with elegant people. While jacket and tie are not required, it's a good idea to dress up. Leisurewear is not permitted. (Eat my shorts.) Duke's, St. James's Place, SW1A 1NY; +44-20-7491-4840 or Fax: +44 (0)207 493 1264.
Bar 45 at 45 Park Lane
This hotel is the baby sister of the Dorchester. Where that famous hotel is more traditional, 45 Park Lane feels younger. It's home to Cut by Wolfgang Puck, which serves some of the best steaks in London. The bar is reached by a staircase from the lobby. You can sit at a long counter or hang out in a lounge at the back. The snacks are by Puck. Bar 45 has an international hotel feel and might not be for everyone. But the drinks are well made, and this is the best on Park Lane. 45 Park Lane, Mayfair, W1K 1PN; +44-20-7493-4545.
This is one of my favorite bars in Europe. Its Art Deco look (by the late David Collins) is very glamorous, as are the uniforms of the staffers. This room is hidden away at the back of the hotel. Many out-of-towners go no further than the Coburg Bar at the front, giving the Connaught Bar an ambience of quiet exclusivity. Best of all is the martini trolley, where the barman mixes your drink tableside. Connaught, Carlos Place, Mayfair, W1K 2AL; +44-20-7314-3419.
Peg + Patriot at the Town Hall Hotel
This hotel is housed in the former town hall of Bethnal Green, a working-class area of East London that is only now making the transition to fashionability. The ornate building, which first opened in 1910, is part of the attraction: You can almost smell the history. The bar is as quirky as the original cocktails. If that's not enough, the Typing Room restaurant is across the hallway. Town Hall, Patriot Square, Bethnal Green, E2 9NF; +44-20-7871-0460.
Punch Room at the London Edition
You have to know where this bar is to find it, and you need to book in advance to get in. That may help explain why the Punch Room is so popular with celebrity visitors to this Ian Schrager hotel in Fitzrovia. The oak-paneled room is inspired by 19th century private clubs. There's a choice of 10 punches. The London Edition also houses the fashionable Berners Tavern restaurant, so you can make a real night of it—if you get a table. London Edition, 10 Berners Street Fitzrovia, W1T 3NP; +44-20-7908-7949.
Rosebery at the Mandarin
This quiet and pretty room is little known, even among Londoners. It's hidden away at the hotel, though the windows look right out onto Knightsbridge. Many of the guests are from overseas, and the Rosebery is particularly popular with women. Afternoon tea is served, and it's a good place to stop off after shopping at Harvey Nichols. But I go for the Champagne and the sake. It all feels very serene. Go downstairs to Bar Boulud if you want to get lively. Mandarin Oriental, 66 Knightsbridge, SW1X 7LA; +44-20-7201-3828.
Laddershed at Chiltern Firehouse
Chiltern Firehouse is one of the toughest restaurants in London to get table. But even if you snag one, that doesn’t get you into the Laddershed at the back of the hotel. The bar is effectively invitation only, and one is unlikely to be forthcoming unless you are Kate Moss or another A-Lister. (If you are, please invite me.) Don't despair: The bar opens onto an outdoor terrace that is open to mortals, and this is one of London's most lovely places to drink on a summer's day. Chiltern Firehouse, 1 Chiltern Street, Marylebone, W1U 7PA; +44-20-7073-7676 (good luck)
Zetter Townhouse Cocktail Lounge
The first thing you notice is the eccentric design. The lounge looks like a Victorian drawing room, cluttered with bric-a-brac. There's a stuffed kangaroo wearing boxing gloves and a domestic cat in a dress. You can lounge on mismatched old couches and drink innovative cocktails by Tony Conigliaro. It's a hipster crowd as befits the hotel's location, in fashionable Clerkenwell. But the welcome is friendly, not too cool for school. This is one of London's oddest hotel bars. I'm a regular. Zetter Townhouse, 49-50 St John's Square, London EC1V 4JJ; +44-20-7324-4545
Richard Vines is the chief food critic for Bloomberg. Follow him on Twitter @richardvines.
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