Features

Jason Allen 09/12/21


The Ultimate London Speakeasy Guide

What follows is a list of the finest tucked-away, secret, hidden, or otherwise nearly-impossible-to-find bars.

Or, if you’re reading this for a second time, what follows is a list of bars that were tucked away, secret, hidden, or otherwise nearly-impossible-to-find …but are now as familiar to you as the back of your own hand.

And you should visit them all.

NOTE: It’s important to clarify at this point that while most of these bars are hidden behind bookshelves, mirrors, and fridges, some of them are simply very difficult to find. Such is the way of the speakeasy.


JUMP TO: EAST LONDON | CENTRAL LONDON | WEST LONDON | SOUTH LONDON | NORTH LONDON


EAST LONDON SPEAKEASIES

Lounge Bohemia | Shoreditch

Lounge Bohemia Shoreditch bars

This Soviet-styled, 50s era, underground Czech cocktail spot has some of the most interesting cocktails in the city; expect them to come in perfume bottles, toothpaste tubes, and more unexpected vessels. And expect them to be delicious, too.

How to get inFirst, book ahead (0772 070 7000). Second, don’t wear a suit and tie (they WILL kick you out). Third, find the unmarked door next to the kebab shop, and head down the stairs.  

Details: 1e Great Eastern St, EC2A 3EJ | Open ‘by appointment’

Nightjar | Shoreditch

Nightjar

Nightjar is an actual, bona fide speakeasy. It’s the type of place that all of the other speakeasies want to be when they grow up. It’s got rose-tinted mirrors, leather chairs, and illicit, darkened corners. You’ll hear the hum of live jazz emanating from the flat-capped jazz band on stage, and winding its way through the shadows to the bar where Nightjar’s award-winning cocktails are created.

How to get in: The address should lead you to an innocuous-looking wooden door parked between two fast food joints. Head inside, and down the staircase… and book if you can.

Details: 129-131 City Road, EC1V 1JB | Open daily, 6pm till late

Happiness Forgets | Hoxton

The staff at this candlelit, subterranean den of iniquity know their stuff, and are capable of magic. The list changes frequently too, so break with the tradition of the place and remember what you have each time so you can demand it again.

How to get in: Look for the chalkboard next to an unmarked stairwell, and step into the candlelit boozehouse.

Details: 8-9 Hoxton Square, N1 6NU | Open 5-11pm every night

The Jubjub Bar | Shoreditch

A neat, suitably low-lit hidden bar, where one of the Callooh Callay bartenders takes over the menu every month. Plus, you can apply for membership (it’s free) for complimentary welcome drinks, your own personal door key, and more.

How to get in: Walk into the wardrobe in Callooh Callay, and ignore the FIRST hidden bar – head past it, and stride up the curtain-covered stairs. That’s where the Jubjub’s at.  

Details: 65 Rivington Street, EC2A 3AY | Thurs-Sat, 7pm-2am (the main bar is open everyday)

Found | Shoreditch

Even if Found had a big neon sign pointing to the entrance, it would still be tricky to stumble across. It’s buried in the muddle of alleys south of the Old Street tube, but it’s worth seeking out for the simple, delicious cocktails alone. The space itself is a dark, moody den with secluded nooks to sit in on either side of the bar that almost feel illicit. Also, before you go home, pop to Home bar right above it, and get a tequila shot followed by their house concoction of pineapple, coriander, and chilli.

How to get in: Head down to Ravey Street, and you’ll see a lantern with the letter ‘F’ on it. Head into the doorway, down the narrow steps, through the velvet curtain, and you’ll have found Found.

Details: 5 Ravey St, EC2A 4QW | Open Tues-Sun

Discount Suit Company | Spitalfields

hidden bar london

Enter a dimly-lit neighbourhood cocktail bar entirely composed of exposed brickwork, scaffolding planks, Victorian floorboards and Motown records. There you’ll find head bartender Dorian – a man who returned from travelling the world completely fluent in the language of mixing killer drinks – serving up their signature cocktails.

How to get in: Head for the black door next to an 1980s tailoring shop with a ramshackle wall sign.

Details: 29A Wentworth Street, E1 7TB | Open Sun-Thur 5pm-midnight, Fri & Sat 2pm-1am

Looking Glass Cocktail Club | Hackney

secret bar london

The reason this Hackney cocktail bar is called the Looking Glass Cocktail Club is because of all the looking glasses (that is, mirrors) strewn around the place. And behind one of them is a second, secret, drinking joint filled with Victorian furnishings, bare brick walls, and a vintage piano. VIEW DETAILS

How to get in: To the right of the bar, you’ll see someone who looks exactly like you. Don’t panic, this is a mirror. Pull…

Details: 49 Hackney Road, E2 7NX | Open daily 6pm-3am (7pm Thurs & Sat)

The Mayor Of Scaredy Cat Town | Shoreditch

The Breakfast Club Shoreditch houses somewhere within it a moodily-lit cocktail dungeon that has exposed brickwork, great music and a wide selection of cocktails, from the Peachy Keen to The Basic Kitsch.

How to get in: Through a fridge door. Yep, really. Just ask a member of staff to see the Mayor.

Details: 12-16 Artillery Lane, E1 7LS | Open Mon-Wed 5-11.30pm, Thurs-Fri 5pm-midnight, Sat 12pm-midnight, Sun 12-10pm

Oriole | Smithfield

Oriole fun birthday bar

An epicurean jaunt around the globe through that lesser-known vehicle, the Cocktail. Also, nightly live jazz, bar snacks, and burlesque with a snake.

How to get in: Head into Smithfield market after hours, and look for a door with a smart aluminium sign above it. If you get lost, try listening out for hissing.

Details: East Poultry Avenue, London Central Markets, EC1A 9LH Open Tues-Sat, 6pm-late, plus last Sunday of the month 12-4pm

The Brink | Hackney

A basement bar so secret everything in this photo besides the candle has been blurred to maintain anonymity. Find it, and you’ll enjoy a potent mix of bourbon and live music, courtesy of a brilliant line-up of visiting guest musicians.

How to get in: Aim for the Off Broadway cocktail bar on Broadway Market. Then head downstairs…

Details: 63 Broadway Market, E8 4PH | Generally open Thurs-Sat nights, check listings here

The Natural Philosopher | Hackney

The Natural Philosopher is spread, very intimately, over three separate rooms, the likes of which you won’t find elsewhere. There’s The Mac Museum, which as its name suggests, it’s a museum of everything Apple Mac. With cocktails. Then there’s the The Living Room, a cozy, rug-strewn, welcoming snug also containing cocktails. And finally, there’s The Basement, a Hobbit-sized room which – at just 5 feet tall, and located at the base of a tiny set of side stairs – is the perfect little date spot.

How to get in: Find the Macsmiths computer repair shop around the corner from Cambridge Heath station. It’s housed within.

Details: 489 Hackney Road, E2 9ED | Open Tues-Sun

 

CENTRAL LONDON SPEAKEASIES

The Blind Pig | Soho

This slick-looking speakeasy sits proudly above Jason Atherton’s Social Eating House – it boasts both classic and themed cocktail menus, and they’ll bring you food up from the Michelin-starred restaurant. If you’ve ordered it.

How to get inLook for the “Opticians” sign on Poland Street, then push the door beneath it with the pig-shaped knocker.

Details: 58 Poland Street, W1F 7NR Open Tues-Thurs 12-11pm, Fri & Sat 12pm-12am Book here

Below Stone Nest | Leicester Square

chapel

Lit only by candlelight and sporting a slim, but expertly-concocted menu of cocktails, beers and natural wines, Below Stone Nest is everything a good speakeasy should be. Including being hidden beneath a deconsecrated 19th century church on one of the busiest streets in the city.

How to get in: You’re looking for a place called Stone Nest, which is the boarded up old church on Cambridge Circus. When you get there, head below…

Details: 136 Shaftesbury Avenue, W1D 5EZ Open Wed-Sat, 6pm-2am | No bookings

Experimental Cocktail Club | Chinatown

Hidden behind a scruffy-looking, easily-missable door in the bustling heart of Chinatown is this: a moody, legendary, Parisian, prohibition-style speakeasy cocktail den lit almost entirely by candlelight.

How to get in: A booking helps. Otherwise, find a door that doesn’t lead to a Chinese restaurant, and smile politely through the peephole.

Details: 13a Gerrard Street, W1D 5PS Mon-Sat 6pm-3am, Sun 6pm-midnight | Book here

Lost Property Office | Waterloo

lost property office hidden bar

Not all those who wander are lost… but many of those who wander round Brewdog Waterloo are looking for Lost Property Office, an intimate cocktail oasis hidden, miraculously, within what has to be one of the loudest pubs of all time. Come here for off-the-charts cocktails by mixology pioneer Rich Woods and his crack team of bartenders.

How to get in: Scour Brewdog for a vintage black telephone, and pick it up. There are no bookings here, so cross your fingers and wait for someone to let you in…

Details: Inside Brewdog, Waterloo Station, Second Floor, The Sidings, London SE1 7BH Open daily from 5pm-12am (1am Fri & Sat) No bookings

Murder Inc. | Fitzrovia

The folks behind Cocktail Trading Company are at it again. Their central London bar swaps out the extravagant presentation for inexpensive but excellent drinks like the Silk Punch (Chivas 12, walnut, Vermouth, coffee, and salted Horlicks cream).

How to get in: An inconspicuous brown door on Hanway Street will reveal a staircase, which you should descend.

Details: 36 Hanway Street, Soho, W1T 1UP | Mon-Thurs 5pm-12am, Fri-Sat, 5pm-2am | Book here

Peony | Chinatown

Opium in Chinatown is already somewhat hidden – you’ll need to find an unmarked jade-green door on the street. And then, once inside the labyrinthine restaurant, you’ll need to find Peony, also behind an unmarked door. It’s got old-school Chinese prints on the wall, candlelight, and delicious cocktails to boot. VIEW DETAILS

How to get in: First, find Opium, then ask the staff inside to direct you. 

Details: 15-16 Gerrard Street, W1D 6JE Open Tuesday 5pm-12am, Wed 5pm-1am, Thurs 5pm-2am, Fri & Sat 5pm-3am

The Vault at Milroy’s | Soho

Milroy's Soho Speakeasy London

Milroy’s was London’s first ever specialist whiskey store. And now, it’s London’s first ever brooding, underground, candlelit cocktail bar with bare brick walls, chesterfield couches, and handmade hardwood tables. That’s called The Vault.

How to get in: Peruse the whiskey shop, and find the bookshelf at the back. Push it open, and head on down. 

Details: 3 Greek Street, W1D 4BD | Open Mon-Sat, 6-11.30pm Book via [email protected]

Basement Sate | Soho

You know how the best bit of dinner is always cocktails and dessert? Well, Basement Sate have finally capitalised on this truism by serving only cocktails and dessert. The first of its kind in London, this is exactly the place to go the next time you feel that all-too-familiar desire to lounge in a dimly-lit, dark wood-panelled subterranean hideout in Soho listening to music by cutting edge DJs, drinking salted caramel cocktails and eating desserts perfectly designed to complement them.

How to get in: Get yourself onto Broadwick Street, and find the place that has the number 8 above it. No, not the sandwich shop. The one next to it. That’s Basement Sate.

Details: 8 Broadwick Street, W1F 8HN | Open daily, 6pm-late

Reverend JW Simpson | Fitzrovia

A vicar lived at this site 30 years ago, hence the name. And this is what he preached: “If you want inventive drinks from a former Bourne and Hollingsworth cocktail inventor, you’ve come to the right place. There’s even one called the Babka, Baby!” Amen.

How to get inYet another nondescript black door – but this one you can just pull open. And it does have its name above (albeit in small letters).

Meraki Bar | Fitzrovia

Lateef Photography

Meraki are so determined to keep their bar a secret, that it’s not even inside the restaurant. Find it, and you’ll be rewarded with cocktails, acclaimed Greek food, and private booths set in brick-lined vaults where you can control your own lighting.

How to get in: Leave the restaurant, and head instead to the dedicated entrance round the corner, which will lead you to a bar. This is still not it. Seek the hidden entrance and head on down…

Details: 30 Foley Street, W1W 7TJ Open Tues-Sat, 1pm-1am | Walk-in only

The Lucky Pig | Fitzrovia

An artfully ramshackle drinking den filled with odds and ends, sumptuous Chesterfields and an array of concoctions harking back to the Prohibition era.

How to get in: Look for the unmarked staircase with a gas lantern by the door.

Details: 5 Clipstone Street, W1W 6BB | Open Thurs 5pm-1am, Fri 5pm-2am, Sat 6pm-2am Book here

Jack Solomons Club | Soho

A surprisingly vast subterranean bolthole filled with velvet Chesterfields, whisky-leaning cocktails, raucous live music and DJs in the heart of Soho.

How to get in: Look for the after-hours deli, and ring the buzzer. If you’re going past a lot of meat, you’re in the right place.

Details: 41 Windmill Street, W1D 7NB Open Fri-Sat, 5pm-1am | Book here

Cellar Door | Embankment

This tiny, low-lit lounge below Embankment has mirrored walls, purple seating, nightly live music, and even the occasional cinema night. VIEW DETAILS

How to get in: Just look out for the weird-looking unmarked staircase that descends literally into the pavement on the Strand. 

Details: Zero Aldwych, WC2R 0HSOpen nightly till 1am | Book here

Blind Spot | Covent Garden

secret bar london

Housed within the St Martin’s Lane Hotel, this secretive, swank-laden lounge infuses many of its globally-inspired cocktails with tea and hosts regular live music nights from jazz and swing to electronica and dance. VIEW DETAILS

How to get inHead into the hotel, and go to the boutique tea counter (hint: it’s where most hotels keep their boutique tea counters). Behind it, you’ll see a golden hand jutting out of the wall, inviting you to shake it. Do that. And it will reveal a hidden door. 

Details: St. Martin’s Lane Hotel, 45 St Martin’s Lane, WC2N 4HX | Open Wed-Thurs 5pm-midnight, Fri-Sat 5pm-2am Book here

The Piano Bar | Soho

Technically hidden, though you might be able to track it down simply from the noise – the Piano Bar is named for the permanent ivory-tinkler they have installed. There are regular live bands besides, classic cocktails, and even a screening room. VIEW DETAILS

How to get inIf you’re not a member, you’ll need to make a reservation, after which you simply need to find the door at 16 Carlisle Street that looks a lot like someone’s house.

Details: 16 Carlisle Street, W1D 3BT Open Mon-Sat, 6-11.30pm | Book here

Cahoots | Soho

Cahoots kingly court bar

A discreetly hidden, underground, Underground-themed bar serving Blitz-era cocktails alongside wartime singalongs, swing dancing and boozy afternoon tea. Or at least, as discreetly hidden as something like that can be.

How to get in: Look out for a retro Underground sign saying ‘To The Trains’, and sweet-talk the lookout on the door. For more dancing space, try their other hidden bar across the street (reopening soon)…

Details: 13 Kingly Court, W1B 5PW Open daily | Book here

 

WEST LONDON SPEAKEASIES

Evans & Peel Detective Agency | Earls Court

Evans and Peel Detective Agency Speakeasy London

One of the most genuinely undercover-feeling speakeasies in London. A bar filled with exposed brickwork, beaten white tiles, dickie-bow-clad bar staff and soft lighting, where you’ll be served bottles of booze in brown paper bags, and illegally good cocktails.

How to get in: Buzz the door, head down to the detective’s office and state your case…

Details: Earls Court Road, SW5 9BA Open Tues-Thurs, 5pm-12am, Fri & Sat 5pm-1am Book here

Nocturne | South Kensington

nocturne

An illicit, boozy basement beneath a wine & cheese shop in South Kensington, sporting low lighting, cocktail cabinets, drinks trolleys, and a centrepiece piano if you fancy tinkling the ivories. Which you might, after trialling some of their drinks – separated into Vintage, Pre-Prohibition and Prohibition eras, and all inspired by years gone by.

How to get in: Well, the sign’s on the outside, so it’s not really a hidden bar as such. But once you’re in, the setting feels decidedly prohibition-esque.

Details: 158 Old Brompton Road, SW5 0BA | Open Thurs-Sat, 5pm-late (3am)Book here.

Barts | Chelsea

Proundly declaring themselves “London’s worst kept secret”, Barts is made up of one modestly-proportioned room, which is filled with peculiar pictures, alternative ornaments and a dressing up box – plus live speako-style singalongs every Wednesday.

How to get inWander through the Chelsea Cloisters until you see the Mickey Mouse wallpaper. Then ring the bell, and hope that the person on the other end of the peephole likes the look of you. 

Details: Chelsea Cloisters, 87 Sloane Avenue, SW3 3DW Open Tues 5pm-12am, Wed 5pm-1am, Thurs-Sat 5pm-2am, Sun 5pm-12am | Book here

Holy Bar | Knightsbridge

A cosy, candlelit cocktail den where the menu is a pack of tarot cards. Choose your destiny printed on the back… or just go for the ingredients you best like the sound of. Whichever you plump for – Devil, Magician, Lovers – it’ll arrive amidst impressive theatrical pomp, with bar snacks that are just as inventive.

How to get in: Look for the Urban Retreat wellness & aesthetics clinic on Hans Crescent. Go into the lobby, then the restaurant, then finally through the old, heavy doors. It’s the last place you’d expect to find a cocktail bar, and therefore quite possibly the ultimate speakeasy…

Details: Urban Retreat, 2-4 Hans Crescent, Knightsbridge, London, SW1X 0LH | Open Tues-Sat, 12-10pm | Book here

 

SOUTH LONDON SPEAKEASIES

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