Purely in the name of research of course, London Hotels Insight has been secretly checking out some of the UK capital’s very best hotel bars.
We reviewed all bars anonymously and paid our own way. Visits were recent so opinions are up-to-date though you may not always agree with them. Any list of this kind is subjective. So instead of an artificial ranking, we’ve named two London hotel bars “best in class” in five categories:
- Most glamorous
- Most traditional
- Best for views
- Most comfy
- Best for cocktails
The end result is a “top 10″ London hotel bars in no special order – just choose one that suits your needs. First a warning: all the bars listed below are ridiculously expensive so save your pennies wisely before you go!
Most glamorous: the May Fair and the Soho Hotel
Both offer stylish surroundings though in different ways: the Soho Hotel’s bar is more comfy and chilled-out whereas the Mayfair has a definite party vibe (particularly on weekends). Each is funky in its own unique way.
In terms of service, I’ve found the May Fair’s staff to be friendly but a bit slow (understandable when it’s busy but annoying all the same).
At the Soho Hotel they always go the extra mile to take care of you. And they have some funky and creative cocktails as well (on a recent visit my companion had a chilli caipirinha – definitely more hot than sweet!).
So I’d recommend the May Fair if you’re people watching while the Soho Hotel is perhaps better suited to a date or drinks with friends.
Most traditional: the Stafford and the Egerton House
The winners in this category are the Stafford and the Egerton House Hotel.
The Stafford is the wine lover’s favourite hotel and renowned for traditional English hospitality. I experienced this at first hand at its recent Pub Talk, after which we sneaked off to check out its famous American Bar.
Again, the wine list and service were exemplary. I was a bit piqued though to be told to put my suit jacket back on (I had placed the jacket neatly on the spare chair next to me – it was mid-summer after all!) but soon got over this little glitch. It was an exceptionally enjoyable evening in a hotel which takes pride in delivering a warm and personal style of service.
You’ll find equally good service at the Egerton House – one of London’s top-rated townhouse hotels – where Antonio the martini wizard does his magic. This is a bar where you feel you’re a guest in someone’s private home and the talented staff have even been known to break into song!
The Egerton House is certainly very cosy. It’s ideal for winding down with an after-work or post-shopping drink (Harrods is literally round the corner).
Best for views: Hilton on Park Lane and Trafalgar Hotel
Though the 360 degree vista is spectacular, I’ve found it almost impossible to get a seat. They also put a cheap glace cherry in my pricey “English Mojito” which was definitely naff! But you go there primarily for the fabulous views and the adjoining restaurant also has a Michelin star.
Vista at the Trafalgar Hotel (one of the best Hiltons in London which aims to keep a distance from its parent brand) also has great views and a relaxed Mediterranean vibe. The bar is open throughout summer, though given the eccentric London weather you should check the forecast before you go.
Vista is open intermittently this autumn (do check with the hotel before you go) depending on the weather. It will close in late October but reopen in December with a roof and heating to protect you from the elements.
There is a £5 cover charge after 4pm and while the cocktails are quite creative, the main draw is the amazing view over Trafalgar Square.
I definitely prefer the service at Vista to that at Galvin at Windows – and at the latter it’s also almost impossible to get a good seat to enjoy the view.
Most comfy: Chesterfield Mayfair and the Lanesborough
The Chesterfield Mayfair is a permanent fixture among the top dozen TripAdvisor London hotels. It is renowned for its lofty service standards and effortless discretion in common with all Red Carnation Hotels.
There is a cosy bar just past the reception which I love for its homely and unpretentious atmosphere. This was where the Red Carnation management held one of their focus group dinners last year to cement the group’s domination of the top 10 London hotels on TripAdvisor.
The staff at this free WiFi hotel are friendly and attentive in a down-to-earth way. There’s none of the nonsense of other hotel bars where you get the impression they want to maximise your seat revenue. It’s a relaxed little bar and relatively undiscovered.
The Garden Room at the Lanesborough was initially set up as a smokers’ haven but has since become one of the hotel’s most desirable enclaves.
It’s not easy to find as it’s hidden away near the back of the hotel, but it’s super-cosy and intimate once you arrive. Cigar aficionados will love its outstanding collection including Cohiba Behike cigars at £1500 a pop!
You’ll get the impeccable service you’d expect at the Lanesborough – though it will probably also cost you an arm and a leg!
Best for cocktails: the Connaught and the Langham
In July 2010, Erik Lorincz of the Connaught Bar at the Connaught won the much-coveted Diageo Reserve Bartender of the Year Award – fending off some 9000 competitors. Like all the best barmen he is a bit of a showman. Think Tom Cruise in Cocktail and you won’t be a million miles away!
I tasted an original “Green Feeling” cocktail on a recent visit – a bit of a treat. They also gave us a freebie to tingle the tastebuds on arrival.
Another bartender in the Connaught Bar’s team – Agostino Perrone – received an International Bartender of the Year Award in 2010. So it’s definitely a place where the staff are at the very top of their game.
The Artesian bar at the stylish Langham is eye-poppingly expensive but has a particularly creative cocktail menu. I especially like their Cocktail Grazing menu which offers some highly-creative combinations – a really fun idea!
The ones that didn’t make the cut
The Sanderson Hotel’s Long Bar has painfully slow service, while the Metropolitan is a bit snooty (my personal view). The Baglioni has nice décor and friendly staff but the cocktails weren’t to my taste (again subjective).
“Mybar” at Myhotel Bloomsbury deserves an honourable mention and only just missed the cut. As did the excellent bar just nestled behind the lobby at the highly-regarded Sofitel St James – with its superb spicy mojito.
If you can think of other good London hotel bars we may have missed then do feel free to mention them in the comments below this blog post.
And readers looking for a good time in London hotels may also appreciate a leisurely, day-long luxury London hotel crawl. Or alternatively may need to check in to one of London’s best hotel spas to get rid of their hangover!
Photo credits: Sofitel St James, Trafalgar Hotel, Soho Hotel, The Lanesborough, Stafford Hotel (Kempinski), May Fair Hotel, Langham London Hotel, Hilton on Park Lane, Egerton House Hotel, Connaught Hotel, Chesterfield Mayfair Hotel.