One thing is for sure: London is full of crazy experiences. Want to eat your dinner off the branches of an enchanted tree? Or maybe you want to try absorbing your after-work cocktail through your eyeballs (because straws are clearly so 2014)? The Big Smoke has got you covered!
Given this, it comes as no surprise that London is currently dominating the speakeasy game. If there's one thing Londoners love more than apologizing for things that aren't their fault, it's a quirky secret portal which leads to booze.
But with so many bars to choose from, deciding where to have your Saturday night drinks can sometimes turn into a full day Google/ TripAdvisor marathon. So in an attempt to cut down on some of your homework (after all, less time on the internet = more time for cocktail drinking), I've compiled a list of London's Best Speakeasies.
The crown jewel of London speakeasies, Nightjar boasts live jazz music, an incredibly sexy atmosphere and cocktails to die for. There's a great sense of theatricality to their ever-changing drinks menu, with cocktails often arriving at the table with flames shooting out of them or accompanied by giant tufts of candy floss. Case in point: they once had an Aztec-themed drink which was served in a skull-shaped mug and garnished with actual buffalo worms. Alright, so maybe that's a bit extreme, but you get the gist...
Evans & Peel Detective Agency
Not for the timid, Evans & Peel is part speakeasy, part immersive theatre experience. It all starts when you arrive at the Detective Agency for your appointment. Once in the 1920's-style office, you'll have to present your case to the detective. Are you looking to bring down a covert drug ring? Or maybe you just want the dirt on that annoying co-worker who's up for the same promotion as you. Go ahead and get creative here. Trust me, these guys can handle whatever you have to throw at them (when my drinking companion and I threw down a case involving a drug-smuggling necrophiliac, the detective didn't miss a beat). Once they decide your case is worthy of taking on, a sneaky push of the bookcase reveals a hidden drinking den where you can sip cocktails to your heart's content for the rest of the evening.
A 1940's underground-themed bar. What more do you need to know? Located in an old WW2 air raid shelter, Cahoots is currently one of London's most sought-after speakeasy bookings. There's vintage charm galore, a replica tube carriage and a bevy of good-looking staff who are perpetually in character. Oh, and the cocktails are pretty darn tasty too. I'll certainly drink to that, old chap!
The Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town
Head to The Breakfast Club near Liverpool Street and ask to speak to the Mayor. Assuming he's willing to see you, you and your guests will be escorted to the back of the restaurant to an old-fashioned Smeg fridge. Try to avoid the temptation to plop yourself down and order a round of American-style pancakes, because what awaits you behind the fridge is far more delicious. Heading through the fridge (yes, through the fridge) and down a set of stairs, you'll find yourself in a cosy little watering hole fit for, well, the Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town.
Take Note: Not all Breakfast Club speakeasies are created equal. My recent trip to the King of Ladies Man inside BC's Battersea location wasn't quite as successful. For one, their "secret entrance" was wide open upon my group's arrival. Surely that's a capital offense in the speakeasy world!
The Hidden Bar at Chiltern Firehouse
Yes, we know all about the glamorous celebrities who dine there and the spiritual experience that is their crab doughnuts, but have you heard about Chiltern Firehouse's secret door? Your first seemingly-impossible feat will be to secure a reservation (good luck), but once you're in, excuse yourself from the table and make your way down to the loos. At the end of the stalls you'll find a full-length mirror with the words "Cigarettes and Men" scrawled on it in red lipstick. Give the door a push and you'll find yourself transported to a beautiful little courtyard where A-listers go to grab a breath of fresh air or a cheeky puff between glasses of Dom Pérignon. Saucy.
The Bar at La Bodega Negra
"Shall we go in there?" I ask my taller half, pointing at a shop adorned with pink neon lights which read "Adult Video" and "Peep Show."
He just laughs. Until, that is, he realizes I'm serious.
When we're greeted inside by a mannequin in black leather bondage gear and a strict-looking lady with a clipboard, I feel him start to panic.
Luckily for him (or maybe not, depending on how you look at it), this isn't actually a sex shop. It's the very cleverly disguised La Bodega Negra, a secret subterranean Mexican restaurant where the lighting is low and the tequila plentiful. The food menu in the restaurant can sometimes err on the pricey side, but if you're lucky enough to snag a seat at the bar, consider yourself set for the evening.
Not just for Lewis Carroll fans, Callooh Callay is a full of quirky charm. Upon entering the main bar, keep your eyes peeled for the Narnia-esque wardrobe at the back of the room. Give it a tug and cross over into a hidden land of funky furnishings and tasty tipples. The fun doesn't end there though. Behind another hidden door and up a flight of stairs lies the JubJub Bar. Yes, it's a secret bar inside another secret bar. But not so fast: the JubJub bar can only be accessed via an ever-changing 4 digit code (it used to be a key but apparently they've gone high-tech) and to get the code you'll need to be a member. The good news is membership is free (yay more money for cocktails!), but you'll have to prove you're a bonafide cocktail enthusiast to pass muster. Good luck!
Worship Street Whistling Shop
Your first task is to spot the tiny overhead sign marking the entrance to this glorious venue (blink and you'll miss it). Next you'll have to grope your way down the barely-lit stairwell, but rest assured that it'll all be worth it once you've made it into the bar area. The decor is part elegant gin palace, part Victorian back alley, causing it to resemble something out of a Jack the Ripper movie (minus all the dead bodies). The lighting is kept so low that you'll have to grab the candle off your table in order to read the cocktail menu, making it the perfect place for an intimate date or a bit of covert world domination scheming.
"High end cocktails, low rent basement." This pretty much sums up Happiness Forgets, a teeny tiny subterranean cocktail bar located in the heart of Hoxton. It's certainly not the fanciest place you'll ever go, but it's cozy and friendly and great for a mellow night with a couple of friends.
Wilton's Music Hall
I never thought I could love a building. Until, that is, I walked into Wilton's Music Hall. Boasting the title of the oldest surviving music hall in the world, Wilton's is brimming with creaky, dilapidated charm. And although it's not technically a speakeasy, given it's tucked-away location on a quiet East London side street, I thought it still deserved a spot on this list.
Upon arrival, head straight to the beautiful Mahogany Bar. It's the oldest part of the building, dating back to around 1690, and is a great place for after-work or pre-show drinks. The atmosphere is cozy yet lively and the bar stocks a decent selection of beers, wines and spirits at surprisingly reasonable prices.
To experience the music hall in its full glory, consider purchasing a ticket to one of Wilton's many shows/ concerts.
When you first arrive at the address (a 1930's apartment building in Chelsea), your first thought is bound to be "I'm in the wrong place." But head past reception and keep your eyes peeled for a black door. When you've spotted it, give the door a knock and be prepared recite the secret password. Once you've been admitted to the classic prohibition-style bar that is Barts, your next task will be to seek out the cocktail menu (hint: those who are well-read are rewarded for their efforts). Once you've picked your poison, sit back and enjoy the ambiance, far from the watchful eyes of those pesky coppers. Oh, and did I mention they've got a dressing up box? Because, really, who doesn't want to sip cocktails whilst dressed as a horse?
Of course this is only a partial list of London's many speakeasies, and even my speakeasy-loving self hasn't been to them all yet (though rest assumed I'm working on it!). If you've got any trusty favorites that you think should be added to the list, why not give me a shout by commenting below! ♥