Hidden London Bars and Speakeasies

A pint of Grolsch beer as served in a pub on Tottenham Court Road in London (Photo by Strom Carlson, via Wikimedia Commons)

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If you’re tired of the chain pubs and crowded tourist bars in London, there’s a wealth of hidden treasures tucked away for those in the know. From ultra-cool hipster hangouts to quirky bars with a speakeasy vibe, check out some of our favourite secret venues in the capital. Seek and ye shall find!

Mayor of Scaredy-Cat Town

Beneath the Spitalfields all-American brunch haven, The Breakfast Club, a quirky basement bar is accessed through a doorway disguised as a retro-fridge in the dining area – to get in, just ask to see the mayor. Resplendent with vintage chic, mirror balls and a moose-head, a whimsical vibe sets this night spot apart from its neighbours, along with an impressive menu of cocktail classics. Ensure your spot by emailing in advance, and be sure to soak up the hard stuff by sampling the American-style morsels on offer, including meatballs of fire and chilli cheese fries. Hungover hedonists should head to Hair of the Cat on weekend afternoons for a brilliant brunch and a chance to construct your perfect Bloody Mary. www.themayorofscaredycattown.com

Happiness Forgets

Life is not really all sunshine and laughter, according to Dionne Warwick, but you’d be forgiven for disagreeing if you’re indulging in cocktails at this gorgeous grotto in Hoxton Square. Squirreled away beneath a Thai canteen, this no-frills saloon eschews the speakeasy theme in favour of simple furnishings and an intimate atmosphere. In the charmingly seedy basement of exposed brick red walls and vintage paraphernalia, you can choose from the short cocktail menu or challenge the staff to create your favourite. Prices are pleasingly reasonable for London, and you can compliment your drinks with dim sum from the upstairs restaurant, all accompanied by the soothing sounds of classic jazz and soul. www.happinessforgets.com

Passing Clouds

Tucked away down a Dalston alley, this converted printing press is run by a collective of cool creatives and is the epitome of ramshackle chic. Upstairs is a miscellany of boho baubles and backpacker knick-knacks infused with incense, while downstairs boasts a dance-floor and a modest bar. On weekdays, expect cultural fare such as poetry readings and highbrow film nights, but come the weekend, you’re in for a world music spectacular, as reggae, hip hop or African-influenced beats dominate the dancefloor. www.passingclouds.org


In the centre of South Kensington you can steal into a true speakeasy, bursting with bags of kitsch and curious bric-a-brac. Masquerading as part of a Chelsea apartment block, this delightful drinkery is chock-full of twenties charm, from the dressing-up box to the cocktails served in a top hat and bright young things will love a Gatsby’s Getaway, a Pink Flapper or a Charleston Crumble. Ring the bell for entry, but be prepared to be sized up by the bouncer through a peephole in the door. Once inside you can relax and enjoy the bebop jazz, gourmet bar snacks and perhaps a tequila tea or two, happy in the knowledge that, despite the Sloane Avenue location, the prices are jolly reasonable. www.barts-london.com

Bourne & Hollingsworth

Step back into the Fitzrovia of old in this prohibition-themed parlour just minutes from bustling Oxford Street. Decked out like a grandmother’s drawing room with rose-print wallpaper and tasselled lampshades, this basement bar is perfect for teatime cocktails. Gin fizzes and martinis are served in porcelain teacups, and classic rockabilly tunes add to the nostalgic sentiment, but be sure to drop by on the last Saturday of the month for themed fun with regular Blitz parties and Roaring Twenties shindigs. www.bourneandhollingsworth.com

Callooh Callay

If you’re looking for a frabjous time, this Lewis Carroll-inspired, evening-only bar is the place for you, with suitably surreal furnishings  and a Narnia-style wardrobe leading to the member’s-only Jubjub bar. Discernible from the street only by two cryptic neon Cs on the old-fashioned sweet-shop exterior, this Shoreditch haven serves cocktail alchemy from a seasonal drinks menu. Watch out for the curiously decorated toilets, wallpapered with vintage cassettes. www.calloohcallaybar.com

Lounge Bohemia

Advanced booking is a requisite at this Old Street haunt which exemplifies exclusivity, buried between a kebab shop and a newsagents on Great Eastern Street. Never crowded, this unpretentious venue is the height of laid-back luxe, with table service, fine Czech fare and the best bottled beers from Eastern Europe. Enjoy a Bohemian ice tea or a Porci-tini, made with mushroom-infused vodka, all served with understated theatrical flair. The ‘no suits’ policy and swing jazz sounds add to the carefree ambience, making this the perfect place for late-night discussions and stylish drinking. www.loungebohemia.com

New Evaristo Club

Navigate the dodgy Soho doorway and the shabby red carpet leading into a block of flats, and you’ll find yourself in this distinctive drinking den formerly known as Trisha’s. No gimmicks, no bells and whistles, just a few old film posters and some extremely cheap drinks, plus a varied and eclectic clientele. Somewhat rough around the edges, with an outhouse in the small courtyard and occasional impromptu live music performance, this is one of the coolest places to be in the capital, not least because it’s an oasis in an otherwise tourist-filled area of the city.  New Evaristo Club

Experimental Cocktail Club

On the other end of the speakeasy spectrum, behind an unmarked door in vibrant Chinatown, this three-floor hideaway marries flea market chic with Parisienne opulence to provide a sumptuous setting for your cocktail consumption. Teapot lamps, flamingo wallpaper and a bar made from an old piano add to the playful feel of this place, which blazes a trail in mixology, with infused spirits and rare gins, all painstakingly blended — so expect to wait for your drinks. experimentalcocktailclublondon.com

Worship Street Whistling Shop

Another Shoreditch spot, this time a Dickensian gin palace on a backstreet, complete with Dram Shop and a windowed laboratory for cocktail alchemy. Bedecked with dark wood and Victorian accoutrements, this surreptitious cellar specialises in cocktail wizardry, incorporating innovative ingredients such as sage dust and chlorophyll bitters into their refined refreshments. Accompany your tipple with some traditional British victuals, including pork pies, oysters and jellied eels, all served by friendly staff. Groups can tour the Dr Jekyll-style lab, or book the Dram Shop for a one-of-a-kind drinking experience. www.whistlingshop.com

These handy tips are provided by Show and Stay, the UK theatre break providers.

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