Make the most of warmer weather with our guide to five of London's best rooftop bars.
By the time you read this it could be useless. London weather has been temperamental recently, to say the least, but it is, officially, still summer. Bathed in optimism, if not sunshine, a number of London’s bars have swept their terraces, opened their rooftops and allocated top-floor space to provide the capital with new drinking dens. On clear days they’re perfect spots for sun-downer drinks, so make the most of these fleeting opportunities with our selection of London’s best rooftop bars.
The aqua group are panorama professionals. Aqua spirit flies the flag for the company back at their base in Hong Kong, providing a dizzying lookout from the 30th floor of a waterside skyscraper, directly over the technicolour-tinted harbour. Your surroundings aren’t quite so impressive at aqua kyoto, but they’re not half bad. Directly in front of the bar there’s the grand sweep of Regent Street and the domed, coral-green roof of the Apple store – it’s surprising how pretty these buildings actually are when you take the time to appreciate at them. On the terrace itself, décor’s tastefully muted rather than garishly overstated: slate tiles cover the walls; ash-coloured banquettes ring the open terrace. It’s a restraint that’s in keeping with kyoto’s Japanese theme. The bar leads to an indoor Japanese restaurant decorated in silk and charcoal. The crowd throughout looks the part too. More locals in the know than tourists clutching guidebooks, it’s full of after-work drinkers, wealthy-looking guys and good-looking women. Things remain restrained in the restaurant, but can get lively on the rooftop. The focus on drinking – speciality cocktails and sake – and occasional DJ turns – Café del Mar- and melodic house-style sets – means the atmosphere improves after the sun goes down. JOC
30 Argyll Street, W1B 3BR; open Mon-Sat 12pm-3pm and 6.30pm-1am
Calling a rooftop bar Vista asserts you’re proud of the view, but here it’s more about the bar’s position than its height. On the sixth floor of the Trafalgar Hotel, you can’t see very far from here but you are directly above Trafalgar Square, and the location’s a showstopper. Tilt your neck to see the National Gallery; crane over the railing – carefully – and you can gaze down on the turquoise pools of Trafalgar Square. St Martin-in-the-Fields church is visible too, and this is probably the closest you’ll come to looking eye to eye at Admiral Nelson as he stands sentry on his column. Best of all, however, is that you can enjoy all these sights at your leisure as less-informed visitors scramble around on ground level. As for the bar itself, pink roses and pastel cushions come across as slightly mawkish but otherwise its palette of dark chocolate and soft greys looks the part. JOC
2 Spring Gardens, Trafalgar Square, SW1A 2TS; open Mon-Sun 12pm-1am; entry £5
Queen of Hoxton
You can follow your nose to the Queen of Hoxton’s rooftop garden. On balmy evenings the hipster pub grills some of the best jerk chicken in East London. Climb the stairs covered in arty scrawlings and at the top you’ll find an oasis of fake turf and decking, with views from the garden's blooming window boxes to the towers of the City. Lawn chairs and tables are scattered around a water fountain and pergola dripping with fairy lights. As well as lip-tingling chicken, the barbecue serves up burgers and halloumi skewers while the bar stocks summery tipples from cold beer to Briska pomegranate cider and selected cocktails. As the sun sets, the seats are rearranged for a film screening from the Rooftop Film Club. A series of classics, from Casablanca to Robocop, are being shown, with popcorn and sweets available to complete the experience. The audience wears wireless headphones to block out any noise from the city below. NP
1-5 Curtain Road, EC2A 3JX; Mon-Sun 12pm-9pm; ticketed film nights run from 9pm-11pm approx
Lovely, leafy Coq d’Argent is one of the more salubrious addresses in the City, its status and renown in no small part due to its rooftop garden. From the well-tended lawns, you can cast your eyes on Monument and the Gherkin and, from about 5pm, batteries of bankers. There were an isolated number of incidences when stressed-out City workers committed suicide by hurling themselves from the rooftop, but that thankfully seems to have abated. Otherwise, this bar’s the height of sophistication with an exceptional wine list, an extensive range of champagnes and stodgy cigars available to slurp, sip and smoke as applicable. If you’ve got time to linger during the week and money to spare it’s worth dining here too. The Coq d’Argent French restaurant is formal but reliable and popular with those claiming expenses. A better way to experience the setting is to visit during the weekend: the City has quietened; the workers have retreated; the space has opened up; and bargain-price set menus are available. JOC
1 Poultry, EC2R 8EJ; Mon-Sun 11.30am-10pm
Frank’s Café and Campari Bar
Frank’s does a sterling job of combining about 18 different London trends in one. As well as being a rooftop bar it qualifies as a pop-up – it’s been erected on a “temporary building”, which in this case is a multi-storey car park, and closes on September 30. It’s also part of an arts project (Peckham’s Bold Tendencies Scultpture Project is responsible for its creation), and it’s got a corporate drinks sponsor through the Campari association. Sorted. Given all those different facets, it’s a refreshingly simple spot. A series of weatherworn wooden benches and tables are covered by a cherry-red canopy, yellow parking lines partition the cement floor. The gritty setting is complemented by a hardy spirit, too. Other venues may close if the weather turns, but here you’re advised to simply bring coats and blankets if necessary. The greatest lure away from the city centre could well be its cheap drinks, though. Beers start at £1.50 while cocktails are no more than £5 – prices that are unheard of in central London. JOC
95a Rye Lane, SE15 4ST; Thu-Sun 11am-10pm