London’s Best Specialist Drinking Venues

By: Maxine Sheppard

March 16, 2011

With around 7000 pubs and bars in London, the quality of your drinking experience can vary wildly. So, to help us imbibe in style, we asked Chloe McCloskey, Managing Editor of le cool London, to share an insider’s guide for the booze connoisseur…

It’s no secret that Londoners like their drink, and on a Friday evening after work the streets heave with outpourings of revellers from packed pubs. But don’t let the stereotype of boozed-up Britain distract you from the fact that the capital has many specialist venues, each of which pride themselves on extensive selections and vast knowledge of their tipples.



Gordon’s Wine Bar, 47 Villiers Street, WC2N 6NE

Buried deep below the ground where you can hear the tube trains rumbling by, Gordon’s Wine Bar is a London institution. The building is rich with literary history, the former home of Samuel Pepys and Rudyard Kipling, and Gordon’s has been open since 1890. It serves a stellar selection of vintages at very reasonable prices.


Insider tip? Let the bar staff suggest a bottle – they rarely miss the mark.


Gordon's Wine Bar by L-Plate big cheese on Flickr

Gordon’s Wine Bar by L-Plate big cheese on Flickr


Vinoteca, 7 St John St, EC1M 4AA

The lovely Vinoteca holds its own as an eatery, but also offers the closest you’ll get to an authentic Italian wine tasting session in London. More than 25 vintages are available by the glass and 280 by the bottle, and they change the list twice a year.


Insider tip? They don’t take bookings but have a waiting list, so you can taste a glass or two at the bar until your table is ready.



Searcys Champagne Bar, St Pancras Rail Station, NW1

Sip on a fine glass of bubbly at Searcys, the exquisite champagne bar in the midst of the stunning St Pancras International station. Whether you’re waiting for a train or just here to relax with friends, the 60 choices of fizz on offer cannot fail to impress.


Insider tip? Grab a booth and cuddle up – they’re heated, with blankets on offer should you feel like getting cosy.


Champagne Bar at St Pancras by alancleaver_2000 on Flickr

Champagne Bar at St Pancras by alancleaver_2000 on Flickr



Freud, 198 Shaftesbury Avenue, WC2

Nothing about this popular cocktail bar is as cold and analytical as the name might suggest. You’ll find the place packed with thirsty punters enjoying drinks which are fairly priced, generously measured and memorably named. It’s an ideal stop if you’re in central London and between destinations.


Insider tip? Get yourself a Manza – it’s an appley boozy snifter that will quench your thirst.


Bourne and Hollingsworth, 28 Rathbone Place, W1

Enjoy a subterranean experience from another era – think Victorian tea party meets speakeasy. Manager Dino, formerly of members’ club Milk and Honey, was brought in to tweak the cocktails and has done so to perfection. While the classics are available, his passion for mixology is especially evident in those drinks that depart from the norm.


Insider tip? Sip on a cocktail in a teacup, prohibition style – they come with tasty snacks like cucumber sandwiches.



Lowlander Grand Café, 36 Drury Lane, WC2B 5RR

Belgian beer specialist Lowlander prides itself on having more than 15 beers on draught and 50 by the bottle. On selected Monday nights they run beer-tasting sessions with themes such as how to match beer to cheeses; you get to try seven beers for £21.


Insider tip? Check out their wheat beer selection – they’re fruity, refreshing and often overlooked in London pubs.


Lowlander Grand Cafe ©

Lowlander Grand Cafe ©


The Draft House, 74-76 Battersea Bridge Road, SW11 3AG

It’s a 10-15 minute walk from Clapham Junction, but once you’ve arrived at The Draft House you won’t want to leave. Owner Charlie McVeigh has carefully crafted a list – more than 15 on draft and over 50 bottled – that will have your non-beer-drinking friends suddenly salivating for hops. He’s kept things affordable and offers many brews by the 1/3 pint, which is ideal for testing out the draughts on offer. The modern British and Continental fare is good too, including a Sunday roast to kill for.


Insider tip? Try these: Speight’s, a sparkly Kiwi dark lager; Bitter and Twisted, a great introduction to ale from Scotland; and Schremser Bio Roggenbier, a mind-blowing organic Austrian rye beer.



Albannach, Trafalgar Square, SC2N

The attraction of Albannach is its sheer variety of whiskies, with more than 120 to choose from. The range includes a 50-year-old Balvenie that’ll set you back £760 a shot, alongside more reasonably priced but top quality whiskies such as the Ardbeg Uigeadail, which goes for £10 a shot.


Insider tip? “What grows together, goes together,” says sommelier Jonathan Abarbanel who suggests pairing the Inverawe smoked salmon with a full-bodied scotch.


Albannach ©

Albannach ©



Elgin, 96 Ladbrook Grove, W11 1PY

Hailing from the award-winning Geronimo Inns group, the Elgin in Notting Hill has a great food menu but has become renowned for its stock of 22 different gins. It even boasts a Gin Palace, a smaller back room ideal for sipping the range of skilfully conceived gin cocktails on offer.


Insider tip? Try out Sipsmith’s London Dry Gin – their boutique distillery is located just down the road in Hammersmith.

Thanks to Flickr photographers L-Plate big cheese and alancleaver_2000.

For more cocktail heaven, check out our Flying Barman Marc Plumridge’s top recommendations in the Barfly’s Guide to London.


Maxine Sheppard

Maxine is the co-editor of the Virgin Atlantic blog. Travel and music are her joint first loves, and despite having written for Virgin for more years than she cares to remember she still loves nothing more than jumping on a plane in search of new sights and new sounds.

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