In a land where beer is the prevailing drink of choice, London hasn’t historically been known for its cocktails. That culture is slowly changing and many quite refined, upscale, and good quality cocktail bars, lounges, and speakeasies have opened up over the past few years. There have also been a number of chain cocktail bars opening up, which all operate under a similar principle.
First, here’s the concept: these are cocktail bars with locations in several major neighborhoods throughout London. They all have huge menus (some 20 pages) listing pretty much every cocktail under the sun (though Dirty Martini focuses mostly on martini-style drinks). Some of them are simple/classic cocktails, but many of them are complicated, colorful, and fruity. If you don’t see exactly what you like, you can always have a conversation with the bar tender to let him know your preference and almost always will they make it work.
All of these places also offer a similar happy hour, which tends to be daily, usually something between 4 pm – 7 pm or 5 pm to 8 pm, with a two for one cocktail deal (though you must get two of the same drink). It’s quite a good deal and they do not make the drinks any weaker. Side note: the drinks are weaker in the UK generally, so if you’re used to American cocktails, you’ll likely notice that there is a difference in alcohol quantities per drink.
Our strong personal favorite happens to be Be At One. We have been to many locations of this chain now (Guildhall, Islington, Spitalfields to name a few) and the servers are always friendly, personable, willing to accommodate personal preference, answer questions, but most importantly, the drinks are always spot on.
Tip: During peak times, I would call ahead or go online to reserve a table in advance. Some of these bars have limited seating and can fill up quite quickly, forcing the majority of people to stand. Reserve a table if you can.
If you’re looking for a chain pub, we’d recommend a JD Wetherspoon pub.
But generally the point of a pub is not to go to a chain. Instead, go to your local neighborhood pub, meet your neighbors, and get to know the regulars. Pub culture is huge here, so try to participate if you can.