Alastair Burgess on London’s Best Bars
The Happiness Forgets bartender shares where he goes on his nights off.
Thanks to brilliant bartenders like Alastair Burgess, London’s after-dark scene is a lot more sophisticated than your standard pub might suggest. As the brains behind two of London’s most dignified underground drinking dens—Shoreditch’s dimly lit Happiness Forgets and its more spacious little sister in Stoke Newington, Original Sin—the former head bartender of New York’s legendary Pegu Club has helped bring about a Big Apple–style cocktail resurgence across the pond. When he isn’t stirring up a new take on a classic drink, you might find him sipping a Cargo Cocktail by the fireplace in Rosewood London’s own Scarfes Bar. Here, he tells us where and what else he likes to imbibe around town.
69 Colebrook Row
“The bar itself is small, cozy, and intimate—I like that they have a piano player—but you’ll taste drinks here that you’ve never tasted anywhere before. And if you have, this place did it first. Mixologist Tony Conigliaro is a true pioneer, but was never the type to shout about it. Alastair’s order: A Fennel Collins: gin, lemon juice and soda water combined with a syrup of toasted fennel seed, fennel pollen and licorice root. 69 Colebrook Row: 69 Colebrooke Row, Islington; +44 7540 528-593.
Another Tony C. gem, Soho’s Bar Termini resembles the waiting room of an Italian train station. “You drop in for a quick cocktail or a strong coffee before heading off somewhere else. It’s a great place to go on your own, with some of the best and most imaginative negronis around.” Alastair’s order: A Spritz Termini: Aperol and prosecco, plus Beefeater gin and rhubarb cordial. Bar Termini: 7 Old Compton St., Soho; +44 7860 945-018.
Experimental Cocktail Club Chinatown
Also in Soho, the first London outpost of Paris’s preeminent cocktail bar has a “slightly tricky door policy,” Burgess says. But once inside, “it’s brilliant for some late-night cocktails and debauchery. They have great DJs, and it’s always really fun. The owner, Xavier Padovani, is a good friend so we usually go together to catch up—and wake up with sore heads the next day.” Alastair’s order: A spicy Saint Germain des Prés—with elderflower cordial and egg whites—or a glass of champagne. Experimental Cocktail Club Chinatown: 13a Gerrard St., Soho; no phone.
Sager + Wilde
“I love going here because I can take off my bartender hat and truly relax,” says Burgess of the Hackney Road spot. “I took my girl here three years ago on our first date; she’s still with me so it can’t have been too bad.” Alastair’s order: Whatever wine they’re serving by the glass that day—expect at least a dozen options, including old vintages of well-known producers and varietals from emerging regions. Sager + Wilde: 193 Hackney Rd., Hackney; +44 20 8127 7330.
This relaxed Bethnal Green bar is, says Burgess, “as close to Happiness as I can get without going to Happiness.” On offer: a daily-changing menu of old-school cocktails, exclusively hip-hop playlists, and high-end pedigree—the owners came from London’s Milk + Honey and Quo Vadis. “The drinks are very simple, following the traditional structure of spirit, sweet, sour, modifier, but done extremely well.” Alastair’s order: A classic daiquiri with Havana rum and fresh-squeezed lime juice, shaken vigorously and served immediately. Satan’s Whiskers: 343 Cambridge Heath Rd., Cambridge Heath; +44 20 7739-8362.