In this season of good cheer and high spirits, we thought you might need a little festive drinking inspiration, so we put our heads together, sank a few martinis, lost track of what we were doing somewhat and then decided to get someone else to do it for us. So we quizzed Soho bar supremo Brenhan Magee of the Bohemia Group for the insider lowdown on the London drinking scene. His qualifications? He’s behind The Club Bar & Dining (pictured right) – a hip Mayfair hangout on Warwick Street – as well as having had a hand in the Breakfast Group’s eat-and-drinkeries Jerusalem and Salvador and Amanda. So, bottoms up – here’s to the new drinking year!
Brenhan, what do you reckon are the top three places in London to get a great cocktail – somewhere where the mixologists actually know their stuff? Somewhere you don’t have to explain to the barman how to mix a martini (as happened to me recently – but that’s another story)?
Number 1: Shochu Lounge under Roka, on Charlotte Street: Tony Conigliaro is one of London’s finest and most creative cocktail gurus, and he’s created a fab menu of Japanese-influenced drinks.
Number 2: Green & Red on Bethnal Green Road (020 7749 9670) – another of the tricks up Hawksmoor head honcho Will Beckett‘s sleeve). Mixologist Dre Masso is revered by the cocktail world and for good reason – he is the best person I have ever had the pleasure to work with in terms of cocktails – he’s not just a bartender, he is a chef.
Number 3: There is still so much passion for the cocktails at LAB bar on Old Compton Street in Soho – even after all these years, the bar staff still take as much pride in their cocktails as they ever did. Douglas Ankrah [founder of the London Academy of Bartending] did a fantastic job here, and his legacy continues.
Another great bar is Salvatore at Fifty (50 St James Street) – the bar takes its name after bartender Salvatore Calabrese: always engaging and a great host.
What would your perfect night out in London entail?
After working all day at the Club Bar & Dining (CBD), I’d have a few cocktails with my friends at the bar, watching it get busy and seeing all the regulars come in, then off for dinner with whoever fancies coming along – La Petite Maison on Brook Street is a good choice as it’s close. Back to CBD to see how things are going and who was in that night, a couple of cocktails at Cocoon, and then home in one of Bill’s Cars in Piccadilly. Maybe not perfect, but it’s my usual night in the West End!
Best three bars in London for atmosphere?
Cocoon: the bar staff make it a great little hangout, plus there’s the fact that it is open till three, and, even if it’s not full, it is still makes for an easy place to be with your friends.
The Sanderson is always busy and buzzy. This bar has stood the test of time over the years – it was one of the first fashionable hotel bars, after its sibling the Light Bar at the St Martins Lane hotel.
One of my favorites is Café Boheme on Old Compton Street, a little gem when you are fed up with all the cocktail and hotel bars and just fancy a beer in a busy bar.
That’s always been one of our favourite London hangouts, too! Great for peoplewatching, day or night. Ok, how about your top three bars in London for design?
The Blue Bar at the Berkley Hotel – the mirrors and the elegance of the bar are fabulous; it always strikes me as such a beautiful place whenever I m there.
The new Eight Club in the City: though it’s still in build mode and maybe shouldn’t be in my top three yet, having seen the place taking shape, perused the plans and hung out with the owner, I know this private member’s club is definitely going to be in my top three.
The Connaught’s The Coburg Bar is also great to look at – I love the sculptural bar stools and Heppelwhite love seats.
Interesting that a lot of your choices have been in luxury hotels in London. The Coburg (and its sexy bar stools) was designed by India Mahdavi, the Parisian designer whose skills were also unleashed at Condesa DF in Mexico City – she made our Top 10 Boutique Hotel Designers list a couple of months back. And the Connaught hosts fabulous Parisian chef Hélène Darroze, another incentive to go there.
While we’re on the subject of food: what are your top three London restaurants and why?
Scott’s of Mayfair, on Mount Street (+44 20 7495 7309). Sean the doorman is the best in the business, from the moment you step out of your car, he is the perfect example of ‘first impressions’ – so important when arriving at a restaurant. The atmosphere is always electric and the food never disappoints.
La Petite Maison, also in Mayfair (see above). I have so much admiration for a man that opens one of London’s most fashionable restaurants (Zuma), then opens one London’s best Japanese restaurants (Roka) and then goes on to open a French, Nicoise restaurant of this quality: entrepreneurship at its best.
Hakkasan, I think this is one of the best restaurants to open in the world, let alone London. I have never been disappointed and always have an outstanding meal, from the signature duck with caviar to sweet and sour pork. I look forward to eating there every time I get the chance to go.
Mm, Hakkasan – so hip it hurts! Take us there now… Tell us which bars around the world you admire?
I admire what Andrew Sasson has achieved with his bar, restaurant and nightclub empire in Las Vegas. Nine years after he showed me his vision in his first club, The Light in The Bellagio, he has gone on to build an empire there – another true entrepreneur.
Of course these all come after my own place, The Club Bar and Dining, but they would, wouldn’t they!!