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London’s cocktail scene is thriving — it’s our pubs we should worry about

Natasha Pszenicki
By @dvh_ellis
03 February 2022

lways a nice feeling to be right. On Monday evening, having been befuddled by a place called Negroni’s — I’d expected a bar specialising in Italian classics and was somehow wrong — I poured myself down Frith Street, onto Old Compton Street and headed for a glass-and-brass lined room called Swift. “It’s pretty good, this place,” I told my friend. Just so; yesterday the news came that it had clocked in at No 2 on this year’s Top 50 Cocktail Bars list, a UK-only catalogue. It was beaten to gold by Cardiff’s Lab 22, which I happen to have been to and frankly think is too neon by half.

Swift proves a worthy London winner. It’s a looker, cocktails are roughly a tenner — about half the price of a drink in our typical, dishonourably overpriced hotel bars — and service is, well, swift. The bar, though, is just one of the capital’s treasures: out of the 50, we claimed half, skewed towards the deep end (of the top 20, 15 are here). It speaks to a city that merrily jingles with the sound of ice rattling in a shaker, which is testament to a change over the past decade or so that’s seen London fall for doing things properly and out of love with the post-work chains and their fishbowls of fluorescent gloop, places where it was never certain whether the buzz came from the booze or the industrial quantities of sugar invariably used. Now we have the likes of Old Street’s keenly innovative Tayer + Elementary (No 4), with drinks distinctly unlike anywhere else and all the better for it, or Islington’s Homeboy (14), where cocktails are familiar, they just happen to be better than everywhere else. Don’t skip The Connaught (3) or whisky-dive Satan’s Whiskers (5) either. 

Grimly, such rude health doesn’t seem to be stretching to the city’s pubs, at least in some parts of town. The top 50 gastropub list — the shrewd will notice these top 50 capers get everywhere — got it bang-on when naming Guinea Grill as London’s finest, but the capital came out with a bruising overall, with only six city spots in the running. This morning, a report into the state of boozers in the Square Mile was trending on Twitter. The Fleet Street crawl used to be a heroic sort of thing, best left to those with battle-hardened livers — I know, I used to live there. Now the street’s oldest pubs are either desperately quiet or closed entirely. 

The Tipperary, which claims to be the oldest Irish pub in town and was supposedly the first place outside Ireland to get Guinness, hasn’t shown signs of life since before lockdown. The Old Bank of England once heaved with those taking the edge off a day working; these days it’s still beautiful, but it’s almost empty. Ye Old Cock Tavern used to pour post-lunch pints all afternoon; now there’s no one to pour them for. Most places stay shut over the weekend, knowing to open would be a waste of everyone’s time. The rest of town might be rubbing its eyes and waking up, but the centre remains eerily vacant. These old institutions, some pubs for more than 350 years, are staring bleakly at closure and redevelopment. 

Make your next round one there before it’s too late.  

In other news...

Gwyneth Paltrow is taking lessons in character from a building

Gwyneth Paltrow has now told the world she’s taken her most recent lessons in character… from a building.  The Goop founder is the star of a fairly stunning feature in Architectural Digest, showing off the six-year project that’s given her a home which makes your bog-standard five-star hotel look shamefully plain.  Not, I take it, a DIY do-it-upper, Paltrow says the labour of love “taught me so much about patience and gratitude”, and likens her living room to “a gorgeous field of punk-rock jewellery”, whatever that means.  No word on whether there’s a room for steaming your bits, but perhaps the paint fumes are stronger than she realises.