Address: Corner Henrietta & Welbeck Streets, London, W1G 0BA
Tel: +44 (0)20 7224 4239
Hours: Tue-Thu noon-midnight; Fri-Sat noon-2am
Punk meets burger joint meets high-end cocktail bar meets dive bar. That pretty much sums up the graffiti-ridden Meat Liquor, a restaurant and bar put together by a bunch of very experienced operators. To be successful you should stand out by offering something unique. They have and it is.
Located in the basement of a brutalist car park just off Oxford Street, what was once a swanky Italian restaurant now boasts black and red spray-painted walls that give this place a perestroika feel. A laid-back crowd queues out of the door (no reservations) so get there early. 'Insurgent country' music plays in the background - yes, apparently that is a category. The atmosphere is lively, relaxed, fun.
Seating is communal, so grab yourself a spot and wait for the attentive service or perhaps head straight to the bar where a butler sink housing block ice is a sign of great cocktails (the list is by Soulshakers). Be sure try a Cyder Car (a Sidecar extended with West Country Cider), perhaps the Full English Martini (a gin Martini with accompanying quail's egg and Frazzles-covered Scotch Egg) or a Dry Daiquiri (boasting Campari and the merest dribble of passion fruit), all at a reasonable Â£6 or Â£7, well executed, no nonsense-like.
There's a House Grog (limited to two serves per person), one lager and one 'Yank beer', and a smattering of wines.
Food is from 'guerrilla dining' (ie pop-up) concept Meateasy, which is famous for its burgers. Maybe you can brave the 'triple chilli challenge'. Whatever you do, leave room for the bourbon ice-cream. North of Oxford Street needed something good and this is it. 4/5
Address: 28 King William Street, London, EC4R 9AT
Tel: +44 (0)20 7621 0400
Purported to be Be At One's first home in the Square Mile (though they have a branch in Spitalfields) the Monument venue is a two-floored corner site practically on London Bridge itself. Upstairs is a typically City-style busy beer-oriented boozer, but follow the neon signs below stairs and you find a cocktail bar. There's also a small dance floor down here, but never mind.
Be At One's menu is voluminous (listing 219 cocktails) but the staff have clearly been rigorously trained and know it backwards, so we'd suggest putting yourself in their hands and telling them what you normally drink. The customer service ethos is strong here, so much so that they're literally shaking your hand and introducing themselves to you by name (and asking yours) which you'll either love or hate.
Drink range from classics to Disco and everything in between - the blender whirrs just as constantly as bartenders shake and stir cocktails. Cocktails come fast but this isn't about ceremony here and we've always found Be At One to be a great bridge between beer drinkers and cocktail lovers, so that's about right. Maybe you won't leave 'wowed' but you're unlikely to have any complaints about cocktails either - the 2011 winner of the CLASS Best Classic Bar category is the sort of place where mixological epiphanies occur, particularly with cocktail rookies. With drinks maxing out at Â£8.50 it won't break the bank either. 3.5/5
Address: 3-4 Archer Street, Soho, London, W1D 7AP
Tel: +44 (0)20 7734 3342
Archer Street used to be Barcode, a gay bar/club of some heritage but has been transformed into a wood-panelled cocktail bar that looks somewhere between a boutique hotel and a country kitchen - though large speakers betray its earlier existence. The transformation is causing some consternation amongst Barcode's former customers, who can be seen walking by and doing a double take.
One of the more novel aspects of the bar is that the staff, stealthily armed with Madonna-style headsets and mics, suddenly burst into song, so don't be surprised if your waitress delivers you a cocktail, puts her tray down and holds an impromptu concert with a colleague across the room. A quick check confirms these are indeed 'resting' actors and actresses for whom Archer Street is serving as something of a stage. Thankfully it involves no audience participation and, although a little bizarre at first, a showtune or power ballad never did anyone any harm.
On the drinks list there are some imaginative flavour pairings. There's the Tea Thyme (gin shaken with Grand Marnier, pink grapefruit juice and homemade lemon thyme syrup), Black Mint Charger (rum with blackberry purée, fresh lime, mint, sugar and topped with Dandelion & Burdock soda) or Rhubarb and Raspberry Sling (vodka with fresh raspberries, rhubarb liqueur, lemon juice and Vita Coco Coconut Water, topped with soda). As you can see, the drinks tend to the fruity and sweet side, and we found even those that promised to be more aromatic and masculine (for example, Bulleit in the Afternoon - bourbon shaken with pomegranate juice, Lapsang Souchong Syrup and fresh cucumber) were on the sweet side.
The main thing we'd point out is the price - at Â£10.50 per drink these are practically hotel prices, and that's hardly recession-friendly for a back-street cocktail bar. 3/5
Address: 8 Northumberland Avenue, London, WC2N 5BY
Tel: +44 (0)207 808 3344
Boyd's Brasserie is in 8 Northumberland Avenue, the second former government building on this street to have recently been turned into a swanky hotel (it's practically next-door to the Corinthia) following a multi-million pound restoration. The brasserie occupies a voluminous galleried lobby space, decorated in acres of marble, fancy chandeliers and contemporary boutique hotel-style touches, apparently inspired by the 2012 Olympics. An island bar is the focal point.
Our visit didn't bode well when our bartender apologised for the cocktail menu and shuffled it out of sight, but then proceeded to probe our spirits preferences and made us two well-executed drinks. We've since seen the actual menu, which contains almost exclusively long and fruity drinks, alongside some sweet sounding champagne cocktails and a couple of dessert drinks with bizarre names ('Pa pa pa paaa' for instance), so this isn't exactly the most classic of hotel cocktail lists, but worth a look. Drinks are cheaper than Archer Street, for one thing. 3/5
Address: 2 Spring Gardens, Trafalgar Square, London SW1A 2TS
Tel: +44 20 7870 2900
Rockwell at the Trafalgar Hotel, part of the Hilton group, was looking a bit tired, so it's no surprise that's it's had a revamp, though the cocktail menu reappearing as a calorie-counted list "with the help of our nutritionists" (under headings of 'Saintly', 'Sinful' and 'Wickedly Good') is rather more of a surprise.
Drink are listed not just with their calorie count (most are less than 200) but also alongside which antioxidants and vitamins they contain and glycaemic index information. In some cases heady claims are made about certain elements of the drinks that "may also help to prevent cancer and heart disease" and in others that drinking them can help you burn calories or that they have 'antibacterial qualities'. Hmmmm, these are bold claims.
All this would be fine if a) we could read the menu (they all seemed to be falling apart despite being new) and b) if the drinks were nice. Ours were made out of sight (they'd packed up the bar early) at the other end of the long bar, and were also ugly and too sweet. Most bizarrely of all, a Classic Daiquiri listed on a page of specials proved, on closer inspection, to be made with gin and contained pomegranate seeds. It should have a different name.
And what's with bars that have DJs on quiet nights? It doesn't add to the atmosphere, it only makes it feel weird. 2/5