City Guide to London


129 City road, London,

The Nightjar is a nocturnal bird that makes the most of the dark. No surprise, then, that this is a basement bar, open late. It’s in the popular Old Street area of the city and, although on first view the region looks like a giant roundabout with a mishmash of high buildings, its nooks and crannies reveal a plethora of back street bars, restaurants and vintage shops. 

Nightjar is not only famous for its drinks – often created by top ’tender Marian Beke – but also its 1920s vibe and live jazz music. The music is so popular that live nights book up quickly and punters who get in are sure to lose themselves in that little basement. 

There are lots of quiet corners in this bar and you get the feeling that clandestine meetings over Prohibition-era drinks are taking place. 

The bar has just celebrated its third birthday and it was recently named the second best bar in the world. Not bad for a three year old. 

Portobello Star

171 Portobello road, 

Like all of these places, it’s hard to talk about a venue without thinking of the person who makes it great. In this case, we’re talking about Jake Burger. This Leeds lad has added his own magic to the London bar scene and the Portobello Star is more than just a bar. You can make your own gin there, too. The Ginstitute opened in 2012 and, as well as a small museum to amuse yourself with, you can get creative with botanicals. After education comes distillation and the chaps at the Ginstitute will keep your personal recipe on file so you can reorder it. A slightly arrogant Christmas present, perhaps? 

If you don’t want to make your own gin, Burger et al have already made one and it’s rolling out all over the place. Portobello Road is a London Dry with juniper berries, lemon peel, bitter orange peel, coriander seeds, orris root, angelica root, cassia bark, liquorice and nutmeg. It is made by the capable Charles Maxwell of Thames Distillers. 

White Lyan

153 Hoxton street, London,

Yes, yes, we know the White Lyan’s USP: no fruit, no ice. Well, no problem for maestros Ryan Chetiyawardana and Iain Griffiths. The drinks are premixed and chilled in various fridges and freezers. They also include all kinds of weird and wonderful ingredients – the Bone Martini contains a tincture made from chicken bones – and the guys spend pretty much all day pre-making the drinks so that service is quick and easy. 

Since it opened its doors last year, White Lyan has attracted the attention of Time Out and London’s Evening Standard newspaper. Time Out shot straight in with five stars, setting this bar up as a serious addition to the London bar scene. The reviewer asks: “Does all this sound a bit pretentious? Think about it like this: comparing White Lyan to your local boozer is like comparing Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck to a greasy spoon...” The customer reviews, however, are mixed. All the more reason to go along and judge for yourself. 

Milk & Honey 

61 Poland Street, London,

It’s impossible to write about the London bar landscape without mentioning this place. It is almost 12 years old now and it’s a Soho institution. It’s a members’ bar but access to non-members is allowed as long as you make a reservation and it’s before 11pm. On first visit you might think the ground level bar is Milk & Honey. But explore a little further and you’ll find more levels. There are plenty of cosy corners but if you want to get more involved, go on the first Tuesday of the month for the Soho Cocktail Club or hire out the basement for 50 of your nearest and dearest.