Whether you're hosting an office Christmas party or getting some friends together, here are our tips on the best and quirkiest venues in London
Photo: Dan Cunningham
Finding a venue is the first big step in organising a party, but it can be a logistical nightmare at the best of times – and even more so when it comes to Christmas time in London. Don’t stress, though: here to help is our handy list of some of London’s most memorable, unknown and unusual venues, to sort a wide range of budgets and capacity requirements.
The 1950s Americana-themed Bloomsbury Bowling Lanes come complete with reclaimed furniture, a sleek retro bar and a shabby-chic diner that all stand up gallantly to the far more sterile chain, All Star Lanes. East End kids can be found hanging out in this central venue, but don’t let that put you off. Pop in to practice your swing in one of their eight bowling lanes, nibble on some tasty ‘Lane Snacks’ (burgers, fries, grilled chicken), sip a speciality beer, have a boogie or play a little pool.
Our Valentine's day Wedding Crashers party is looking great.. Book a lane, karaoke room or just a ticket for a fun night on the 14th Feb.
Allegedly located on the very spot that the game was invented, Bounce is a ping-pong bar that serves up a night of competitive fun in an edgy industrial-chic space. The restaurant, safely out of reach of wayward ping-pong balls, is raised on a platform overlooking the drama unfolding on the 16 tables below. A selection of antipasti and pizzas (straight from the wood-burning oven) provides players with ample sustenance.
This is probably the closest you’ll get to a proper speakeasy in London. You have to book in advance (by email) for a two-hour slot at this tiny candlelit space beneath a juice bar in Covent Garden (there's also a second branch opening in Camden in late Septemner). The concept is ‘Bring Your Own Cocktail’ – or rather, bring your own bottle of spirits, and the bartender will create bespoke cocktails for you from his old-fashioned drinks trolley. It costs £20 per person.
Private hire for BYOC Covent Garden is £500 for three hours, £650 for four hours and £800 for five hours.
As bar after bar opens using the rather tired ‘Brooklyn Prohibition’ template, Experimental Cocktail Club seems ever more original – it’s hard to find, sure, perhaps more so than any other ‘speakeasy’ in London, but inside remains opulent and elegantly aloof to trends. It’s arranged over three floors of an old Chinatown townhouse, flatteringly lit and expensively decorated. Booking isn’t essential (half of the capacity is kept back for walk-ins), but it is recommended and worth the hassle (email booking only, between noon and 5pm).
This not-for profit members' club is a grand old Grade 1 listed house slap bang in the middle of Soho. It nails a nice line between distinguished and arty, and the beautiful interior never feels formal or stuffy. Music and arts figures like Andrew Weatherall, Jarvis Cocker and Gilles Peterson have strong ties with the club, so you might well catch one of them performing there if you're lucky, but if not, just enjoy the upmarket food and drink, or simply lounge around and soak up the atmosphere.
Lucky indeed are those who manage to find this underground drinking den. It’s hidden away in the basement of an unassuming Fitzrovia backstreet, and the only apparent indicator is a set of fairy lights. Strung around the building’s bannister, they lead drinkers down into the underbelly of a speakeasy-themed cocktail bar. Drinkers can hide away in intimate arched alcoves, and veil their secret consumption behind red velvet curtains.
Join us in our decadent den of mischief and wrap your lips around one of our scrumptious £5 cocktails - Tuesday to Thursday, 5.30pm-7.30pm
We’ve long been fans of Purl, one of London’s first speakeasy-type bars and begetter of both VOC and the Worship Street Whistling Shop. It’s become extremely popular, which means that booking is advisable – though walk-ins will be seated if there’s space. The layout of the bar, over a number of smallish spaces in a vaulted basement, gives the opportunity for genuine seclusion if that’s what you’re looking for. And if you’re interested in cutting-edge cocktail making, you’re also in luck. Novel methods and unusual ingredients are used in many of their unique drinks.
The decor at Townhouse embodies a ‘more is more’ philosophy. Every square inch of surface area is occupied by something lovely, as if a couple of eccentric collectors moved from a country manse and felt compelled to fit all their possessions into two rooms. The result: one of the most beautiful bars in London, and certainly the most unusual-looking. We’d come here for that alone, but the cocktail list is of fittingly high quality – not surprising, since it was devised by Tony Conigliaro (of 69 Colebrooke Row).
Another option for your Christmas party is on board a luxuriously refurbished double decker bus. The Vault London offers a great solution for people looking to something a little different for their big night. Pickup from the office door and whisked around London enroute to your destination of choice, or hold your event on board the bus itself.