A martini is a simple drink on the surface; it only contains one to three ingredients. Yet all that means is that the difference is in the execution, the precision of the way it’s made.
It’s why the humble martini is often a benchmark of just how good a bar is. If they can excel in that most classical of drinks, you’re on to a winner.
Rather than swinging and missing, these are the bars that not only make a flawless martini, but rightly have London’s epicureans flocking to them for just that drink. Without further ado, here are the best martini bars in the capital.
This intimate bar nestled in the equally intimate hotel of the same name is a site of pilgrimage for cocktail aficionados the world over. The martini is inseparable from James Bond and the superspy himself is inseparable from Duke’s Bar; the regular watering hole of author Ian Flemming, it was here he invented 007’s now-synonymous tipple of choice: the vesper.
Needless to say bartender Alessandro Palazzi has perfected that particular concoction. He has however also branched out, and no matter your particular martini preference Duke’s Bar will satisfy with aplomb. Given its proximity to Piccadilly, there are few better bars for the classic pre-dinner appetite stiffener.
The Connaught Bar
The famously luxurious hotel does enjoy a bit of pomp and ceremony. It’s held court on Mount Street since the 19th century and all through the roaring 20s, losing none of its old-world grandeur along the way. That heritage is pretty obvious throughout the entire hotel but really comes to a head in the jewellery box surrounds of the Connaught Bar.
Under the thumb of master mixologist Agostino Perrone, the Connaught Bar offers a range of classic cocktails and rare spirits. The highlight though is the martini trolley. You can choose the precise ingredients you’d like and the way you want it to be served right at your table, all with more than a dash of ceremonial extravagance.
The American Bar
The Savoy’s American Bar is a legend for good reason; in many ways it’s the genesis of cocktail culture in the capital and thanks to Henry Craddock has been responsible for laying the foundations of the mixologists craft, as well as arguably creating the first dry martini. Needless to say head bartender Erik Lorincz has some big shoes to fill. Suffice it to say he apparently has feet to match his height.
Where better to sample the classic dry martini than where many say it was invented? Even if that’s not the case – it’s impossible to know for sure – the American Bar is a dab hand at every classic imaginable. You can also have yours flavoured with some in-house bitters for a fruitier twist on the drink.
The Portobello Star
Portobello Road gin has quickly become the favourite of gin palace courtiers across London and the launch of their own multi-bar premises was an exciting prospect. It still is every time I go. The range of gin-based drinks is superlative, especially as much of the spirit is bottled on the floor below. It’s in the martinis however where Portobello Road gin’s innate quality really shines.
They’re not afraid to experiment with the classic; alongside a Lillet Blanc and bitters-flavoured classic you can opt for an earl grey-based concoction or a marmalade-laced breakfast martini. That’s still no excuse to have one before five o’clock by the way. For a more intensive experience, The Portobello Star also offers eye-opening masterclasses in the mighty martini right downstairs in their bottling room.
When I heard news of the White Lyan closing, my heart broke. My liver was ecstatic but my heart broke. However, rather than simply shutting up shop, the legendary cocktail institution has instead rebranded its basement bar into Super Lyan and, other than a bit of a makeover, the cocktail list is as good as it’s always been.
Rather than taking its name from a mere turn of phrase, the bar’s signature Bone Dry Martini takes things literally. Some might say too much so. The key ingredient – other than their house vodka – is chicken bones dissolved in an acid-and-mineral bath. Terrifying yes, delicious… also yes. Even if it’s not on the stripped-down menu of the rebranded bar, it’s worth asking for. Liquid bones aren’t something you get rid of easily.
Words by: Sam Kessler