As much as we love London’s dark and dingy pubs, there are occasions when tatty banquettes and yellowed walls don’t quite cut it. For a classier night of inebriation, get yourself to one of London’s best rooftop bars. Here, you’ll find swish cocktails, plush lounges and gourmet bar snacks galore, not to mention a front-row seat to the sexiest skyline on the planet.
1. Rumpus Room
Showy sky-high bar at the South Bank’s Mondrian hotel.
Since this review was published, Rumpus Room has undergone refurbishment. Time Out Eating & Drinking editors, March 2017.
Hotel bars used to be the straight-laced kind of place you’d take your ’rents. Not so at the Mondrian, where Dandelyan has been winning awards on the ground floor while level 12’s Rumpus Room has stayed a bit of an inside secret. Now this chic bar is ready to welcome the world, with a terrace overlooking St Paul’s and DJs to lure sophisticated after-workers and Friday night socialites.
I say socialites, since the venue claims to take its cue from the Bright Young Things, a group of hedonists followed by the tabloids in the 1920s. Think England’s non-fiction ‘Great Gatsby’ (or the ’20s version of the sidebar of shame). In truth, the theme’s not obvious, but the setting is pure style.
Waitresses work the room in floaty, floral numbers you’d expect to see on Kate Moss in the French Riviera. And she’d probably approve of their way (a million miles from ‘basic bitch’ service). There are mauve banquettes, glittering chandeliers, and a shiny gold bar, but it’s the view that really wins the crowd. Stick around for sunset, when the room gets more blingy.
Don’t expect such an atmosphere without paying a pretty penny; solid classic cocktails cost £14. My paloma was faultless, but my bank card withered when I promptly reached the bottom of the glass. Stick with champagne cocktails to feel more at peace; after all, Rumpus Room is an occasion bar. We can’t vouch for ’20s-style hedonism, but you’ll see some modern-day bright young things trying their damnedests.
Address: 20 Upper Ground / London SE1 9PD
2. Frank’s Cafe
Bold Tendencies art space, rooftop bar and café
Please note, Frank’s Café re-opens on Friday May 18, 2018, with a brand-new look for the summer. Time Out Editors.
Londoners continue to make the annual pilgrimage to this Peckham multi-storey car park for a Campari at Frank’s. Open until late September, the summer pop–up plays host to hundreds who mob a bar that, after a few years of notably festival-like service, seems to have upped its game this year.
For 2015, artist Richard Wentworth has covered Frank’s tarmac floor with wiggly aluminium paint akin to a glittering snail trail. The bar’s striking red tarpaulin cover and those sunset views (showcasing a London panorama) are plastered across social media as soon as temperatures soar. The crowd remains largely the same (you’ll spy plenty of denim cut-offs), although all walks of life make the trip to tick Frank’s off their London bucket list.
Even when the capital hit record temperatures we were able to gain early entry with minimal fuss. Much later than 7pm though and we’d have faced a one-in-one-out door policy. While the bar seems speedier than before, there’s no easy way to get a meal or snacks on warm days as the small kitchen strains under the pressure. It’s a shame, since the new menu of enticing kebabs, grilled fish and side dishes wouldn’t go amiss in a Shoreditch small plates restaurant.
Italian cocktails are at the height of trendy too, ideal when cooling off in the heat. Rather than knocking back a sloppily-made negroni (£6), stick with drinks that are easy to mix in a hurry – a dark and stomzy (£6.50) is really refreshing, and the Aperol spritz is deservedly popular.
Address: Peckham Multi-Storey Car Park, 95a Rye Lane / Peckham / London SE15 4ST
3. Bar Elba
A Napoleon-themed rooftop bar.
Welcome to party island. You’ll have to battle past crowds of frazzled commuters at Waterloo station and climb up a series of brightly coloured staircases to get there. But it’s worth it to reach this buzzy rooftop oasis with swoonsome views of the city’s skyline. It takes its inspiration from the tiny island of Elba, just off the Tuscan coast, where Napoleon Bonaparte was forcibly sent in 1814. He took his horse and a few hundred of his closest pals. Political exile? Apparently he just partied in the Med for 300 days.
Enough of that, though. Bar Elba’s historical theme is as loose as they come. With fairy lights, communal benches and a sizeable cocktail list, this rooftop bar is more about the (bona)party than the nineteenth-century military leader. The bar boasts a small wine, beer and cider menu, as well as a selection of bubbles for those with an emperor’s budget. Cocktails are sweet and summery: the frosé, a velvety-smooth, rosé and vermouth-spiked strawberry slushie, was easily the stand-out, while the Aperol Spritz was solid and came served in big sharing jugs for the thirsty.
Balmy Italian paradise, Bar Elba is not. But, as the sun sets over Waterloo, with a view of the Shard glinting in the day’s last light, it is a sweet place to be. Of course, there’s no proof that the premise is in any way historically accurate, but ‘liberté, egalité, rosé’? That’s a motto I can get behind.
Address: Rooftop, Mercury House / 109-117 Waterloo Road / London SE1 8UL
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