Cocktails in London: The Rise of the Single Spirit Bar

By: Claire Bullen

March 2, 2015

Hotdogs (and Champagne). Burgers. Roast chicken. Even lobster rolls. For years, London has been at the forefront of the single-dish restaurant craze – and if some of this year’s latest openings are any indication, the trend is nowhere near waning. In fact, if you’re paying attention to cocktails in London, you might have noticed that it’s expanding beyond food altogether. Enter the era of the single spirit bar.


If you’re passionate about pisco or mad about mescal, odds are there’s a bar for you in London. Rather than building up back bars with a bit of everything, these single-spirit bars are digging deep into their niches, collecting rare distillations from far-flung locations that are sure to please the connoisseurs. But dilettantes are welcome, too: if you’ve always wanted to learn more about rum or have vowed to learn the basics of whisky, 2015 is definitely your year.


So, come prepared to chat with your bartenders and to learn more about what’s in your glass. And sample. Definitely come prepared to do that, too.


For Rum: Portside Parlour

Cocktails in London | Portside Parlour

Over 80 bottles of rum await at Portside Parlour © kondor83/iStock/Thinkstock

Once a hidden basement speakeasy pop-up (whew) on Broadway Market in East London, Portside Parlour has since brought its sultry, nautical vibe to roost in a permanent venue on Rivington Street in Shoreditch. Behind the bar, over 80 different bottles of rum – white, dark, spiced, you name it – are waiting to be mixed”¦or sampled solo.


For Pisco: Pisco Embassy

Cocktails in London | Pisco Embassy

Peruvian spirit Pisco is making waves in the capital © Pisco Embassy

Peruvian food has been “˜in’ for the past two-odd years, so no wonder more and more cocktails in London are following suit and featuring pisco. Technically a brandy distilled from fermented grapes and produced in copper-pot stills, the South American spirit is still most frequently served in sours, but head to the aptly named Pisco Embassy to sample more broadly. There, they’ve got rare bottles straight from Peru as well as a range of house-infused piscos to splash in their cocktails.


For Mescal: El Nivel

Cocktails in London | El Nivel

Tequila’s grown-up cousin mescal is being celebrated at El Nivel © El Nivel

El Nivel is London’s new local agaveria – for those not in the know, that means you’ll find spirits distilled from the agave plant here. Tequila may be the obvious choice, but its classier, more obscure cousin mescal has received more attention in cocktail corners of late. Still, both can be had here (in addition to the even more obscure bacanora, sotol, and raicilla), though we do recommend opting for mescal if you haven’t before – its complex, smoky flavour is a compelling one.


For Gin: Graphic Bar

Cocktails in London | Graphic

Graphic Bar in London has what may be the biggest gin selection in the UK © Graphic Bar

Make no mistake: London is awash with gin bars. So if you’re choosing, why not head to the one that claims to have more gins than any other bar in the UK? That would be Graphic Bar in Soho, which boasts a stock of over 235 different gins, from London Dry to Old Tom and everything in between. Complementing the selection is an inviting and colourful atmosphere, with bits of “˜street’ art and cocktails in paint cans upping the artsy vibe.


For Whisky: Milroy’s of Soho

Cocktails in London | Milroy's of Soho

The newly renovated Milroy’s of Soho will be a dream destination for whisky lovers © Milroy’s of Soho

Where better to go for a dram of whisky than London’s oldest whisky shop? Though Milroy’s of Soho has heritage, a comprehensive new refurb means the venue will be all sparkling and new from early March onwards. Browse the bottles for sale before heading to the basement cocktail bar, or the tiny 12-seater bar upstairs, which will have 250 bottles within reach.


Virgin Atlantic operates direct flights to London, so you can indulge in some good sips.


What’s your preferred spirit when drinking cocktails in London? Have you tried any of these single spirit bars? Let us know in the comments below.


Words by Claire Bullen


Claire Bullen

Claire is a born globetrotter: before relocating to London, she spent time in New York, Paris, Philadelphia, Chicago, and San Francisco. When she's not in pursuit of the next exciting meal, she can be found haunting indie bookstores and sketching outdoors. Follow Claire @ClaireMBullen

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