Socialising in winter doesn’t have to mean huddling round the fire in your local pub, nursing a warming glass of brandy. You can still glam it up al fresco, with our guide to London’s best rooftop bars for the festive season.
Cosy terrace on the borders of Hipsterville and the Square Mile, from which you can overlook both. The cold is kept at bay by pyramid patio heaters and an open fire pit, as well as battery-powered ‘Sit and Heat’ cushions that warm your fundamentals. You’d expect nothing less from the chairs in a venue owned by Terence Conran.
What to eat: Alpine-inspired fondue, raclette and tartiflette, washed down with a Vin Chaud cocktail (Le Pionnier Carrigan Grenache, spice mix, orange, lemon).
What to see: The steeple of St Leonard’s church – commemorated by the line ‘when I grow rich, say the bells of Shoreditch’, in the nursery rhyme Oranges and Lemons. Appropriate, given that cocktail.
2-4 Boundary Street, E2 7DD (entrance in Redchurch Street)
firstname.lastname@example.org, 020 7729 1051
The perfect place to escape the madness of West End Christmas shopping. Fascinating to see the Regent Street Christmas lights from above for once, and to delight in the fact that you’re not down there being knocked under oncoming buses by someone carrying seven large Hamleys bags.
What to eat: the aptly-named ‘Sweet Escape’ (Pampero Blanco rum, Chambord, peach liqueur, bergamot, passion fruit liqueur, vanilla, cranberry).
What to see: The gold-coloured weathervane atop neighbouring Liberty, a replica of the Mayflower. This is in keeping with Liberty’s nautical theme – the building’s famous timbers come from two ships, HMS Impregnable and HMS Hindustan. The Great Marlborough Street frontage (the side facing Aqua Nueva) is exactly the same length as the Hindustan.
5th Floor, 240 Regent Street, W1B 3BR (entrance at 30 Argyll Street); 020 7478 0540
The Rooftop St James
As central as it gets – you overlook the statue of Charles I in Trafalgar Square, from which road distances to the capital are measured. The menu includes a guide to the breathtaking cityscape laid out before you, from the National Gallery all the way round to Westminster Abbey.
What to eat: The Rooftop has also taken the Alpine route – pork and rabbit rillettes, apple strudel and a cocktail called the St. Moritz (Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label, Muyu Jasmine liqueur, pear purée and ginger syrup).
What to see: Nelson’s nose is just hiding his left eye, allowing you to play the ‘where’s his eyepatch?’ game. Your companions will assume it has to be the left, as they can see the patch-free right eye. Actually he doesn’t have an eyepatch at all – although he was blinded in the right eye, there was no external damage. The myth only arose because 19th century portrait painters added an eyepatch to convey Nelson’s blindness.
2 Spring Gardens, SW1A 2TS; 020 7870 2900
Great for Covent Garden. You’ll need to book – the bar has its own entrance, separate from the ME hotel atop which it sits. The name celebrates the fact that the first regular radio transmissions in Britain were made from this site, by the station 2LO, precursor of the BBC.
What to eat: Truffle potato scotch eggs, Giarraffa olives, the ‘Sweet Transmission’ (Courvoisier V.S., Antica Formula, Dom Benedictine, lemon bitters, lemon leaf)
What to see: Just about anything you want – the terrace offers 360 degree views. To the south is Waterloo Bridge, whose nickname of ‘the Ladies’ Bridge’ came about because it was built by women while the men were away fighting World War II.
336-337 Strand, WC2R 1HA; 0207 395 3440
If the Thames is your thing, this is the place. The river feels close enough to dive into, while even the building chimes with your inner sailor – it’s Sea Containers London, the hotel named after the company which used to occupy the site. (You can probably guess which floor 12th Knot is on.) This winter the terrace is hosting ‘Rosé on the Roof’. Inspired by the colour of the Arctic twilight, the entire building will be lit pink.
What to drink: A ‘Cold Toddy’ (Laurent-Perrier La Cuvée, Audemus Covert, yellow chartreuse, malted whey, spices)
What to see: Blackfriars Bridge fits with the nautical theme – in Victorian times it was thought to be the Thames’s tidal turning point, so along the east side of the bridge are carvings of marine birds, and along the west side are freshwater birds.
20 Upper Ground, SE1 9PD, email@example.com; 020 3747 1063
The City institution is once again running its popular Lodge d’Argent pop-up, which takes the Alpine idea to (forgive us) new heights. Actual wooden chalets can be hired for your private party. The minimum spend of £250 (which you can split between up to eight people) gets you your own chalet.
What to eat: Comté cheese and leek tart, Diots sausages in red wine sauce, ‘Off Piste’ (Hennessy Very Special, Montelobos mezcal, Cynar)
What to see: the financial district’s increasingly scraped sky. You’ve got the perfect angle to admire the Cheesegrater’s sloping side – the result of a 300 year-old law that protects the view of St Paul’s from Fleet Street. If the Cheesegrater’s side went straight up, it would stray too far into the clear space behind the cathedral.
No.1 Poultry, EC2R 8EJ; firstname.lastname@example.org; 020 7395 5000