Purists, avert your gaze.
Bracing ourselves for the 100,000 that’s not a martini emails incoming. Sure, not everything that goes into a martini glass is automatically a martini. And yes, there are some hypertrad places in London where you’d be judged — and maybe ejected — for trying to order some of the drinks that’ve made our list. But we’ve stuck to what we consider the ultimate spirit of the martini: gin or vodka-based creations that are short, cool, elegant, and fierce — and that disdain mixing their alcohol with anything that isn’t just another alcohol.
The dirty martini at Satan’s Whiskers, Bethnal Green
Satan’s Whiskers joins the elite ranks of bars where you can ask for it dirty and they automatically make it filthy. (See also: The Hoxton Shoreditch; Swift Soho; Silk Stockings, Dalston; Genesis, Whitechapel.) A lot going for it as a bar beyond their liberal way with olive brine — divey meets romantic, all leathery dimly lit booths and a faintly seedy red-light feel — but the dirty martini’s an off-menu stand-out.
Satan’s Whiskers, Bethnal Green
The Vesper at DUKES Bar, Mayfair
You might not have heard of Gilberto Preti, the barman who’s thought to have created the Vesper, but you’ll almost certainly know its most famous fictional drinker. Preti was working in the bar of Dukes Hotel in the early 1950s when he invented the drink for the first time, for author Ian Fleming. Fleming was so impressed with the cocktail’s suave cred that he wrote it into Casino Royale. In the first Bond novel, 007 explains to a barman how to make it: ‘Three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet [now called Lillet Blanc]. Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel. Got it?’
DUKES Bar, Mayfair
The Breakfast Martini at The Anchor & Hope, Waterloo
The martinis at this constantly crowded gastropub are small, simple tumblers, all just as dry, wet, clean, or dirty as you ask for. And all at about the £7 mark. Play it safe with a frosty dirty martini, or, if you’re feeling adventurous, check out their version of the Breakfast Martini. It’s a divisive marmalade and lemon juice beast that’s prone to being oversweet and treacley in the wrong hands — but these are very much the right hands. They also do a very good £7 Sazerac. Not a martini, but still feels important.
The Anchor & Hope, Waterloo
The Redistilled Gibson Martini at The Gibson, Old Street
The green-glaze tiled bar’s named after a martini with the olive switched out for a pickled onion, created for the artist Charles Dana Gibson in 1908. The same drink that Cary Grant knocks back pre-dinner in North by Northwest. Unsurprisingly, the Gibson’s their headliner cocktail — and you can’t argue with the vinegary punch of the classic version. Or if you want to take advantage of the bar’s experimental ethos, you could try the Redistilled Gibson — gin and vermouth, steeped for 72 hours with pickled onion, lemon peel, and pickled spices. Served with a small bowl of slices of Red Leicester. Not first date friendly.
The Gibson, Old Street
The lychee martini at Issho-Ni, Bethnal Green
London’s best lychee martini is, obviously, the one you make for yourself — vodka, splash of dry white vermouth, lychee syrup from the can, two lychees, a freezer-frosted glass — and drink in the bath, with a pack of Squares. London’s second best lychee martini might just be the one at Japanese bar-restaurant Issho-ni: orderable on its own, at the bar counter, but best served in the restaurant, with a plate of their gochujang lamb chops or crab maki on the side.
Issho-Ni, Bethnal Green
The classic martini at Hawksmoor, Spitalfields
It’s more geared to whisky than martinis at Hawksmoor, but still — good at decadent classics of all flavours, they’ll do you a straightforward dry gin martini to rival any of their Scotch-centric list. That’s probably true for all of their restaurants, but it’s a verified fact when it comes to their underground, moodily lit Spitalfields bar.
Dima’s vodka martini, for delivery: The Ukrainian vodka brand’s sending out a DIY pickle martini kit, so you can sink a martini in traditional Kyiv style.
Jack Solomons, in Soho: Tucked secretively underneath a Soho steakhouse, the boxing-themed bar’s take on bottle service — beyond the usual full-size spirits — also includes six-serving carafes of cocktails, for when you want your martinis, negronis, or manhattans to arrive in an undisrupted flow.