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The UK's 50 best bars

Enjoli Liston finds the top spots to chill out

Published 19/02/2011

<b>Zuma </b><br/>
'You may have to negotiate your way past the beautiful people to reach your sake but it's all part of Zuma's sophisticated charm,' says Anthony. With more than 40 premium sakes to try warm or chilled, a delectable wine list, and plenty of delicious cocktails, Zuma is a great place to start the evening. An appetising sushi counter, robata grill, and sunken kotatsu tables make it a great place to carry on too. <br/.
<b>Where</b> 5 Raphael St, Knightsbridge, London, SW7 1DL (020-7584 1040;
'You may have to negotiate your way past the beautiful people to reach your sake but it's all part of Zuma's sophisticated charm,' says Anthony. With more than 40 premium sakes to try warm or chilled, a delectable wine list, and plenty of delicious cocktails, Zuma is a great place to start the evening. An appetising sushi counter, robata grill, and sunken kotatsu tables make it a great place to carry on too.
Where 5 Raphael St, Knightsbridge, London, SW7 1DL (020-7584 1040;
Connaught Bar
With its dusky pink Cubist decor, exclusive vintages and a stellar cocktail menu, the Connaught bar at it its namesake hotel is widely lauded as the best in London. 'Fearsomely chic, this art deco-style lovely is a must-visit on the London bar scene,' says Ben. 'Try a bespoke martini using Junipero gin and perfumed with a spritz of essential oil - but don't expect much change from £20.'
Where Carlos Place, Mayfair, London, W1K2AL (020-7499 7070;
'Terroirs caused something of a sensation when it opened a couple of years ago,' says Anthony. It's no wonder why. It delivers a wine list of 200 handmade wines, including champagnes and ciders, reflecting numerous artisan regions (or terroirs), with simple yet sublime food to boot.
Where 5 William IV Street, London, WC2N 4DW (020-7036 0660;
The Bathhouse
This 19th-century Turkish bathhouse in the heart of the City is a gorgeously opulent hideaway that's easy on the purse. 'I look forward to Thursday nights for its clandestine supperclub soirée, Boom Boom Club, where you can round off dinner and Victorian-themed cocktails with a cabaret show,' says Kate. 'The dance floor's gilded birdcage DJ booth adds extra speakeasy glamour.'
Where 7-8 Bishopsgate Churchyard, London, EC2M 3TJ (020-7920 9207;
'Owned and run by cocktail aficionados - this place is the ultimate speakeasy,' says Daniel. The quirky yet relaxed decor may combine gin palace glamour and prohibition-era dark corners, but when it comes to cocktails, Purl is forward-thinking. If you like a bit of spice in your life, sample the blue blazer
Where 50/54 Blandford Street, Marylebone, London, W1U 7HX (020-7935 0835;
Experimental Cocktail Club
door amid the dim sum joints of Chinatown, this bar is a 'Parisian arriviste on London's cutting-edge cocktail scene' says Ben. While Gallic bartenders send out drinks made with creative infusions, Ben recommends toasting the smoking ban with a Havana (a Cuban cigar-infused bourbon and whisky 'old fashioned').
Where 13a Gerrard Street, London, W1D 5PS (020-7434 3559;
Phoenix Artists Bar
This theatre bar is my favourite late-night drinking den in Soho,' says Kate. Although the drinks menu isn't as exciting as it could be, Kate says it's the interior and ambience that keeps her coming back. 'Filled with theatrical memorabilia and signed photographs (and always with a show tune playing in the background), Phoenix is charming and effortlessly kitsch.'
Where 1 Phoenix Street, London, WC2H 8BU (020-7836 1077;
Bar Pepito
'Inside this sweet little Andalusian-style bodega, you can sip on a wide selection of sherries while indulging in nuts, olives and mouth-watering jamòn iberico de bellota (that's ham) sliced before your eyes,' says Anthony. One of London's best kept secrets, its quiet, cosy atmosphere is perfect for taking the stress out of city living.
Where 3Varnishers Yard, London, N1 9DF (020-7841 7331; pepito)
Living up to the mysterious repute of its nocturnal namesake, Nightjar harks back to the glamorous allure of early European cabaret joints and offers a night out unlike any other in this persistently trendy pocket of east London. 'Think sharply attired staff, and top-notch drinks served in vintage stemware,' says Ben. Don't miss intriguing cocktail recipes revived from the 18th-century and Prohibition era.
Where 129 City Road, London, EC1V 1JB (020-7253 4101;
OXO Tower Bar
Relaunched in November, this spot was already one of London's most talked-about venues. Boasting the same stunning views of St Paul's Cathedral and the City that have earned international acclaim for OXO Tower's restaurant and brasserie, the newbar also features decor designed by Shaun Clarkson ID, which offers a modern twist on classic cruise-liner chic. Cocktail connoisseurs can enjoy recommendations from Ian, the thoroughly charming and talented mixologist and manager.
Where Oxo Tower Wharf, Barge House Street, London, SE1 9PH (020-7803 3888;
Describing itself as a wine workshop and kitchen (28°-50° is the latitude band of most of the world's vineyards), the drinks at this small but perfectly formed split-level space are presided over by expert sommelier Xavier Rousset. 'Thanks to a well-chosen range of wines by the glass, an intriguing collector list, and fresh, seasonal food, this is a casual-drinking nirvana,' says Anthony.
Where 140 Fetter Lane, London, EC4A 1BT (020-7242 8877;
Callooh Callay
'Go beyond this Shoreditch bar's wardrobe door and discover a Lewis Carroll-inspired land that's playful and unforgettably hip,' says Kate. 'Bagsy the bathtub sofa, order punches served in a gramophone and marvel at the cornucopia of Narnia-esque curiosities. I usually spend longer than usual in the loos marvelling at their walls, which are layered with hundreds of multicoloured cassette tapes in place of bricks.'Need we say more?
Where 65 Rivington Street, London, EC2A 3AY (020-7739 4781;
Hawksmoor Seven Dials
'This West End branch of the Shoreditch steakhouse is even better than the original,' says Ben. 'The bar touts good value cocktails matched to a terrific food menu, all in moody dark-wood surrounds.' Set in the old Watney Combe brewery, the Hawksmoor is a steakhouse first and foremost but the beautifully served bottle of Manhattan cocktail will have you coming back to the bar, time and time again.
Where 11 Langley St, London, WC2H 9JG (020-7856 2154;
Viajante Bar
Impressive surroundings? Check. Striking design? Check. Exquisite cocktails? Definitely check. 'When it comes to local boozing, this Scandi-cool meets art deco bar, which shares space inside a listed, Edwardian building with the Town Hall Hotel, is my new favourite spot,' says Kate. 'It's discreet, intimate and you can nibble owner Nuno Mendes's contemporary tapas at a snip of what it would cost you to dine at his restaurant next door.'
Where Town Hall Hotel, Patriot Square, London, E2 9NU (020-7871 0461;
The Bar at the Goring
Just a stone's throw from the Queen in Buckingham Palace, luxury abounds at this exceptionally beautiful old world bar. It teams says its filled with 'the constant hum of London eccentrics, ladies-who lunch, dignitaries, media odd-balls, sports stars, Lords, Ladies and gentlemen', as well as huge range of bespoke beverages, this is people-watching heaven.
Where Beeston Place, London, SW1W 0JW (020- 7396 9000;
The Beaufort at the Savoy
'This is the place to go for a glass of champagne,' says Daniel. Following a £220m revamp, the Savoy is firmly back on the exclusive London drinking map. Though Daniel's American Bar is unarguably the iconic watering hole for connoisseurs, The Beaufort (famed for its vintage champagnes) certainly wins in the plush stakes. If your pocket can hack the steep prices, why not try both?
Where 100 Strand, London, WC2R 0EU (020-7836 4343;
The Hausbar
'Cosy and distinctive, this is a beautiful speak-easy bar,' says Daniel. 'Done with lots of love and attention to detail, it transports you back in time into the golden era of cocktails'. Think dark wood bars, chic fringed lampshades and warm golden lighting - the perfect atmosphere for any Mad Men wannabes.
Where 52 Upper Belgrave Road, Bristol, BS8 2XP (0117-946 6081;
Café Koba
In the upstairs portion of this independent café-cum-deli-cum restaurant, the focus is on the drinks - whether a pint, a cocktail or a glass of wine. 'With its cocktail bar and workshops, some say it's the best spot in Brighton for a Bellini, margarita or, of course, Koba cocktail,' says Anthony. 'Even with Koba's fine mixologists, we're not sure about sex on the beach though. This is chilly Brighton, not the Bahamas.'
Where 135 Western Road, Brighton, BN1 2LA (01273 720059;
Sixty Million Postcards
A welcome haven from Bournemouth's plentiful stag and hen night venues, this artsy place is a relaxed bar/gallery by day and a drinking/clubbing mecca for the town's indie royalty by night. With unpretentious beverages, rough-and-ready atmosphere, neon-clad underground bands and local DJ talents, it's a fresh venue for a bit of fun.
Where 19-21 Exeter Road, Bournemouth, BH2 5AF (01202 292697;
Owners Jean Pierre and Carey take personal pride in ensuring that this cosy wine bar and bistro has an authentic French feel that certainly keeps its streams of customers happy. The wine list, in particular, keeps them so happy that Beaujolais boasts its own wine shop so that drinkers can buy their favourite tipples right there on the spot. Cute, quaint and enchantingly rustic.
Where 5 Chapel Row, Bath, BA1 1HN (01225 423 417;
In Vino Veritas
Named after the Roman adage 'In wine, truth', this warm French-inspired wine bar and restaurant is favoured by local businesses as a replacement office with far more benefits than a photocopier could ever provide. Daunted by the list of over 200 wines and 40 sparklers? Fear not, ask the resident sommelier for their expert tips.
Where 103 North Road, Brighton, BN1 1YW (01273 622 522;
Mix Bar, Reading
Pink, fluffy, and fantastically kitsch, the award-winning Mix Bar is a flamingo-pink paradise with a cocktail menu to make mouths water. Situated just off the riverside in Reading, Mix has a passion for mixology, which is apparent in its cocktail masterclasses, where punters can make like Tom Cruise in Cocktail - though that might take more than one lesson.
Where The Walk, by the Oracle, Yield Hall Place, Reading. RG1 2HG (01189 571365;
Grain Barge
Set on the charming harbourside, this unique 1930s converted barge was bought by the Bristol Beer Factory in early 2007 and restored using reclaimed materials. The main lounge offers bright, airy surroundings with 270 degree vistas of the harbour that encompass views of the SS Great Britain. Beer is the beverage of choice here, and don't miss the live music.
Where Mardyke Wharf, Hotwells Road, Hotwells, Bristol, BS8 4RU (0117-9299 347;
Frank's Bar
Resembling an old-fashioned sweet shop as much as a bar, Frank's is a well-loved petite drinking den in central Norwich that prides itself on fantastically friendly service with the laid-back feel of a living room. Perfect for those who seek the familiarity of a pub with the cosiness of a café, Frank's is also unbelievable value for money. Look out for live acoustic sets and don't leave without sampling the delicious food.
Where 19 Bedford Street, Norwich, NR2 1AR (01603 618 902;
The House of Coco Tang
Despite the management's best efforts to keep this underground boutique club out of the media glare, Coco Tang was named Nottingham's best large bar at the town's bar and club awards last year. Hidden under the cobbled streets of Nottingham's historic lace market, imagine opium dens fused with retro American cocktail clubs. Don't miss the even more secret rooftop garden.
Where 45 Bridlesmith Gate, Nottingham, NG1 2GN (
The Kenilworth
Whether it's a pre-dinner aperitif or a special nightcap you're after, allow award-winning bartenders to supply the perfect concoctions with a soundtrack of jazz and swing to further sweeten your poison. 'This is my favourite drinking place in this part of the world,' says Daniel. 'Set in a 16th-century building, the bar is all sophistication and style, with classics and signature martinis executed perfectly in a great setting.'
Where 61 Warwick Rd, Kenilworth, Coventry, CV8 1HN (01926 779 473;
Brass Monkey
Dubbing itself a 'style bar', Nottingham's first cocktail specialist opened in 1999 and continues to pull in a plentiful supply of local clientele. Margaritas and bloody marys are the house special, but in the unlikely event that you can't find what you're after on the extensive menu, feel free to ask the monkeys (their word, not ours) behind the neon bar for something custom-made.
Where High Pavement, Nottingham, NG1 1HP (0115 840 4101;
Inspire Café Bar
The old adage 'location, location, location' is applicable for Inspire, Coventry's best kept secret. Situated inside the spire of a 13th-century church, this tiny gem of a venue infuses rustic European charm with a contemporary ambience. It may be a challenge to find a seat, but bartenders do their best to make drinkers comfortable. A unique setting to enjoy Belgian beer ? the house speciality.
Where Christ Church Spire, New Union Street, Coventry, CV1 2PS (02476 553355;
Wilde's Wine Bar
Simplicity is the order of the day at Wilde's, a cosy basement bar and restaurant that promises 'good wine, good food, good company'. Family-run since 1976, this unfussy Gallic-style venue offers a charming setting with an Old World-focused wine list of over 60 varieties (20 by the glass).
Where 7 The Parade, Leamington Spa, CV32 4DG (01926 336732;
Last Wine Bar & Restaurant
Located near central Norwich, the award-winning Last Wine Bar still retains some original features from its life as a Victorian shoe factory (a 'last' is a foot-shaped shoemaker's tool). Priding itself on having one of the most extensive wine lists in the city, this is a quaint and colourful place for a tipple.
Where 76 St George's Street, Norwich, NR3 1AB (01603 626626;
Bibis Italianissimo
'The bar takes centre stage at this supersize, Las Vegas-style version of an Italian restaurant,' says Ben. As well as being the glitziest showgirl in town, Bibis offers a tantalising array of imaginative cocktails. Ben recommends Wednesday night 'Showtime' events, when tribute bands take to the stage. 'It sums up the kitsch and camp spirit of the place perfectly.'
Where Criterion Place, off Sovereign Street, Leeds, LS1 4AG (0113-243 0905;
Hidden under Birmingham's oldest street in the basement of the four-star Burlington Hotel, Bacchus's decor is incongruously ostentatious for such a clandestine location. Roman pillars mingle with an Egyptian tomb, all draped in velvet to create a senses-overload reinforced by signature strong martinis. Not for the faint-hearted.
Where Burlington Arcade, 126 New Street, Birmingham, B2 4JQ (0121-632 5445)
Named after a local drag queen - Frank 'Foo Foo' Lammar - this shrine to pop culture is the brightest star in Manchester's trendy Northern Quarter. Situated just across the road from the Gay Village in a converted textile factory, Lammars has been voted the city's best bar two years in a row. Boasting an impressive bar and stylishly kitsch surroundings, it's not to be missed.
Where Fourways Restaurant & Bar, 57 Hilton Street, Manchester, M1 2EJ (0161-237 9058;
Physically clean but psychologically dirty, the Manchester branch of Mojo is one of the city's most entertaining bars. 'It may not be the most sophisticated venue in the world, but it's certainly one of my all-time favourites for great night out,' says Daniel. 'Think shots, well-mixed fruity cocktails and bottled beer - all paired with rock'n'roll.'
Where 19 Back Bridge Street, Manchester,M32PB (0844 549 9090;
Bar Four
Continuing the musical theme, no visitor to Liverpool can avoid acknowledging that it's the home of the Beatles. This dedicated bar, found in the Hard Days Night Hotel, is a stylish tribute to the Fab Four that is sure to be appreciated by hardcore fans and casual admirers alike. Try the Honey Can't Buy Me Love cocktail.
Where Central Buildings, North John Street, Liverpool, L2 6RR (0151-236 1964;
What list of best bars would be complete without a tequila joint? This popular, politically aware bar is a fantastic place to put the world to rights (see its regular campaigns) or dance the night away to live bands with a rum cocktail in hand. With 30 different kinds of rum to choose from, there's plenty of reason to go back again and again.
Where 5/5a Cross Belgrave Street, Leeds, LS2 8JP (0113-305 0372;
Jake's Bar and Grill
'This is the original feel-good bar' says Daniel. With it's very own 'Imbiber's Almanac', Jake's cocktail menu features an extensive ranged of themed cocktails, from 'jazz' and 'island' to 'Eighties' and 'future proof' - all at reasonable prices. With plentiful nooks and crannies to get acquainted in, it's a great first-date venue.
Where Call Lane, Leeds, LS1 7BP (0113-243 1110;
Studio 2 at Parr Street, Liverpool
Coldplay, Barry Manilow, Take That, and Diana Ross have all recorded at this studio,which has been deftly converted into a unique late-night lounging spot. Part museum, part gallery, part working studio, this is a must for music fans ? especially as it's also a jazz venue.
Where 33-45 Parr Street, Liverpool, L1 4JN (0151-707 1050; http://www.
Bramble Bar & Lounge
'This is old-school hip-hop meets five-star service,' says Ben. 'Resident DJs create a great atmosphere, backed up by amazingly professional and enthusiastic staff who can wow even the most distinguished drinker.' Whether you're kicking-back in Bramble's comfy armchairs or sampling the signature 'soulful' cocktails, Bramble is a venue for all moods.
Where 16A,Queen Street, Edinburgh, EH2 1JE (0131-226 6343;
Sligachan Hotel, Skye
Found right in the heart of the Cuillin mountains, this bar is a favourite among climbers who like a wee dram after a hard day's scramble. The old-fashioned pine-clad bar may not win design awards, but its contents (namely 300 different varieties of malt whiskies) make for an impressive choice of beverage. Try the local Cuillin Black Face, Eagle, Glamaig, Pinnacle and Skye.
Where Carbost, Isle of Skye, IV47 8SW (01478 650 204;
The Canny Man's
'No mobiles, no credit cards, no backpackers, no cameras' commands a sign in this unusual watering hole. Anthony says the landlord can afford to be demanding, because this well-loved establishment is 'the best place in Morningside, if not in town, for malts, wines and cocktails'. And the ambience? Imagine 'eccentric Antiques Roadshow-style décor'.
Where 237Morningside Road, Edinburgh, EH10 4QU (0131-447 1484)
Voodoo Rooms
'Don't come here expecting a quiet night,' warns Ben. 'With three bars playing live music and cabaret and hosting club nights and screenings - to say nothing of a cocktail list that majors in rum and tequila - this has been party central for Edinburgh since opening in 2007'. Don't forget to take a peak at the ballroom.
Where 19a West Register St, Edinburgh, EH2 2AA (0131-556 7060;
The Bar at the Gleneagles Hotel, Perthshire
Timeless glamour meets modern chic in this venue, which boasts a selection of over 120 single malt whiskies. 'The Gleneagles bar is an institution,' says Daniel. 'Set in a beautiful, cosy, five-star castle in the picturesque Scottish countryside, the attentive and knowledgeable staff make this a must.'
Where Auchterarder, Perthshire, PH3 1NF (01764 662231;
'Whisky is the drink of choice at this mainstay of the Edinburgh bar scene, where exuberant glitterballs, beaded curtains and crystal-lined walls provide high gloss glamour by the bucketload,' says Ben. Whether you're a cocktail connoisseur or champagne luvvie, Tigerlily offers a classy yet quirky night on the tiles.
Where 125 George Street, Edinburgh, EH2 4JN (0131-225 5005;
Bar Gandolfi, Glasgow
For over two decades, Café Gandolfi has been a Glasgow institution. Now, the baby of the family - the attic Bar Gandolfi - has proven that it deserves just as much praise as its predecessors. Located in Glasgow's rejuvenated Merchant City district and situated in a converted cheese market, it may look like a lofty wine bar, but don't be fooled - Scotch whisky is the speciality.
Where 64 Albion Street, Glasgow (0141-552 4462;
The Bar at the Merchant Hotel
'A beautiful classic hotel bar with an amazing (and enormous) cocktail and spirit list,' recommends Daniel. With world-class five-star surroundings that boast a harmonious blend of Victorian grandeur and art deco design, this multi award-winning bar also offers a 'Spirit Club', which provides tasting sessions of exotic premium spirits.
Where 16 Skipper Street, Belfast, BT1 2DZ (028 9023 4888;
'Overlooking Belfast City Hall, Apartment is a cool, friendly bar with a fine selection of cocktails and beers,' says Anthony. 'The wines may be a bit on the ordinary side for connoisseurs but at £8.95 there's always a glass of Veuve Clicquot to put a smile on your face.' The Asian-influenced food is the perfect stomach liner for an evening of revelry.
Where 2 Donegall Square West, Belfast, BT1 6JA (028 9050 9777;
The Crown Bar
Otherwise known as the Crown Liquor Saloon, this stunning Belfast bar has been a stalwart member of Belfast's bar scene since 1849. Owned by the National Trust, it boasts beautiful mosaic flooring, graphic tiling and exquisitely carved wooden fittings. A series of unique, plush drinking booths make it a perfect venue for groups, while the broad whiskey menu offers a wide array of fantastic local liquors.
Where 46 Great Victoria Street, Belfast, (028 9024 3187;
Ba Orient
Situated on Mermaid Quay, Ba Orient is a glossy homage to colonial ideals of Far Eastern drinking dens with the added bonus of a dim sum menu ? perfect for the moment when those munchies kick in. A favourite among big groups, the drinks are just as international as the decor and the house mojito comes recommended.
Where First Floor, Mermaid Quay, Cardiff Bay, CF10 5BZ (029 2046 3939;
Laguna Kitchen & Bar
With over 100 different varieties of wine to choose from and a pretty al fresco seating area, Laguna is a relaxing place to sip vino and watch the world go by. Hungry? The bar menu, with locally sourced specials, is available all day. Tired? This isn't the place for you ? it's open until 2am most days.
Where Park Plaza Hotel, Greyfriars Road, Cardiff, CF10 3AL (029 2011 1103;

From classy cocktail lounges and late-night hideaways to hip hotels and wild watering holes.

The panel

Daniel Baernreuther is the manager of the American Bar at the Savoy; Ben McCormack is editor of ‘Square Meal’; Kate Hutchinson is clubbing editor at ‘Time Out London’; Anthony Rose is wine columnist for ‘The Independent’ and founding member of

>>Click on the image on the right to launch the guide

Source: Independent

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