The Blue BarThe Blue Bar at the Berkeley, London
♥ Top three best-selling cocktails: Champagne cocktails, fruit martinis, Espresso Martini
Madonna held her engagement party here - although she's the last celeb you'll hear about at the Blue Bar. They don't like talking about their celebrity clientele. "We get our fair share - that's all I can say," says bar manager Niall Cowan.
The Blue Bar should be a blueprint for hotel bars the world over - and it has awards to prove it. Like an increasing number of luxury London hotels, the Berkeley realised it could gain some street cred if it opened a cool bar. So it turned to a cool designer to help out - enter David Collins, who is responsible for some of London's hippest restaurant interiors - Cecconi and Locanda Locatelli, to name but two. The Berkeley's owner, the Savoy Group, also used Collins for the revamp at Claridge's. In fact, Cowan used to be behind the bar at Claridge's until the Blue Bar opened two years ago.
And yes, the Blue Bar really is blue. Sorry, make that Lutyens Blue - Sir Edwin was responsible for the room's woodcarvings. Collins has unstuffied it dramatically, with faux ostrich leather stools, lilac leather chairs and walls, and funky lighting. But it is the sounds that are the funkiest thing of all. The hotel asked a top DJ to compile a three-CD box set for the bar, which customers can also buy. And hasn't the CD set sold well - both GQ and Vogue declared it their number one stocking-filler at Christmas. Praise indeed.
The Blue Bar's Valentine cocktail
50ml Belvedere vodka
5ml passion fruit liqueur
20 fresh raspberries
Shake all ingredients together "violently" with cubed ice. Strain into a glass, then top up with Champagne. Garnish with a scoop of fresh passion fruit.
Sosho, Tabernacle Street, London EC2♥ Top three best-selling cocktails: Match Spring Punch, Mojito, Cosmopolitan
Sosho is part of the Match chain, well known for its delectable cocktails, and a past winner of Time Out Bar of the Year. But then it should be good - first Match was under the supervision of cocktail maestro Dick Bradsell; now it is under the watchful eye of New York legend Dale DeGroff. Yes, he of the Cosmopolitan revival. His man on the ground here is Michael Butt, assistant director of drinks.
As well as the three Match bars around town (Clerkenwell, Shoreditch and Oxford Circus), there is the Player and Milk & Honey, both in Soho - plus, Butt reveals, another Match bar will open in the West End by the end of the year. This is the place to drink a Cosmo - bar staff have mastered DeGroff's trademark flaming orange peel (don't try this at home) and jazzed up the original recipe. The Match/DeGroff version includes dark orange bitters and is gentler on the lime. "The classics, though, are the most fun for us to make," Butt says.
Sosho's Valentine cocktail
25ml strawberry purée
15ml honey syrup (made with three quarters honey to one quarter water)
25ml lemon juice
A dash of Chambord
Strawberry to garnish
Shake up the strawberry purée with the honey syrup, the lemon juice and Chambord, and then top with Champagne. Pour over ice cubes into a Sling glass and garnish with a sugar-dusted whole strawberry.
The Opal Lounge
The Opal Lounge, George Street, Edinburgh
♥ Top three best-selling cocktails: Raspberry Moscow Mule, Lychee Mandarin Martini, Peppered Strawberry Martini
When the Opal Lounge opened a year ago, Edinburgh hadn't seen anything like it. Housed in a former auction house, built in 1826 on historic George Street, it offers two bars, a restaurant and a nightclub in a vast basement - 8,000sq ft all in - designed by Malcolm Fraser Architects. Chocolate leather, dark woods, rich crimson and vibrant orange make up the interior palette - and a vast chunk of the £2.2m investment by owner Montpeliers (Edinburgh). Top mixologist Chris Langan makes up the drinks, and 15 fully trained-up bartenders work there.
"All up to level four - training is a big thing here," says general manager David Hall. In fact, the highly qualified bar staff can largely take the credit for fuelling Edinburgh's relatively new-found love of cocktails. If the size of the place puts off those looking for a cosy Valentine's night - no worries, there's always the Sunken Lounge. With its sexy finishes (fuchsia pink stools) and low lighting (to the point of blackout), it should do the trick, says Hall. Who comes? I know, I know, you can't tell me - oh, you can? Prince William. Right.
The Opal Lounge's Valentine cocktail
15ml lemon juice
Dash of egg white
Pour Campari into a shaker packed with cubed ice and muddle "vigorously" with five physalis. Add lemon, sugar and egg white. Shake again, then single strain into an old-fashioned glass filled with crushed ice. Garnish with a whole physalis.
The Park, Clifton, Bristol
♥ Top three best-selling cocktails: Mojito, Midori Sour, Vodka Sunset
Ever since the Park opened in Bristol in 2001, the cool crowd has flocked here. Named after the pre-war hotel that used to occupy the building, it is owned by two DJs - James Savage and Ben Dubuison. With its burgundy leather banquette seating and leather-upholstered pale wood chairs, this is a style bar to beat them all. Theme magazine thought so too - it voted the Park the Best New Bar in the West and Wales last year. And it gets its fair share of celebrities - singer Seal is a regular. "Though it's not about celebrities," says bar manager Ben Seymour. "It's about creating something relaxed with a great atmosphere."
From Wednesday to Sunday, some of Bristol's top DJs spin here - from soul and funk to jazz and disco. Now Savage and Dubuison have opened a sister venue, the River, on Bristol's riverside, the Watershed. "It's much bigger, with even more cocktails - they do thousands down there," says Seymour, who asks: "Please can you refer to the Park as a lounge bar rather than a style bar? Style bar is so cheesy, don't you think?"
The Park's Valentine cocktail
50ml Bombay Sapphire
25ml crème de fraise
100ml single cream
Put shaved ice into a shaker with the gin and the fraise. "Then hammer to pieces - about the consistency of a Slush Puppie, but don't say I said that," sniggers Seymour. Stir in the cream and pour into an iced martini glass. To garnish, take the middle slice of a strawberry and "straddle" the glass.
The Sugar Lounge
The Sugar Lounge, Deansgate Locks, Manchester
♥ Top three best-selling cocktails: Champagne cocktails, Lychee Collins, Fruits of the Forest Martini
The Sugar Lounge is footballer heaven. Or rather Premier League footballer heaven - the likes of Fabien Barthez, Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole have all been spotted here. Not that the Sugar Lounge will tell you that. "We're discreet about who comes, yeah?" says head bartender Michael Valentyne. Yes, you did read that right - Valentyne. How perfect is that? He has been in charge behind the bar for over a year now, almost as long as the place has been running.
Since opening its doors in October 2001, the Sugar Lounge has attracted the platinum-card crowd, with its Bernard Carroll-designed split-level interior (Reform, Ampersand). The lounge is actually two bars spread over 3,000sq ft with a 270 capacity, and cocktails are where it's at. The list is extensive, and like the boys and girls at Match, Valentyne and his five bartenders prefer to make the classics. "Though we throw in a lot of twists - they're an adventurous bunch in here," he says.
And as we're talking footballers, we're talking predominantly Champagne-based cocktails. "We sell up to 50 a night," says Valentyne. And the more fruit they have in them, the better. "Yes, fruit is big here," he adds. Bar owner Leisurelab plans to open a similar venue in "another metropolitan city" in the coming months. Watch this space.
The Valentyne (of course)
The Sugar Lounge's Valentine cocktail
1 passion fruit
5 red grapes
1/2 bar spoon of honey
1oz custard apple juice
1/2oz Krupnik vodka
For the garnish: half a passion fruit, half a strawberry and a stem of redcurrants.
Muddle all the fruits together with the honey in a Boston shaker. Add the rest of the ingredients. Shake, then double-strain into a Martini glass or an old-fashioned glass. Garnish with fruit pushed on to the rim, then drape with the redcurrants.