Suave, sophisticated, legendary – the Martini is a drink that needs no introduction. It’s been the cocktail of choice for some of Britain’s most enigmatic leading roles and counts film stars, Prime Ministers and of course, secret agents, in its following. A Martini is a cocktail that means serious business, synonymous with style, glamour and good taste – perfect then for the London cocktail scene which has always been a bastion of the drink, from its birth to its more modern reincarnations. Here’s a quick rundown of where to get shaken and stirred in the British capital.
Hotel bars still trump most London drinking establishments when it comes to the classics and you really can’t miss the Martinis here. Legend states that it was The Savoy’s head bartender, Harry Craddock, who invented the drink – so a pit-stop in the 1920s transatlantic-inspired bar is a must on your London Martini pilgrimage. One of the most iconic cocktail bars in the world, let alone the capital, here you’ll be sharing your Martini amongst the cream of London society.
This is easily the most legendary Martini bar in the capital but still one of the most well-hidden, tucked away as it is off a quiet stretch of St James. It was here that Ian Fleming is rumoured to have found inspiration for the now legendary line “shaken, not stirred” which came to him no doubt as he reclined on one of the bar’s green velvet chairs, ice-cold Martini in hand. Today, you can toast to the bar’s proud history with the Fleming 89, a concoction as smooth as 007 himself and crafted to complement perfectly the agent’s favourite “89” Eau de Cologne. Mandatory cocktail-drinking territory for any Bond fans on a London visit.
The subtle decor and backstreet setting gives nothing away of the experimental nature of this molecular cocktail stronghold. Originally titled ‘The Bar with No Name’, it is the brainchild of cocktail eccentric Tony Conigliaro who seems more like a scientist presiding over a laboratory with his liquid creations. Luckily they taste fantastic and the Martinis in particular are well-lauded here. Try the 50-50s (equal parts gin and vermouth) or their ‘dry’ Martini with ‘dry essence’ if you’re feeling more adventurous.
Hawksmoor Seven Dials, Covent Garden
Beneath the bustle of Covent Garden this sprawling basement bar offers an oak-panelled underground oasis of great British steak served with (in our opinion) even greater British cocktails. The drinks here are creative and flawless, making it a wonderfully dark drinking den for any martini lover. They also offer a delicious espresso martini comprised of vodka carefully matched with Hawksmoor’s own mezcal-based coffee liqueur – a contemporary after-dinner take on the favourite.
If you prefer your Martini custom-made then The Connaught is the place to go. Another cocktail institution, this glittering postage-stamp bar housed in the landmark Connaught Hotel offers a Martini trolley service where master mixologists prepare your own bespoke imagining at your table, tailored to your personal tastes . The ultimate Martini service, bartenders here are experts in their field and watching them ‘throw’ your cocktail together is as much an experience as the drink itself.
We’re losing count of the times now that Artesian has won the title of ‘Best Bar in the World’. In the modern arena of mixology, it is bartender Alex Kratena who is setting (and raising) the bar and cocktails here arrive like works of art. You have a choice of five different vermouths to pair with your Tanqueray Gin Martini, the green tea and yuzu varieties offering a riff on the traditional flavours, all served in a silver-plated glass to keep the drink at its desired ice-cold temperature, so that each sip is as good as the last.
Nicole Harley is Editor at The Epicurean.