Much like putting a couple of tables and chairs, a few bottles of liqueur and a bartender on a rooftop, Soho’s nightlife scene has been slowly but surely raising the bar.
London’s naughty corner has been making a name for itself in the restaurant scene, and the bars have followed – from speakeasies to classic pubs, Soho has it all.
And now, so do we. Riiiight here…
The Vault beneath Milroy’s
If you’ve been wondering which bookcases offer the best cocktails in London, you need to check out what’s behind the one at Milroy’s: because there you’ll find a woody subterranean speako serving up an impressively lengthy menu. Listings change every couple of months to keep things fresh, with current offerings including a Coconut Butter Old Fashioned and the Sherry 3 Ways – which, unsurprisingly, contains 3 types of sherry. And, being under a whiskey shop, it would be nothing short of blasphemous to have anything less than a separate list of whisky cocktails, organised by provenance, and inventively mixed with more bitters and vermouths than you can shake a cocktail stick at. So that’s exactly what they’ve done.
Details: Open Tues-Sat until midnight | Through the bookcase at Milroy’s, 3 Greek Street, W1D 4NX
Milk & Honey
One of London’s original speakeasies, this bar remains a legitimately secretive cocktail clubs despite being around since 2002. Behind an innocuous industrial grey facade lies this 1930s jewel, where the waiters will knock up a cocktail according to your personal tastes. Non-members have to enter by 11pm, but members can rock up at any time and also have access to the delights of the upstairs Red Room – including its giant block of twice-frozen mineral water, from which chunks of ice are dramatically hacked off with an ice pick that don’t threaten to dilute your cocktails.
Which also makes them pretttty cool.
Details: Open 6pm-3am Mon-Sat | 61 Poland St, Soho, London W1F 7NU | Reservations required for non-members, call 020 7065 6800
The Blind Pig
You’ll discover this Poland Street bar in one of two ways:
1) By venturing into the discreet porch underneath the old spectacles which hang as an opthalmologist’s sign, rapping tentatively with the door knocker aptly moulded as a blindfolded pig, and waiting with baited breath to be let inside…
2) You’ll have eaten your fill of Michelin-starred chef Jason Atherton’s ludicrously delicious food at the restaurant downstairs, Social Eating House, and somehow reached top floor bar the old fashioned way, using the staircase.
With antique mirrored ceilings, wood-panelled walls and a copper-topped bar, The Blind Pig is atmospheric and intimate, even for large groups. Cocktails are tongue-in-cheek, like the Dill or No Dill and the Kindergarten Cup (made with Wham bar syrup). You’ll also find bar snacks ranging from chorizo dogs to pumpkin latte and rum jelly sundae, alongside what can only really be described as a full-on steak.
Details: Open Mon-Sat, 12pm-12am | 58 Poland Street, W1F 7NR
Behind this bar’s unassuming exterior lies one of Soho’s most underappreciated gems. By day, it’s a buzzing espresso bar, by night, it serves a short and sweet list of cocktails designed by 69 Colebrooke Row’s Tony Conigliaro. They’re knocking up four types of house negroni alongside a concise menu of well-made classics alongside the occasional curveball (the Terroir contains distillates of flint, clay and lichen), while an equally concise food list offers charcuterie, carpaccio and a cheeseboard for grazing. Just make sure you book one of their 25 seats (it’s table service only) before the bar gets as busy as its station namesake.
Details: Open until 11.30pm Mon-Thurs, 1am Fri & Sat and 10.30pm Sun | 7 Old Compton Street, W1D 5JE
Signs that you’re in Cahoots: you’ve been greeted by a ticket inspector, checked your coats in a ticket hall, listened to 1940s PSAs in the toilets and are now enjoying a ringside view of live swing music from your retro train carriage. The underground, Underground-themed bar has one of the most coherently and impressively executed themes in London, with bartenders dressed in 40s gear and a cocktail menu printed as a (huge) newspaper. This place has got Blitz spirit in droves, and they’re serving it up in hip flasks, thimbles and their renowned ‘Dig for Victory’ themed cocktails, mixed with peas and potatoes.
Details: Open till 1am Mon-Wed, 3am Thurs-Sat and midnight on a Sunday | 13 Kingly Court, W1B 5PG
Practically cocktail royalty, having been put together by Nightjar’s Edmund Weil and Rosie Stimpson and Milk & Honey’s Bobby Hiddleston and Mia Johansson. So you can rest assured that whether you’re necking martinis and oysters at their upstairs power bar, or enjoying a leisurely selection from their whiskey library in the snug downstairs, you’ll be in more than capable hands.
Details: 12 Old Compton Street, W1D 4TQ
Bar Américain at Brasserie Zedel
‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ is a motto that applies to at least two very important situations:
1) The world record for number of thumb tacks put in a leg, and
2) The 1930s-themed bar at Brasserie Zedel.
Having changed little over its decades of service, the current incarnation, Bar Américain, still retains all the glamour of the golden age of cocktailing. Lavishly appointed with velvet bar stools, a cocoa colour scheme and retro lighting, it’s tempting to spend all night working through old-school cocktail list with drinks like the Chrysler Cocktail, which has port, chambord, campari, curacao, cognac and probably just about any other liqueur beginning with C that you can think of.
Details: Open until midnight, Mon-Wed, 1am Thurs-Sat and 11pm on Sun | Brasserie Zedel, 20 Sherwood Street, W1F 7ED
For a different date experience tonight, why not ask someone to have a look under Soho’s Balls?
By which we mean Soho meatballery Balls & Company, of course. Their basement speakeasy-style bar serves excellently-mixed cocktails with unusual ingredients like fir tree liqueur, celery bitters and bay tea syrup, as well as an abridged version of the upstairs menu – including desserts.
Yeah. Maybe open with that part.
Details: Open until 11pm, Mon-Sat | 58 Greek Street, W1D 3DY
Mark’s Bar at Hix
Underneath the perennially busy Hix Soho restaurant you’ll find Mark’s Bar; dark, moody, with bold wall art and the perfect chesterfields to sink into for an evening. The bar is known for its revival of classic British libations, and the cocktail list reads like a who’s who of drinks from 1920s hotel bars. Bring enough people to make it worth buying one of the sharer drinks, which arrives in a punchbowl with the house taxidermied foxes, Hamish and Bertie (no sign of a foxy lady just yet).
Details: Open till 1am Mon-Sat, 11.30pm Sun | 66-70 Brewer Street, W1F 9UP
The French House
A Soho institution, The French House was the haunt of choice for literary and artistic figures throughout the 20th century, counting Dylan Thomas and Francis Bacon amongst its fans. Unfortunately they’re not around much these days, but thanks to the no technology policy, the pub always has a lively atmosphere even if it’s just a few old regulars. And if the thought of being unable to instagram it all seems too much to bear, trust us, the conversation will start flowing as easily as the beers and ciders on tap – and with thirty wines and champagnes available by the glass, there’s far too much to explore to have time to refresh your facebook.
Details: Open till 11pm Mon-Sat and 10.30pm on Sun | 49 Dean Street, W1D 5BG
After you’ve read the following, you’re probably going to call BS.
Because for too long, the main course has been getting between the best parts of an evening: cocktails and dessert. But now that Basement Sate have reunited the two; you’re gonna want in.
By cutting out the middle man, they’ve had a lot more time on their hands. But the good news is that they’ve used that time extremely well, coming up with dishes like the Dark Chocolate Fondant, which has a cardamom and caramelised banana heart, and a list of ridonkulous original cocktails like the Jessica Rabbit, which combines gin, carrot juice and golden and elderflower syrup. There’s also a comprehensive selection of wines and European beers to boot. Oh, and a list of carefully paired gin and tonics. So sorry mains, but it looks like it’s just deserts.
Details: Open until 1am Tues-Sat, and midnight Sun-Mon | 8 Broadwick Street, W1F 8HN
Experimental Cocktail Club
Once upon a time, the only way to find this place was by scrutinising the doors next to each Chinese restaurant to find the one with just the right amount of grey paint scratched away at its centre…
Nowadays, you’ll recognise it as the place with a mile-long queue out the front. Make a reservation in advance, however, and you can sail past, safe in the knowledge that you’ll soon be tucked away in a sophisticated 3 floor cocktail lounge with some of the best drinks in London.
Details: Open until 3am Mon-Sat and midnight on Sun | 13a Gerrard Street, W1D 5PS
Next time someone threatens to take you down, all the way down to Chinatown, then get excited because there’s a small chance they just mean they’re about to treat you to a drink at Opium.
An unmarked jade door (across from ECC’s unmarked grey door) makes for a deceptively understated entrance to the bar that will make you feel like hipsters found a way to travel back to a 1920s opium den. The menu spans from twisted classics like the Sesame Old Fashioned to original concoctions like The Shanghai Gesture, with Wild Turkey Bourbon, pineapple and pink peppercorn shrub and topped with soda. An added bonus comes in the form of dim sum platters, served till 2.30am at weekends.
So you can dim sum, and then dim sum more.
Details: Open until 1am Mon-Tues, 2am Wed, 3am Thur-Sat and midnight on Sun | 15-16 Gerrard Street, W1D 6JE
If you’re a gin lover, it’s going to be very hard to leave cosy urban bar Graphic once you get settled. With a selection of 305 different gins (and counting), some very knowledgeable bartenders and a gin showcase evening on the first Monday of every month, – you’ve probably stopped reading and ordered the uber already.
Details: Open until midnight, Mon-Sat | 4 Golden Square, W1F 9HT
Urban Tea Rooms
UTR are the bibitory equivalent of Jekyll and Hyde, except not evil. By day, a Carnaby coffee house; by night an intimate, low-key drinking hole with a cocktail list prominently featuring Earl Grey Gin, Jasmine Vodka and espresso in a nod to their alter ego. There’s also beers, wines and some warming nightcaps, and they’ve completely nailed their evening menu, boiling it down to the classic choice of tapas or cake.
Details: Open until 10.30 Tues, 11.30 Wed & Thurs, midnight Fri & Sat, 7pm Sun | 19 Kingly Street, W1B 5PY
The Pink Chihuahua
The bar beneath kitsch Mexican restaurant El Camion is the perfect spot for a date – with intimate candlelit booths, plenty of rum, mezcal and tequila and a bar area that becomes a makeshift dancefloor later in the night. In fact, you could say it Mex for the perfect evening…
Which would probably then ruin it.
Details: Open 6pm-3am, Mon-Sat | 25-27 Brewer Street, W1F 0RR
Main image: Bar Américain at Brasserie Zedel
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