The best bars in Hackney
BTW began as a club night at deceased basement venue Plastic People, where it provided a safe haven for record enthusiasts. Vinyl was king, and so it is here, with one single plate taking pride of place next to the bar and a Tannoy Gold soundsystem creating the kind of atmosphere musos crave. Pair inventive cocktails with bowls of nourishing Asian food.
This dark basement bar is just the joint for whisky lovers, with cabinets dedicated to the brown stuff. All bottles have either one, two or three dots on them which signify how much a dram will set you back. Fun bar features include taps on tables to help with dillution and a bloody great tree down the middle of the room that’s home to two ‘whisky rivers’. Come on in, the water is lovely.
This pizzeria and brewery is a popular spot in Hackney Wick that’s best suited to lazy, lingering weekend sessions. The beer, being visibly brewed on site, is varied and tasty, with a good selection of international craft ales on hand to boot. Take your pint outside to the banks of the Lea where picnic benches overflow with heavily bearded locals.
Years come and go, and Happiness Forgets still remains one of London’s luminary bars. It’s not being boastful about it though, just hiding out below Hoxton Square with very little giving away its presence. Find your way down there for friendly service and cocktails still up there with the best. Top tip: sit up at the bar for the best experience.
The row of glistening vats that sits directly behind the bar at Howling Hops is enough to get beer geeks all sweaty palmed. The Hackney Wick brewery produces its signature hop-heavy beers in these, the powerful flavour a familiar thing to fans of US craft beer. They're best enjoyed tank fresh, so get your pint direct from the source and sip away on one of many picnic benches in what forms a sort of hipster beer hall.
Get high in Hackney at Netil360, the area’s premiere rooftop spot. Artificial grass flooring scattered with wooden benches and upcycled furniture isn't the most aesthetic look, but the panoramic, full-circle views of London make up for it tenfold. The drink selection is pretty stripped-back, but it seems most people are satisfied with soaking up the vibes instead.
Nightjar opened in 2010 and has been an icon on London’s bar scene since. It’s a gorgeous, low-lit room with comfortable seating, smooth table service and a long, playful cocktail list divided into historical eras (pre-Prohibition, post-war and so on). Try something a bit experimental backed by a soundtrack of live jazz.
A Stokey sister to Hoxton’s Happiness Forgets (see above), this long, thin bar stretches the length of the long, thin room, which has booth tables at one end and a pool table at the other. Service is never not friendly and the drinks are all delicious, original cocktail concoctions that use many a spirit you may never have heard of.
If the thought of a tacky tiki bar makes you run for cover, know that Ridley Road Market Bar is cool AF, a Dalston hangout that looks like a beach shack and that attracts a crowd of cool young things who form a queue out the door on weekends. Join them under the disco ball with a ginger mojito in hand.
There are two sides to this east London institution, and both offer a brilliant night out. Start off in the original cocktail bar to the left at the bottom of the stairs, where lampshades rest off kilter and drinks will make you feel just as squiffy. Then move into the newer ‘lounge’, a place where disco and hip hop DJs set the mood and Dalston’s finest come out to play.
Sager + Wilde just gets it. The bijou bar on Hackney Road serves up wine by the glass or bottle with serious finesse. You’ll probably discover grapes you've never even heard of and at refreshingly reasonable prices. Since its launch, a whole host of bars have tried to follow its stylish lead, but you just can’t recreate the feeling of sitting at a bar made from pavement lights, drinking incredible wine and munching on top-notch grilled cheese sarnies.
Cocktails at Scout are crafted from items foraged in the UK in the bar’s quest for sustainability. Never mind the British Isles, the menu reads like a whip around the aisles of Waitrose, with Parsnip, Asparagus and Knotweed among the names of drinks. The madness doesn’t stop there, with the bar cultivating yeast to make their own ‘ferments’, brewing a range of Scout beers and applying wine-making techniques to fruity ingredients. All the trickery happens below in a metallic lab. But upstairs remains a Scandi chic destination.
Dojo meets bar at Shep’s: a cocktail joint with a Korean food menu that’s kicking ass on Kingsland Road. Globular bulbs droop over slick leather seats or grab a nook in a rear room much better suited for the sharing of small plates. Drinks are a little less inspired by Korea, but they're delicious. As far as Hackney bars go, this one is pretty high up on the cool scale.
This is drink whizz Mr Lyan’s most accessible bar to date, with a menu of geeky cocktails explained by flavour profile – you can select something ‘fruity’ or ‘fresh’. Classics on the list aren’t the most obvious choices – like the Dog’s Nose Clover Club (nope, I’d never heard of it either) – but the way they’re made here, they deserve classic status. Sip them in a dark basement setting and backed by hip hop beats and chatter from a cool crowd.
Three Sheets is the bartender’s hangout – some of the industry’s best shakers pick a corner of this Dalston drinking destination on any given night of the week to sip on flawless cocktails. The bar cleverly pre-batches its tipples, which are inventive numbers using all sorts of sciency techniques to make them. But they're presented without the slightest bit of showiness. Exceptional, down-to-earth drinking.
From the Kingsland Road pavement, this bar on the Shoreditch/Hoxton border doesn’t look like much more than a cute little bottle shop. But wander on in and you’ll discover there’s a whole world of bevvying to be had inside this converted police station. The cocktail menu references different eras of barmanship with a lean towards gin, though the staff are more than happy to go off-road.
Tony Conigliaro’s Dalston bar is modelled on Andy Warhol’s Factory: a sterile, minimal setting with silver walls and swathes of grey concrete. To match the theme, the drinks are works of art. There’s no bar, but rather a couple of work stations where young staff prepare pre-batched concoctions delivered daily from Conigliaro’s nearby lab, the Drink Factory. Settle in for a mind-boggling drink or two.
Weino BIB is cleverly championing box wine on the edge of Dalston. And before you cringe at the thought of many a ropey party or festival tipple, know that box wine is more friendly on both your wallet and on the environment, and bag-in-box technology means the product stays good and fresh for longer. Try several wines on tap from lesser-known producers near and far while you munch on fresh deli produce.