Address: 23 Euston Road, London NW1 2SB
Tel: +44 (0)20 7843 2221
Hours: Mon-Sat 7am-11pm
Type: Cocktail bar
This eclectic and cosy basement bar, bang opposite St Pancras and King's Cross stations in a colourful and newly (deliberately) graffiti'd building, headlines with a nine-strong collection of absinthe and elaborate displays of absinthe paraphernalia around the place. Seven are available served the traditional way with a fountain - though burning of sugar cubes is expressly forbidden, presumably prevented by licence - then there are nine absinthe cocktails, most served up.
Green fairy not your thing? No matter, there's a full cocktail menu, divided by historic 'golden ages' of cocktails and by spirit categories: you'll find mostly classics, a handful of twists and some modern and original gin-and vodka-based cocktails. We found them generally well-made and presented, though some are in need of further refinement. All are reasonably priced at Â£7.50 to Â£8.50.
But it's the little touches at Karpo that make it stand out: the individual-serve glass Fanta bottles that you might have drunk on Mediterranean beaches as a kid (though here sourced from Nigeria); the box o' wine that's actually an organic blend from Italy; the power sockets built into the Chesterfield sofas for your laptop; vintage movies like Metropolis juxtaposed against photos of tourists; and the vintage record player, playing equally vintage LPs. It's a nice balance between a polished new venue that manages to feel lived-in. Delicious and unusual bar snacks too - we tried southern fried quail and smoked eel - help further distinguish Karpo. 3.5/5
Address: The Trafalgar, 2 Spring Gardens, Trafalgar Square, London SW1A 2TS
Tel: +44 (0)20 7870 2900
Hours: Mon-Sat midday-1am; Sun midday-12am
Type: Cocktail bar
Vista opened on the rooftop of the Trafalgar Square Hilton hotel last year, but has returned for 2012 much, much larger, with two bars, acres of comfortable seating, fairy-lit olive trees and displays of champagne bottles. Before you can get up here, if it's after 4pm you have to pay Â£5 each for the privilege - in return you get rubber-stamped on your hand. But you've probably come here for the view. Turn left at the top of the stairs to get a seat overlooking Trafalgar Square, down Whitehall to Big Ben and the London Eye beyond. The new, enlarged area (turn right at the top of the stairs) has fewer vantage points, being located on the inner roof and with the new long bar taking up what would otherwise probably be the best views. Here the makeshift walls mean you'll have to stand to see the sights, though Nelson on his column is visible from anywhere.
The menu leads with champagne, two by the glass (at Â£14 or Â£19), and bottles ranging from Â£75 to Â£390, before a 10-strong list of classic cocktails given a house twist, all at an appropriately heady Â£14 and each with a frankly fluffy description. The choice is balanced across spirit categories but we found some of the ingredients rather gratuitous, particularly some infusions that brought little to their finished drinks - bacon-infused gin in a Bloody Mary (surely a Red Snapper? And bacon flavours undetectable) and chilli-infused vodka paired with truffle vodka in a Hot Chilli Woman that lacked any spice at all. And then it started to rain, and we were promptly asked to settle our bill and encouraged to go downstairs (despite the offer of umbrellas there is no protective canopy). In and out in 25 mins, down more than Â£40. Ouch. But like we said, you probably came for the view. 3.5/5 (with half a point for the view).
Address: 21 Heddon Street, London, W1B 4BG
Tel: +44 (0)207 287 4029
Hours: Mon-Sat Midday-1am; Sun midday-10.30pm
Type: Cocktail bar
In the 'restaurant quarter' off Regent Street you'll find Heddon Street, (which now boasts naff outdoor piped music), where Italian chain Piccolino has just had a fancy refurb and turned what was a basement private dining room into the swanky Cicchetti Bar. From an impressive island bar, seated on a plush leather seat, you're first served some enormous green olives and Parmesan while you peruse the menu. The bartenders serve drinks from a short list that are largely crowd-pleasing fruit-driven concoctions, ranging from the Bramble to the Cosmopolitan and the Appletini, but there are more ambitious serves too, including the Giglia, combining Campari, agave, vodka and Prosecco with a judicious measure of Fernet Branca - it could have gone so wrong but it really worked - alongside some more traditional Italian serves such as the Negroni, Americano and Bellini (all at Â£7.50 and Â£8).
Cicchetti roughly translates, we discovered, as Italian for tapas - think wooden boards with tasty snacks, with a choice of meats and Italian snacks from the glass-walled charcuterie (or whatever the equivalent is in Italy) - think bruschetta, rosemary-roasted potatoes and thin hams.
We loved this surprising little find, and although drinks were a little less finessed than the surroundings and the white-jacketed staff promised, we'll go back. 3.5/5