The Best Bars in London, According to Cocktail Maestro Leo Robitschek
As a James Beard Award winner and head of bars for NoMad hotels, his recommendations are to be followed
London is a city full of history, architecture and culture. It’s also a city full of booze.
This is no secret. In certain parts of town, it can seem like there’s a pub on every corner with revelers crowding the sidewalks outside. And while visitors should absolutely partake in a pint or three, once you’ve been to one corner pub, it can sort of feel like you’ve been to them all. So, after ticking this off your tourist to-do list, may we suggest paying a visit to some of London’s more cocktail-focused bars? The city has an outstanding supply, including several ranked among The World’s 50 Best Bars.
To help point you in the right direction, we turned to cocktail legend Leo Robitschek, vice president of food and beverage and head of bars for NoMad hotels. Originally from Venezuela, Robitschek cut his teeth and rose to cocktail fame in arguably the most competitive bar market on the planet, New York City. Here, Leo reinvented the cocktail program at Eleven Madison Park, that three-Michelin-starred phenomenon, and since 2010 he’s been responsible for concepting, developing and leading the food, beverage and cocktail programs at all of NoMad’s growing portfolio of properties.
It was in New York City, with NoMad Bar, that Robitschek and his team racked up accolades like a James Beard Award for Outstanding Bar Program, placing number four on the list of The World’s 50 Best Bars, and being named Best Bar in North America, twice. Point being: the guy knows what he’s doing, so much so that he literally wrote the book on crafting NoMad-worthy cocktails. Like, the actual book.
Now — and lucky for us looking for the best bars in London — Robitschek now lives across the pond, brought here to oversee all things bar-related at NoMad London. The hotel, which opened in May of 2021 directly across the street from the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, now houses one of Robitschek’s most ambitious projects to date, a new bar called Common Decency.
Chances are, given his past and pedigree, you’ll be seeing this place on those “best in the world” lists in the not too distant future. Here’s what you need to know about it, plus six more London bars not to miss according to Robitschek.
Common Decency at NoMad London
Situated on a subterranean level beneath the hotel, the opening of Common Decency at the end of September 2022 marked “the final piece of the puzzle for NoMad London,” according to Robitschek. And by the looks of it, this last puzzle piece was worth the wait. Guests, who come for pre-theater drinks, late night fun, or stay for an entire evening, are greeted by plush interiors, bold decor, dark, moody lighting, and a lineup of live DJs who spin a mix of disco, funk and soul. Throughout, you’ll find plenty of intimate spaces to mingle, but it’s the three “snugs,” private enclaves built into the building’s old coal sheds which seat 6-12 people, that stand out the most.
While the space itself is impressive, the real reason to visit, however, is for the cocktails. “We wanted to take the ethos of what is NoMad, distill it into cocktails and capture it in a bar,” says Robitschek. “A place with elevated service that is unpretentious and never loses that strong sense of fun.” Joining him in this undertaking is Common Decency’s bar director, Liana Oster, who was previously head bartender at New York’s Dante when it was named The World’s Best Bar. With two heavy-hitters in the world of cocktails under one roof, you’d be correct to expect a standout cocktail program that far surpasses that of your average watering hole.
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The cocktail menu here is “a menu of two parts” or a “concept of yin and yang” that connects “the two very different personalities of London’s West and East Ends.” What exactly does that mean? You’ll find an ever-changing menu of 16 cocktails built around eight highly-seasonal ingredients — with each ingredient used to create “two stylistically opposing interpretations, uncompromising in technique and quality yet provocative in their differences.” In other words, one cocktail representative of the West End and another of the East End; a mix of avant-garde concoctions with highly technical preparation yet minimalist presentation, alongside riffs on classics with whimsical twists yet approachable flavors. For example, tomato mixed two ways: one a punchy sour that’s a take on a strawberry margarita repping the West End, and the other a clarified tomato highball, paired with sherry and infused with olive oil and horseradish repping the East End. Bottom line, we’re talking drinks you’ll remember long after polishing them off.
With all these tipples, you’ll likely need some food. For that, check out the menu of bar snacks from NoMad London’s executive chef, Ashley Abodeely. Like the cocktail menu, the bar menu plays with the concept of duality, offering “refined American classics” like a hot dog with celery and black truffles, alongside more luxe fare like potato rosti topped with crème fraiche and caviar.
Leo Robitschek’s 6 Favorite Bars in London
Straight from the cocktail god’s mouth to your ears, here are Leo’s picks for the best bars in London.
Tayēr + Elementary
“This bar is split into two sections, Tayēr and Elementary. In Tayēr, the menu is forever changing and in Elementary it is steadfast with a selection of pre-batched cocktails, bottled and on draft. Whichever section you choose, the drinks are creative, consistent, delicious, forward-thinking and hyper-seasonal with the team working closely with local purveyors to source ingredients.
“The owners Alex Kratena and Monica Berg are the perfect creative duo. Monica has a very methodical and organized way in terms of systems and service, and her cocktail creation and palate are the best, bar none. Alex is the perfect juxtaposition. He’s more of a chameleon and effortlessly caters service to the individuals in front of him while keeping an eye on every detail and creating a party (the music is mainly European hip-hop, which brings a cool feel and vibe with lots of energy to the two spaces). But this isn’t one of those bars where it’s about an individual bartender, it’s about the team and you’ll have the same experience every time because their training program is amazing. Basically, they take what they do very seriously but never take themselves too seriously. Plus, the food is great too.”
My Order: “My favorite cocktail is the One Sip Martini. It’s a great way to start things off, or a fantastic transitional cocktail for when you’re choosing your next drink from the menu.”
Writer’s Note: One small detail Leo didn’t mention: Tayēr + Elementary opened its doors in 2019, was named the fifth-best bar in the world in 2020 and as of 2022 ranks as the second best bar in the world according to The World’s 50 Best Bars.
“Satan’s Whiskers is both the perfect neighborhood bar and the perfect bartenders’ bar. It’s the kind of place you can enjoy multiple times a week and stay for one drink, or 10, because it’s always consistent, comfortable, welcoming, unassuming and has a super fun vibe (aided in part by a familiar soundtrack that is mostly hip-hop). Their bartenders make you feel right at home too, almost like a proverbial Cheers!
“Speaking of their bartenders, they dictate the menu which changes daily and includes the names of the staff who you’ll be interacting with during your time there (a detail I love). Plus, you can tell that the staff loves being there and that they really take care of their team. And as for the drinks, this is one of the few places in London that serves cocktails in a classic way, using fresh juices and ingredients versus being technique-focused behind the scenes. They’re always well-made and delicious.”
My Order: “My go-to is usually one of their cobbler variations as they are guaranteed to be interesting and delicious.”
Writer’s Note: Satan’s Whiskers is currently ranked as the 23rd best bar in the world.
The Clove Club
“The Clove Club is a Michelin-starred restaurant on The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, yet the bar still always feels inviting. I’ve always loved coming here, and especially enjoyed the cocktail program that Rob Simpson created, although he’s sadly no longer there. The level of hospitality here is fantastic and they serve exceptional, forward-thinking cocktails from a menu that changes seasonally and uses ingredients found in dishes served in the main dining room. Alongside the drinks, you can choose incredible food from the restaurant via the bar menu, or you can enjoy a shorter version of the tasting menu (£155 per person) while sitting at the bar.”
My Order: “My go-to drink here is a spritz. I always like trying their many iterations.”
The Connaught Bar
“The Connaught Bar is my favorite place in London to get a martini and is famous for its martini trolly service (Stanley Tucci is a fan). It’s also where I go when I want to feel a warm embrace and a little fancy. It’s perfect for a special occasion, a celebration or just when you want to feel loved as Ago, Giorgio, Maura and their team always make you feel like you and your guests are the only people in the room and the most important people in the world. While walking in may feel a little intimidating because of its Mayfair, high-end hotel bar decor and design, the warm reception you’ll receive will make you feel instantly welcome.”
My Order: “A martini, of course”
Writer’s Note: The Connaught Bar, which was ranked as the number one bar in the world in 2020, now sits at number eight on the list. Also, they bottle their own gin.
“The coolest thing about this bar is that it’s so unassuming. It’s actually a coffee shop called Dead Good Coffee during the mornings and afternoons, then becomes Three Sheets at night, Wednesday through Sunday. The drinks are forward-thinking and delicious without using fancy equipment and techniques, and they can execute drinks that are unique and complex, as well as perfectly-made classics. Plus, the Venning brothers and their team always provide hospitality with a little sass, and they’re guaranteed great banter.”
My Order: “My favorite drink on the menu is the Coastal Gimlet. They also make fantastic Manhattans, which I usually double up with a Breton Cider. I love their Irish Coffee too.”
The Queen Adelaide
“This is a gay bar that’s very hetero-friendly, and an inclusive and affordable place for all. It’s the kind of bar where you could start out with a laid-back night upstairs (which has a pub vibe) and unexpectedly end up going home at 2 a.m. after dancing to a fun mix of top 40, disco divas and ‘80s hits downstairs (which is reminiscent of places you might have adored in your youth, like your favorite college dive bar).
“The Queen Adelaide also isn’t trying to be anything it’s not, and on the drinks front, it isn’t exactly a place to go for inspiration on the best craft beer, spirits and cocktails. So at first glance, people may be surprised I love this place, but it always delivers on being a space where anyone can let go of the craziness happening in the world, or their everyday life, and feel the warm feeling of acceptance, fun and freedom. Once you settle in and let go of any preconceived notions, you’ll have a great time.”
My Order: “For drinks, you don’t go for anything other than a G&T or a draft beer.”
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