Gibson Bar - London
The Takeaway: Hands down the best bar we tried in London, and was the number one recommended to us by several different bartenders. Whimsical presentation and insanely creative cocktails, with plenty of bartender showmanship to watch.
We entered Gibson with weary resolve to go home after, since we had logged a packed day (roaming over 8 miles in a damp and windy London day). We left re-invigorated.
Prior to Gibson, we had been a bit underwhelmed with the other British bars on the World’s 50 Best Bars list that we had visited: Dandelyan, American Bar, and Bar Termini. Although they seem all to be consistently well-executed and feature excellent cocktails with unusual ingredients, there was nothing to distinguish the bars as a cut above bars in Tokyo, Mexico City, or New York.
We were lucky to get seated at 4:40 pm on a Thursday (otherwise, we highly recommend reservations). By then, the bar was already fairly crowded.
We received a welcoming “cheeky” of a small saucer with a sour amaro concoction. Two menus are presented: the first was a simple print-out with a list of Gibson variants and food and a second that is a long booklet of cocktails. The cocktail book at the time of our visit was inspired by the months of the year, designed to transport you to the month or memory that you wanted to visit.
Our selection ended up being:
King of Calypso (cocktail of the month): an oddity of goat cheese, coconut, almond, and pineapple flavors that is light and strangely addictive
Midnight Cowboy (September): a salty bourbon-based cocktail topped with a popcorn foam that changes from a salty boozy whisky-tasting foam to a liquid caramel boozy base
Loch, Stock and Barrel (February): a scotch-based cocktail that tasted surprisingly floral and light compared to what was expected based on its ingredients
The only argument we had during this time was an intense debate about which cocktail we liked the best. We both loved the cocktail of the month (its only downside was that the garnish hits you in the face while you try to quaff the dredges) but one preferred the ease-of-drinking the Loch, Stock and Barrel provided while the other appreciated the complexity and interest of the Midnight Cowboy. But all were incredibly fun and stunning cocktails.
Based on observing the other cocktails being served (including one in a Donut mug with garnishes that included marshmallows and a rainbow candy roll-up), the entire menu line-up seems to feature the same level of fantasy and whimsy. Later that night, we met a bartender who used to work at Gibson (even moving out here solely to work under the tutelage of its owner). He confirmed to us that it was just one guy, Marian Beke, who ran the show, acting both as its creative mixology genius and also as the concept guy behind their innovative, time-consuming garnishes. Behind the bar, the bartenders work 15-16 hour days, which include shifts at the bar and a substantial amount of grueling preparation time to ready both the cocktail ingredients and garnishes.
It’s much appreciated, although no surprise that bartenders can burn out from working there. The result from a bar patron, however, is a delightful show (half of the cocktails seem to involve some sort of smoking or flambee-ing) and delicious libations.
If Michelin gave stars to bars, this would be the 3 star destination that’s unequivocally worth traveling to.