I’ve long known Londoners love a good Gin & Tonic, but it was at this summer’s Wimbledon that this interest became ever more apparent to me. So, what’s so special about a G&T that it’s the most cherished boozy drink at Wimbledon and in London in general? The answer is in the city’s history. The G&T was initially popularized in London in 1873 when tourists and returning expats from India began ordering it. More than a century later, the G&T remains woven into the fabric of London’s cocktail culture.
Planning to hit London this fall? These six hotels are known for their respective takes on the iconic drink. And hey, if you play your cards right, you might even find yourself imbibing a coveted off-menu cocktail!
The Library at NoMad London
The NoMad London hotel occupies the 19th-century, former Bow Street Magistrates’ Court and Police Station and exudes sophistication from room to room. The Library, the plush “living room” within the NoMad, is embellished with posh leather furnishings, vibrant red accents and mountains of books. Whether there for a quick bite of one of their buttery, flaky croissants and coffee in the morning or to enjoy a nightcap, the Library was my quiet sanctuary away from the buzzy Bow Street.
The bar’s classic G&T was among my favorite cocktails of the Library’s off-menu drink lineup. However, their gin-based Stranger Things cocktail — comprised of aquavit, lime, green apple, St. Germain and orgeat — is undoubtedly one to imbibe, too. Fortunately, as a hotel guest, you can avail yourself of this marvelous nook’s luring libations.
American Bar at The Savoy
The American Bar is inside the legendary Savoy hotel. The bar first opened in 1893 and is said to be the oldest standing establishment in London. It survived two world wars and has had visits from some of history’s most influential stars, such as Winston Churchill, Ernest Hemingway, Marilyn Monroe and many other iconic figures.
The chic, vintage-style décor is eye-catching, while the variety of fantastic drinks engages the palate. The menu reads like a book, with an array of cocktails. I first enjoyed one of the best gin Martinis I’ve ever had, thus proving simplicity sometimes beats out frou-frou complicated craft concoctions. But I’m also a sucker for elaborate drinks with the works. So, my second cocktail sans gin was the Dandy Beau, a Negroni with a twist made with Ceylon arrack, strawberry sake, a bitter vermouth blend and Campari.
Seed Library at One Hundred Shoreditch
Seed Library, in the basement of One Hundred Shoreditch, has a laid-back atmosphere and a menu filled with an equally relaxed approach to cocktails. The boozy beverages give a nod to the classics with inspiring riffs.
Currently, the bar has a Verbena Berry Tonic — an absolute must-try. This juicy, citrus and floral take on the classic G&T uses Ethiopian verbena berries as a substitute for the juniper flavor in gin, with vodka as the base. The drink highlights the aromatics of Ethiopian verbena berries by creating a tincture, carbonating and adding a splash of peach, garnished with a bundle of fragrant lemon thyme. As Seed Library’s senior bartender Greig Howitt explains, “The berries have everything a London dry mash bill has but turned up to 12 in terms of flavor and perfume — they are incredible — enabling us to add sweetness, acidity and body for a super quenching highball.”
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Lyaness at Sea Containers London
This multi-award-winning bar is the flagship of acclaimed bartender Ryan “Mr Lyan” Chetiyawardana and his team. Lyaness boasts impressive views overlooking the Thames, and while those are appealing, Lyaness keeps the scenery inside just as fun, thanks to the flair of 1970s-era stylings and an alluring blue palette. As if that’s not vibe-y enough, Lyaness has a weekend DJ to keep the party going well into the wee hours of the night.
The bar doesn’t highlight a G&T on the menu, but I encourage you to order one with Scotland-made Porter’s Gin. Fun fact: Mr Lyan’s global bar director, Alex Lawrence, is the co-owner of the spirits brand. While Lyaness has a range of quality hand-picked gins, Porter’s Gin keeps it in the Lyan family and makes a delightful juniper-forward G&T when paired with a bit of Fever-Tree tonic water.
Jean-Georges at The Connaught
No trip to London is complete without afternoon tea, and Jean-Georges inside The Connaught does a flawless job honoring the British tradition. In addition to the floor-to-ceiling windows — perfect for people-watching in the stylish Mayfair neighborhood — the restaurant is adorned with beautiful stained-glass details. I loved the tea, especially the raspberry and rose blend, accompanied by light bites. Round out your afternoon teatime with their refreshing Cucumber Martini, made with gin, lemon, cucumber and mint, followed by a Gin & Tonic. Day drinking on vacay will forever be the “it” thing to do.
GŎNG Bar at Shangri-La The Shard
I enjoyed a late-night G&T at GŎNG, the highest hotel bar in Western Europe. I imagine this is where you’d want to be to catch the sunset amid the backdrop of London’s expansive skyline. Another neat component of this bar’s dramatic surroundings is its décor, consisting of antique bronze fixtures, moody dim lighting and vivid hues of red and rich browns. The bar’s name comes from dougong, a traditional Chinese architectural element of interlocking wooden brackets featured in GŎNG’s inimitable design.
The drink menu is full of unique masterpieces, and what caught my eye (and palate) is their Hues of Culture menu, comprised of 10 craft cocktails inspired by the historical use of colors to evoke emotions and bear messages. The Vermilion Sling has a hint of red from pomegranate and a complexity that unlocks vibrant fruit flavors and subtle floral notes on each sip. In addition to the pomegranate, the drink has gin, oolong tea, Ming River baijiu (a Chinese red sorghum grain spirit) and spiced honey brandy.
Bonus: Visit Sipsmith Distillery
Lastly, there are more than 800 gin distilleries in the UK, and the quaint Sipsmith Distillery (albeit not a hotel) is a must-hit. Upon entry, you’ll meet Sipsmith’s three copper ladies (stills) named Prudence, Verity and Constance. I was greeted with a delicious Berry Spritz made with Sipsmith’s citrusy London dry gin, Fever-Tree tonic, fresh blackberry jam and lemon. The fizzy tipple was followed by an insightful gin history lesson, plus a quick overview of how the recipe behind the distillery’s range of expressions came to be. If you’re curious enough, you might even get to try some of their experiments and U.K. exclusives!
Can’t make your way across the big pond just yet? Get the feel of London at home with a classic gin and tonic. Sipsmith Gin’s master distiller/co-founder and drinks historian Jared Brown shares his essential recipe below:
“My personal ratio is one part Sipsmith London Dry Gin to two parts tonic in an ice-filled highball glass. There are some great tonic waters on the market these days, all with their merits. I always go for ones in a small container, as large bottles of tonic water tend to go flat very quickly. The glass should be filled with good, fresh ice cubes. More is definitely better. When I combine the ingredients in the ice-filled glass, I do not stir. I reach the bottom with a bar spoon or other thin spoon and lift the ice a little two or three times. Lifting ensures that the tonic on the top of the drink mixes with the gin at the bottom. Stirring not only does not mix them as well, but it also knocks the bubbles out of the tonic. The garnish? Lemon or lime, as you prefer, as long as it is freshly cut.”
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