The Bull's Venner Bar
The Milk Thistle, Bristol
Styled like a 1930s speakeasy and with plenty of attitude to match, your first task is finding The Milk Thistle - entrance is through an unmarked door complete with a spyhole. Tiger skins on the walls, crystal chandeliers, boudoir lamps and house rules such as "swearing, hooting, shouting or shrieking shall not be tolerated".The cocktails here are something else - try the Gold Swizzle - Chairman's Reserve rum, Martini Rosso, Cardamom bitters, lime and ginger beer or the Perfume Fizz - Hangar One Mandarin Blossom vodka, pineapple syrup, Bols Apricot, lemon juice and Fever Tree ginger ale. The hippest bar in Bristol right now and definitely worth a road trip (just get someone else to be your driver). Or take a cocktail masterclass with the house mixologist to amaze your guests £25 a head.
Hotel du Vin, Poole.
We love it here, they just get everything right - one of our favourite watering holes in the West Country. There's a huge bar with stools lined up in front (for serious drinkers) and lots of nooks and crannies for canoodling couples or take your drink downstairs to leather sofas and a roaring fire. And then there's the cocktails - a huge fat leather bound book of them with every concoction you can imagine and quite a few you can't. They've got a whole page dedicated to flavoured martinis which is pretty classy in our book - who needs London with a bar like this? The Pear Martini is dangerously good. The perfect cocktail pitstop with crisp, sobering sea air just a two minute stumble away.
The Magdalen Chapter, Exeter
It took architects three and a half years to turn this iconic former eye hospital into a contemporary wow factor space, now officially Exeter's coolest hang out. Think seriously high end, seriously hip. Needless to say cocktails are a major feature changing with the seasons and the hotel's mixologists love nothing better than to whip up a bespoke drink for you. Try the wintery sounding Magdalen with muddled blackberries, vodka and citrus or house favourite the Apple Martini - pureed apples, apple juice, apple schnapps and vodka. Have to mention the brilliantly named Toffee Buck - a vodka based cocktail with butterscotch schnapps and maple syrup. We'd be tempted to work out way through the menu and sleep it off in one of the high spec bedrooms where stereo and mood lighting is controlled by an ipad.
The Bull Hotel, Bridport, Dorset
Trust The Bull which always has its finger on the pulse to have a secret, hidden cocktail bar for those in the know. We just can't wait to try the walnut lined Venner Bar (main image) which is located just behind the ballroom on the first floor. Open Wednesday to Saturday nights and 'late' at the weekend. Back in the 16th century it was the scene of a murder, now you're more likely to find weekenders playing board games and getting quietly sozzled on stellar martinis. This is the domain of mixologist Lloyd, a total perfectionist when it comes to cocktails. His current favourites include Honey and Berry Cowpiroska - Black Cow vodka, creme de cassis, lemon, Dorset honey and egg white or Red Snapper - horseradish infused Sipsmith's gin, salt and pepper, tabasco, Lea&Perrins, port, lemon and cucumber with a celery foam. Cocktail making as an art form. We love. Here's Lloyd's recipe for Sloe Gin Fizz pictured above: Combine 40ml sloe gin, 25ml lemon juice, 15ml rich sugar syrup and a whole egg white.
The Shed, Falmouth, Cornwall
They queue outside to get into The Shed (main picture), a place which takes its cocktails very seriously. Come here for perfect renditions of the classics - Margarita, Cosmopolitan, Strawberry Dacquiri - or contemporary favourites like the Espresso Martini with Stolichnaya vodka, Kahlúa, sugar syrup and a Lavazza espresso shot (like Dorothy Parker, we're limiting ourselves to two). Blow your head off this Christmas by mixing up house favourite The Fireflower see below. The Fireflower Double shot Absolut vanilla vodka, 20ml elderflower cordial, juice from half of a fresh lemon, a finger chilli (can use the chilli to taste by either smashing the chilli to make the cocktail very hot or by breaking the chilli once and adding to the mix just before shaking to achieve a hint of spice). Shaken and double strained into a chilled martini glass. Addition of a little crushed ice and garnished with a finger chilli.
Babington House, Somerset
Of course Babington gets its cocktails right, the fast-paced West Londoners who descend every weekend wouldn't settle for anything less. On a random Tuesday night in December the bar was heaving. The bespoke raspberry martini was a knock out (though over too quickly), the Eastern Eye - a vodka, muddled cucumber, lime and ginger number the single most delicious drink I've ever tasted and the Soho Mule, refreshing and totally lethal. Mulled Grey Goose vodka (hot vodka you heard it here first) came in a beautiful polished copper tankard. There was a general air of wastedness from the prowling pack of guys in Christmas jumpers to the rather drunk blonde forlornly looking for her Mulberry handbag. Let's just say the cocktails work.
At the Chapel, Bruton, Somerset
Restaurant, cafe, hotel, bakery, wine store or cocktail bar, you choose - At the Chapel works on every level. The setting in a converted Wesleyan chapel is spectacular - a huge white space with a stunning Bruce Munro chandelier and impressive art on the walls (Pippi Lotti, Louise Bourgeois, Tracey Emin). The cocktails were always going to be good and the Espresso Martini (pictured) comes recommended by owner Catherine Butler. The Christmas favourite is the Mojito Royale apparently - rum and champagne? Now that's just asking for trouble.
Hotel Tresanton, St Mawes, Cornwall
Olga Polizzi's uber-chic hotel in St Mawes prides itself on mixing the best cocktails in Cornwall. "It's not easy to get a well made cocktail in Cornwall,' says restaurant manager Frederica, 'so we concentrate on doing the classics really well.' That might mean a perfect Cosmo, Margarita or a Martini made with the new hot tipple Sipsmith gin. Bloody Mary's are infamous and mixed to a closely guarded secret recipe (Frederica wasn't sharing). Most popular cocktail is fittingly The Eden Project made with vodka, peach liqueur, Chambord, grapefruit and orange juice over crushed ice.
Door 34, Bath
Otherwise known as the Liquid Alchemists' Lounge, this cocktail bar behind the Theatre Royal is notoriously hard to find (another of those secret doors). Once inside, we guarantee you won't want to leave. New cocktails are devised each week - we're loving the sound of the latest invention- The Milky Bar Kid - Bacardi 8, Galliano, Orgeat syrup, condensed milk, cream and cardamon. Or how about a Green Fairy - Millers Westbourne gin, Poire williams, Noilly Prat, Umi Shiu, Plum Saki, rhubarb and ginger jam, lemon and egg white - you could surely slay an enemy with that. A cool and sophisticated hangout for serious cocktail drinkers. Just don't ask for a Pina Colada.
Hyde & Co, Bristol
Big bad brother of The Milk Thistle, this place has got dark and mysterious taped (just check out the website if you don't believe us). Fringed lamps, (very) moody lighting and superior bar staff, your first job is going to be getting through the door of this place. Sharp suits and vintage cocktail dresses? You'll have to work at this one. Once inside we recommend the Berkeley Punch - Somerset Cider Brandy, Green Chartreuse, Maraschino, lemon, Angostura & Chocolate bitters, fizz top - which also comes in a bowl for 4 people to share. Now that sounds like our kind of party. And coming soon cider cocktails with Julian Temperley's barrel aged cider. We can hardly wait. And Country Calling's best SW pubs for cocktails...plus recipes to try at home
The Beckford Arms, Wiltshire
The Beckford knows it has a cocktail-loving clientele and constantly invents new concoctions to wow them. Most recently there was the best-selling Blonde Mary with yellow tomato juice and now, especially for Country Calling readers, here comes the Winter Bellini (pictured above). Put very freshly cut rosemary in boiled water – leave to cool than set into ice cubes. Half a measure of fonthill raspberry, half measure of vodka to 3 measures of prosecco or champagne.
One of our favourite West Country places to drink, think roaring fires, wooden floors, leather armchairs and bar stools. The vibe is casual but the cocktails are immense - a short list of perfection. Choose from Mai Tai, Cosmopolitan, Sloe Gin Fizz or D'artagnon (Armagnac, Grand Marnier, orange juice and prosecco). Try their Christmas cocktail (pictured) to get the party started. Mince Pie Cocktail 50 ml Gordon's Gin 25ml Grenadine 3 drops of Angostura Bitters 50 ml orange juice Squirt of lemonade. Mix it all in a shaker, except for the lemonade, pour into a glass, top up with lemonade & garnish with a slice of orange.
Red Lion, Babcary, Somerset
The Red Lion in Babcary is one of those perfect pubs that works just as well in winter as summer and right now, we'd like to be holing up by the fire with a Winter Pimms. Winter Pimms 25ml Pimms no3 15ml Brandy 175ml warm local apple juice preferably cloudy 2 cloves cinnamon stick Splash of Stones Ginger wine Gently warm apple juice with Pimms, brandy, cloves and cinnamon. When warm garnish with apple slice and a splash of ginger wine. Just the thing for Boxing Day, don't you think?