(Bloomberg) -- I’ve spent years as a dedicated cocktail drinker. I’ve clocked time in world-class bars like New York’s PDT and Dante, but I’ll also say yes to the occasional jello shot. 

In the past few years, though, I transitioned to more of a wine person. I still peruse great drinks lists. But invariably, I end up reaching for vino. That’s true even now, despite the influx of high-level cocktail spots operating in New York, including Tokyo Fixer and Pebble Bar. 

But this summer, I moved to London, and my drinking habits shifted again. Maybe it’s the eternal background melody of tinkling ice in a martini shaker. Perhaps it was the UK’s sweltering heat wave in July that made a frozen drink the only thing that was truly refreshing. It’s possible that I simply regained the ability to look at a cocktail scene with fresh eyes after having gotten too settled in my wine-drinking habit.

Whatever the reason, the cocktails in London have proved an excellent adventure for me as I make my way around my new city. One thing that’s changed—is it me or London?—is my taste. I used to always go for fruity, tart drinks, but now I’m leaning toward alcohol-forward drinks, namely, the local staple: the martini.

Before I arrived in the UK, I could count on one hand the number of times I’d ordered one. Now, it’s my go-to drink, especially in various incarnations that show off its different sides with a range of vermouth and bitters. (I still can’t bring myself to order an espresso martini.)

Following are the nine top cocktails on my radar in London, with a nod to my current favorite spirit-based libation in New York City. (I wasn’t only drinking wine!)



The Best Drink: The Imperfect Martini, Lyaness

At Lyaness in the Thames-side Sea Containers hotel, Ryan Chetiyawardana serves intriguing seasonal menu, defined by unconventional ingredients. The Imperfect Martini, a star of the fall offerings, is what I would consider to be a perfect iteration. It’s made from discarded grape-skin vodka (no waste!) and uses grass amazake, the sweet distilled Japanese beverage, as an alternative to vermouth. A hit of fermented squash makes it wonderfully fruity but keeps it dry. Like all the best cocktails, it’s eye-catching, served in a coupe with an impossibly long stem.

(The Imperfect Martini is now gone from the Lyaness menu. In its place, the Elephant Martini, with gin, vodka and vermouth flavored with “thunder mushroom”—code for fortified, then electrocuted grains.) 

Watermelon Sugar, Discount Suit C0.

Yes, it’s named after the Harry Styles song, and yes, the name piques customers’ interest: According to creator Dan Ghazel, the tall, hyper-refreshing drink is one of the most popular drinks at the downstairs bar housed in an old clothing shop. Garnished with a long watermelon sphere, it’s a twist on the paloma and made with a singular—and actually tasty!—watermelon liqueur, plus a bittersweet grapefruit aperitif and tequila and mezcal. Like the song, it goes down easy, but it is also so well-balanced that it can stand up to more careful consideration.   

Yuzu Frozen Margarita, Tayer + Elementary

This monumental bar from Monica Berg and Alex Kratena is divided into two parts. Half is the ambitious Tayer, hidden behind a door. At the approachable, street-facing Elementary, frozen drink machines operate throughout the year. The most popular is the yuzu margarita, a simple mix of tequila and the fragrant, floral citrus fruit yuzu; the x-factor ingredient that gives it an extra little kick is a splash of sake. It’s a perfect slushy treat, even when the texture of the drink matches the weather outside.  

HVR Water, Yacht Club (Pop-Up)

This summer, the dynamic Denver-based bar Yacht Club popped up in London, at Lyaness. Founders Mary Alison Wright and McLain Hedges brought with them an unorthodox American quaff: HVR Water. Super fans may recognize the initials for Hidden Valley Ranch, the addictive salad dressing, and the drink bears an uncanny resemblance to it, in the best way. Made with blanco tequila and piquant fino sherry, HVR water is flavored with mint and lemon. But what takes it from novelty to unforgettability is the black pepper-clarified buttermilk; if the drink weren’t crystal clear, it wouldn’t be the same.

Away, Thin White Duke

It’s hard to think of a better cocktail than the Last Word, a tart-sweet drink made with equal amounts of gin, maraschino, chartreuse and lime juice. At the Thin White Duke in Soho, a hybrid bar that also houses a recording studio, the drinks channel David Bowie with such names as China Girl and Rum for the Shadows. Dav Eames’s drink replaces the gin with mezcal and adds a splash of absinthe, all served ice cold in a goblet of a glass.

And the name? It’s the last word of the last song on Bowie’s final album, Blackstar.

Bellini Royale, Bob Bob Ricard

This Soho institution is renowned for the “Press for Champagne” buzzers that stand ready for duty at every booth. (A sign above the bar lights up whenever it’s pressed, and servers are dispatched with bottles.) But the restaurant also uses the sparkling wine for a cocktail that matches the over-the-top mood of the place. The pink concoction vaguely matches the restaurant’s signature color and is a mix of bubbly and strawberry and peach puree. What makes it captivating is the dollop of rich Champagne mousse that comes on top, like an extravagant gift. 

Number 11, Connaught Bar

The ritzy hotel bar mixes one of the world’s more famous martinis, made tableside from a cart that also offers a little, scratch-and-sniff-style card to help you decide among the five bitters. For those of us who are more firmly in the Vesper camp (i.e., gin and vodka), the Connaught’s Number 11 is a masterpiece. It was created on the bar’s 11th anniversary, in 2019, and includes the five bitter choices—cardamom, tonka, ginseng and bergamot, lavender, and coriander—along with housemade gin and a touch of Amalfi lemon oil.

The drink is dispensed from a machine that the hotel says mimics the pour from an 11-story building. Whether or not that’s true, the process sufficiently aerates the drink to make all the components shine. 

Sun Conure, Common Decency

In the Nomad Hotel’s clubby subterranean bar, the menu gives storybook vibes, featuring a list of illustrated ingredients and two distinct drinks that riff on each one. The Sun Conure revolves around Szechuan peppercorns and is named for the colorful parakeet from Venezuela, the birthplace of cocktail director Leo Robitschek. It’s a combination of potent, molasses-y Appleton 12-year-rum infused with the toasted peppercorns, together with Campari and passion fruit. The impact is like a boozy, fruity punch.

The little toy birds that perch on the side of the glass are among the more whimsical garnishes you’ll find, but the drink itself is all about spicy, mouth-watering complexity.

House Negroni Classico, Bar Termini

A river of great negronis runs through London. But none is greater than the ones poured by drinks expert Tony Conigliaro at the classy, direct-from-Italy Bar Termini. Admire the image above as the inimitable mix of gin, sweet vermouth and Campari is poured from a bottle, right up to the lip of the small glass. You have to lean in to sip, which is part of the allure. Also appealing: There’s no ice to get in the way of the drink.

Even better? They go for £8 ($9.75), which means it’s easy to drink a lot of them. And they’re pre-batched, so guests can buy bottles to take away.


New York

Quijote G+T,  El Quijote

At the resurrected Spanish restaurant in the new-old Chelsea Hotel, the house gin and tonic is the star cocktail. It was conceived by the hotel’s bar director Brian Evans as an ode to the many versions he sipped in Spain. Rather than a tall Collins glass, this G&T is served in a goblet and made with a higher ratio of tonic to gin than most American versions; here it’s 4-1 compared to the 3-1, or even 2-1, US standard. Key to the flavor and terrific fragrance are the aromatics that decorate the drink, including fresh celery curls, bay leaves and star anise.

Besides invigorating the drink, the garnishes are, as Evans notes, a bit of performative theater. Guests can watch the bartenders arrange the ingredients in the glass as they wait for their drink to arrive. 

©2022 Bloomberg L.P.