The Best London Bars With Live Music
Last Updated: 6th December 2018
Bars without live music.
They’re a little deadbeat.
So let’s have a drum roll… and a trumpet solo… and a little bass… for we are about to announce the best bars in the capital with regular live music nights. Not necessarily dedicated gig venues, that is, but somewhere atmospheric where you can enjoy a smooth tipple with a mood music garnish.
These are they…
Nightjar | Old Street
Nightjar is hidden away behind a curtain at the bottom of a staircase behind a very dark, unmarked door facing Old Street roundabout. It’s the kind of spot you’d never notice unless you were specifically looking for a brick-walled jazz den serving some of the city’s most unusual cocktails. Which, as of now, you are.
When to catch it: Every night from 9.30pm, plus 12.30am on Fri/Sat | Cover charge? £4 if seated beforehand, or £5 on the door after
Kansas Smitty’s | Hackney
Kansas Smitty’s is more of a band with a bar attached, than vice versa. See, the eponymous house band were so barnstormingly popular every time they performed, they literally opened their own bar just so they could play in it. It’s got cocktails and everything. You should go.
When to catch it: Every night from 8.30pm | Cover charge? Individually ticketed
Servant Jazz Quarters | Dalston
This place is a bit like a classier version of the raucous servants quarters below deck in Titanic. An intimate, bi-level space with candlelit cabaret tables and an art deco-styled bar, it’s the perfect place to head whenever you fancy port cocktails accompanied by a hand-pumped harmonium. Which is always.
When to catch it: Most nights, check programme HERE | Cover charge? Individually ticketed, free on Fridays
NOLA | Bethnal Green
Recreating the best of New Orleans in a Bethnal Green bar – not a Big Easy task. But NOLA have pulled it off with aplomb, thanks to their authentic, Southern-style decor; award-winning sazeracs; and regular live jazz ‘n’ blues.
When to catch it: Currently suspended until early 2019, check HERE | Cover charge? No
The Blue Posts | Soho
Before the folks behind The Palomar renovated it a few months ago, The Blue Posts had been a Soho institution for 279 years. And while The Fallen Heroes (a New Orleans-style jazz band) have only been there for 3.9% of that time, they’re considered enough of a fixture that they’re back playing every Sunday afternoon.
When to catch it: Sundays from 3pm | Cover charge? No
Oriole | Smithfield
Oriole’s cocktails are plucked from all over the world – and so is their music. On any given night you can expect West African blues or Cuban son to be floating through the bar, as well as the occasional snake-wielding burlesque artist. And as the second bar from the Nightjar folks, the drinks aren’t too shabby either.
When to catch it: Nightly | Cover charge? Free Sunday & Tuesday, £5 Wed & Thur, £8 Fri & Sat (£4 if staying on till late set/£5 for late entry)
Scarfe’s Bar | Holborn
Gerald Scarfe is best known for his witty and satirical cartoons, and least known for the extinct genus of monofenestratan pterosaur, Cuspicephalus scarfi, named in his honour. Sadly it’s only the former that decorate the walls of the suave, gentleman’s club-like bar dedicated to him in Holborn’s Rosewood Hotel – a disappointment you’ll soon get over thanks to the live, 50s-era jazz.
When to catch it: Every evening | Cover charge? No
The Piano Works | Farringdon
…as you’ll immediately notice upon entering, because they’ll be using it to crank out arrangements of classic pop ‘choons’ for the bopping crowd’s pleasure. Get in the thick of it and shout out requests, or sit back with a cocktail and bar bites and let the mellifluous strains of Teenage Dirtbag wash over you.
When to catch it: Mon & Tues from 7pm, Wed – Fri from 5pm, Sat from 12pm | Cover charge? No
Jack Solomon’s Club | Soho
Jack Solomon’s is a speakeasy named after the boxing promoter who used to run a gym there. And yes, you can still score some punch. But the real reason you’re going is the live music, which runs the gamut from jazz to metal, and is topped off by a DJ set towards the end of the week.
When to catch it: Wed-Sat from 9pm | Cover charge? No
Ronnie Scott’s | Soho
Ronnie Scott’s jazz club is a classic for a reason. And that reason is the no talking rule, saving first dates from awkward small talk since 1959.
When to catch it: Nightly, but often sells out – book ahead HERE | Cover charge? Varies, check programme for details
Studio 88 | Leicester Square
Remember the last time you stumbled across an almost-hidden bar underneath Leicester Square with classic cocktails, bar snacks in cones and a six-piece band exclusively playing pop song requests from the crowd? This is exactly like that, except with musically-synchronised light up tables.
When to catch it: Mon-Sat from 5pm | Cover charge? Free before 10pm/8pm on Sat, £5 (£10 Fri/Sat) thereafter
The Troubadour | Earl’s Court
The Troubadour has been a stalwart of the London gig scene since the fifties – but it’s also a singularly lovely place to enjoy a Sunday roast or a quiet pint with some live jazz and acoustic bubbling away in the background.
When to catch it: Every night, check programme HERE | Cover charge? Individually ticketed
Cahoots | Carnaby
Probably London’s best secret 1940s-era Underground-themed cocktail bar, Cahoots busses in the finest swing musicians, old-fashioned singalong pianists and electro-swing DJs for Friday night dancing and boozy Sunday afternoon tea parties.
When to catch it: Pianist Wed & Sun, guest acts Thurs & Fri, DJs Sat | Cover charge? No
Cable Café Bar | Oval
By day, Cable Café roasts its own coffee, bakes its own cakes, and generally spoils everyone with its ineffable neighbourhood charm. By night, it cranks out the cocktails, accompanied by free live jazz of a Tuesday evening.
When to catch it: Tuesday nights | Cover charge? No
Mahogany Bar | Wapping
The Mahogany Bar is one of the most jumping spots in Wapping on a Monday night, drawing on its heritage as part of the 18th century Wilton’s Music Hall to provide you with an evening of pure listening pleasure, courtesy of the ever-rotating guest bands who are – thankfully – anything but wooden.
When to catch it: Monday evenings | Cover charge? No
The Vault at Milroy’s | Soho
Hearing the jazzy strains of live music emanating from behind a bookcase would, in most situations, be a cause for concern. In fact, the only time it isn’t, is when you find yourself browsing the shelves of Soho whisky emporium Milroy’s, and are reminded of the fact that their subterranean, uber-romantic bar (hidden behind some shelving at the back of the shop) has now turned over Monday evenings to live music nights, where you can kick back with a whisky cocktail and feel very happy that your marbles are intact.
When to catch it: Monday evenings | Cover charge? No
The Mondrian Hotel’s rooftop bar would be pretty poorly named if it didn’t occasionally cause a rumpus. And midweek, that rumpus takes the form of a full live band to serenade your cocktails overlooking St. Paul’s, the Thames, and Embankment.
When to catch it: Wednesday evenings from 7pm | Cover charge? No
Main image: Studio 88
Want more than bar bites with those beats? Check out our guide to the best London restaurants with live music