There is a peculiar satisfaction as summer goes; sure, the sun is off exploring but as the cold blows in, it’s a chance to curl up in the comfort of dark rooms with strong drinks and — dream with me a moment — a fire gently licking at the grate.
Bars for autumn and winter take a little more work than the summer spot. For a start, everyone wants more than another glass of rosé. But when they’re good, they’re perfect: dens of heady spirits and little treats, where everyone stays too late because — well, who wants to step out into the icy air to go home?
From martini dens to spots for nightcaps of Scotch, these are London’s cosiest bars.
Egerton House Hotel
Egerton House is one of those wonderful spots that has, somehow, stayed something of a secret over the years: it does not seem to get an enormous amount of press attention, it rarely pops up on those “best cocktail bar” lists that do the rounds, and it mostly shies away from PR. But it truly is a joyful place to be: it is a proper, old school hotel bar, dark wood and leather, Schulz cartoons on the wall, staff in white tailored jackets. The martinis here are truly as good as they come — they might just be London’s finest.
17-19 Egerton Terrace, SW3, egertonhousehotel.com
Soho’s Swift is a bar of two halves; upstairs is cool and clean and airy, but downstairs is a dark den that’s cosy and warm and is hard to leave. It’s one of Soho’s top cocktail spots — one conveniently close to Bar Termini, another cracking spot — and it offers a little solace from the heaving streets above. The lights are low, the booths are soft and the crowd always seems to glitter and twinkle a little in the welcome gloom. They serve all sorts of things, with the Irish coffee a speciality, but it’s one for the dark drinks, the whisky drinks, the ones with splashes of rum and touches of woody spice.
12 Old Compton St, W1, barswift.com
Scarfes Bar at Rosewood London
Scarfes offers something of a conundrum: the bar is big, but it feels snug. There’s room to sneak away and hide in a corner, but sitting at the bar is fun too, as the place fills up with its glamorous regulars. The place looks like some fantasy dream of a library, given humour from the portraits that line the walls — they’re all the work of Gerald Scarfe, the famous cartoonist and satirist for whom the bar is named. The cocktail list, overseen by director of bars Martin Siska and mixed under the watchful eye of head bartender Yann Bouvignies, is endlessly inventive, often overhauled, and always remarkably good.
252 High Holborn, WC1, scarfesbar.com
Over in Marylebone, inside the Zetter Townhouse, Seymour’s Parlour is a room of reds, somewhere between rose and blood. Its conceit is that the place is Uncle Seymour’s room, Seymour being some mad old hatter who specialises in a collection where absolutely nothing matches. The effect is a charming one: it is eccentricity distilled. Jazz murmurs. Drinks come vividly coloured, made up of oddities and strange spirits, a little distilled magic. In truth, we’d ask the barman for a glass, ice, Scotch, and for his generosity.
28-30 Seymour St, W1, thezetter.com
Advertisement feature: The Macallan Double Cask
The Bar at Rules
Sometimes only gilded, old-world glamour will do. Rules does it in spades. Rules, which trades off its reputation as the oldest restaurant in London, is the sort of place to wrinkle its nose at the suggestion of music piped through speakers or twisting the classics out of shape. Its Manhattans — that’s rye or bourbon with red vermouth — are expertly done (as are the Rob Roys, which sub in Scotch). There is a very particular feeling that comes from sinking into one of the seats here, by the lead-lined, criss-cross arch of window that watches over the dark wood and silvery, spotted mirror. It is a feeling of a kind of sumptuous calm; in Rules, for a moment, for a drink or two, everything settles into its right place, and things aren’t so bad, after all.
34-35 Maiden Ln, WC2, rules.co.uk
The American Bar at the Stafford
Behind the Stafford runs a cobbled terrace covered in wooden tables, where in the summer the linen-clad crowd sit under clouds of cigar smoke with bottles of white that seem to endlessly spawn siblings. Come the autumn, the smoke drifts off with the leaves and everyone heads inside. But this is a bar that draws all sorts, and pours anything they’re asked. It’s split in two parts: one by the jolly bar, and the other around the corner, where people start to share secrets they shouldn’t. Benoit Provost, the director of the bar, is a stalwart of the scene and quietly ensures everyone has exactly what they need: if a martini is warming up, he’ll make sure fresh chilled glasses are sent over, if snacks run low, he’ll have them freshly piled high in no time. It’s somewhere that could be stuff but isn’t; that a section on the menu is dubbed “all day cocktails” should give you an idea of the winking sense of humour here.
16-18 St James’s Pl, SW1, thestaffordlondon.com
Gordon’s Wine Bar
Can a cave be cosy? It can if that cave happens to be full of wine and smells faintly of cheese and charcuterie. Gordon’s, the oldest wine bar in London, excels in this end. It – surprise, surprise – excels in vino, and serves great platters of meat and cheese to go alongside every endless glass, but the real joy of the place is in the glow of the crowd that fills the place. People are in and out and in again, the laughter getting louder, the chatter sillier. Outside the smokers sit and, when the rain falls, huddle under the canopies, looking like a cut-out from black and white film reel.
47 Villiers St, WC2, gordonswinebar.com
In the running as the capital’s most glamorous cocktail spot, Fitz’s is one of the “wow” rooms; it is all velvet and ostrich feathers, a backlit bar and – then, out of the blue – a great mirrored disco ball. Imagine Studio 54 hauled back in time to the days of Hemingway and Fitzgerald and you’re about halfway there. Set up by a team that have Callooh Callay and Milk & Honey on their CVs, this is somewhere with a great, teasing sense of fun, which stays open late and let’s a DJ loose. Cocktails are a fair price, they’ve an endless list of whiskies and plenty of gin. When the nights get cold, Fitz’s says, don’t sit down and wrap up – get up and dance.
Russell Square, WC1, fitzs.co.uk
Discover more about The Macallan Double Cask range here