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Little Nan's Bar Deptford
Photograph: Little Nan’s Bar

The best quirky bars and pubs in London

From table dancing to boat cruising, we’ve rounded up London’s most cool and quirky bars and pubs

Written by
Laura Richards
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It needn’t be the saddest month of the year. At these weird and wonderful London bars, you’ll be having fun with or without the booze. Get lost in a theme so ‘immersive’, you’ll feel you’ve dived straight in to your drinking. Delve into secret bars in the most unlikely of places. Or just have a hoot over arcade games, instagrammable lights, staff in character and cocktails served in the world’s most whacky drinking vessels. We’ve rounded up the most cool and quirky bars and pubs in London that are guaranteed to bust the January blues.

Cool & quirky bars in London

Bobby Fitzpatrick
  • Bars and pubs
  • Cocktail bars
  • West Hampstead
  • price 2 of 4

Step straight into the ’70s. Bobby Fitzpatrick is a retro-themed bar in West Hampstead that takes nostalgia to new levels. Stucco ceilings and kitsch furniture provide a look that would have Austin Powers blushing: this bar is the very definition of a shag pad. Have drinks that transport you far away from new year dreariness. Although Dry January didn’t have quite the same sway in the 1970s, if you ask nicely staff will whip you up a fruity mocktail.

The Jellied Eel
  • Bars and pubs
  • Cocktail bars
  • Walthamstow
  • price 2 of 4

At weekends, L Manze’s pie-and-mash shop in Walthamstow gives way to The Jellied Eel, a cocktail and croquetas concept. Here, you can drink in the glow of red-tinted lights in a remarkably gorgeous room usually reserved for East End grub. Best of all, cockney mocktails cost just £4. The Virgin Queen is made from Seedlip, elderflower, lemon and mint, and it pairs pretty nicely with those tapas.

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  • Bars and pubs
  • Cocktail bars
  • Deptford
  • price 2 of 4

Cocktails in teapots might be old hat in 2020, but there’s still a lot to love about a night out at Deptford’s Little Nan’s Bar. There’s leopard-print on sofas and doilies on hard surfaces, plus more royal family memorabilia than you can shake a sceptre at. Add to that some ’90s pop anthems, sparklers in your cheesy chips and Pat Butcher references aplenty. And temperance has never looked so silly, with alcohol-free cocktails including a Baroness Dimmock and a drink honouring TV’s original huns ‘Loose Women’.

The Four Quarters
  • Bars and pubs
  • Sports bars
  • Peckham
  • price 1 of 4

Remember when a trip to the arcades was the best thing you could do with your Friday night? At this London arcade bar, it still can be. Lose yourself to the retro delights of Street Fighter, Ms Pac-Man, Asteroids et al. If you’re still on the sauce, the menu is far from a throwback and features plenty of London craft beers. And vegan junk food – from burgers to chilli cheeze fries – is provided by Deptford’s The Full Nelson, so you can hit your January KPIs in other ways.

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Alfred Le Roy
  • Bars and pubs
  • Cocktail bars
  • Hackney Wick
  • price 3 of 4

A bar on a boat is what you get from the great Alfred Le Roy, a blue barge associated with the ever-popular Crate Brewery. Gather a crew and get all aboard for a cocktail tour of town that journeys through east London’s canal network. Some of the drinks served even contain kombucha brewed by the company. There’s space for around 40 seated shipmates, and when the bar is stationary in the summer months, it’s well worth hopping on for a quick tipple. Aye aye.

Bunga Bunga
  • Bars and pubs
  • Battersea
  • price 2 of 4

Bunga Bunga is famed for its quirks – from the stairway pastiche of the Sistine Chapel and the vintage mopeds hanging from the ceilings to the sudden parades of dancing girls and the Eurovision-happy karaoke. But what do you expect from a bar named after former Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi’s infamous sex parties. Cocktails are served in novelty vessels, too – from a model of the Leaning Tower of Pisa to a bust of Mario Balotelli.

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  • Bars and pubs
  • Cocktail bars
  • Soho
  • price 3 of 4

This disused air-raid shelter has been reinvented as a post-war tube station complete with vintage bric-a-brac, staff enthusiastically in character, and inventive cocktails that nod to rationing. War – what is it good for? Inspiring sunnily nostalgic themed bars, it seems. Don’t miss the envelope at the back of the menu marked ‘Do Not Open’ – it’s full of black market specials served surreptitiously.

The Cauldron Magical Cocktail Experience
  • Bars and pubs
  • Cocktail bars
  • Dalston

This fantasy and sci-fi-inspired cocktail experience is about all things magical. Visitors have the chance to don a cape and make the impossible happen, brewing their own potions with an interactive magic wand. One for the Potter-heads.  

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Cellar Door
  • Nightlife
  • Covent Garden

This tiny basement bar – a former public convenience – squeezes a lot of gender-bending fun within its walls, including nightly cabaret, burlesque and drag acts. It’s camp, it’s quirky, and it’s not afraid to call one of its cocktails ‘Starbucks must die (although impeach Trump first)’. Or order a snort of snuff, which is sold at the bar in various flavours for £7.50 a pop.

  • Bars and pubs
  • Cocktail bars
  • Earl’s Court

This supposed firm of private investigators is the Robert De Niro of the speakeasy world – it’s so method, you’ll feel like you’re an extra in ‘LA Confidential’. Don’t be fooled – the ‘curious cases’ are all potable… and it’s down to you to solve them. Head along for evenings of suitably retro entertainment, from cabaret and burlesque to ‘Chicago’-style gin and jazz nights.

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  • Bars and pubs
  • Cocktail bars
  • Herne Hill
  • price 2 of 4

The clue, as they say, is in the name – this modern café and cocktail bar serves excellent hard drinks that have been doctored, either with health-boosting vitamins and superfoods. Pharmacological paraphernalia abounds, too. Sit up at the bar for banter with staff – and the best view of these night nurses preparing customers’ ‘prescriptions’.

Ladies & Gentlemen Camden
  • Bars and pubs
  • Cocktail bars
  • Camden Road
  • price 2 of 4

Everyone loves a dive bar because it means you can get a little sloppy – and nothing says sloppy like a, er, former public toilet. Ladies & Gentlemen Camden, the sibling to the original Kentish Town branch, offers a very unique drinking exprience. There are 12 drinks to choose from on a menu of classic cocktails – some of which have an added extra kick from cbd-infused spirits.

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Little Nan’s Fitzrovia Kitchen & Bar
  • Bars and pubs
  • Cocktail bars
  • Warren Street
  • price 2 of 4

Compared to its sisters, this Fitzrovia version (somehow) feels a little pared back. Housed in a tall-ceilinged townhouse filled with doily-topped dining tables and with a fixation on the Princess of Wales (as opposed to a more general penchant for the royals), there's even a surprise basement room filled with 1990s memorabilia, including a Mark Owen collage. Cocktails remain splendid, however, and the food is a treat, too. 

  • Bars and pubs
  • Spitalfields

This is one ‘cool’ (hint hint) speakeasy hidden behind the innocuous-looking Smeg fridge in the Spitalfields branch of all-day diner The Breakfast Club. Once inside, you’re transported to a trapper’s log cabin and plied with quality cocktails pepped up with artisan shrubs and bitters. If you're a rum lover, go for The House Above The Clouds’ which is made with Zacapa 23 rum, Wray & Nephew rum and white cacao.

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Mr Fogg's Society of Exploration
  • Bars and pubs
  • Cocktail bars
  • Strand
  • price 3 of 4

Drinking at a Mr Fogg’s bar is more than just drinking – it’s an experience. And one of the latest ventures, Mr Fogg’s Society of Exploration, is no different. Offering a whistlestop tour of the world, the menu is split into different destinations such as the North Pole and the Sahara desert, with drinks inspired by each. Try the Palette of Life, made with gin, Rinomato aperitif and pale ale and served in a (fake) elephant’s tusk.

Tabac
  • Bars and pubs
  • Cocktail bars
  • Kentish Town
  • price 2 of 4

If you’re after a romantic tipple, tiny French bar Tabac is right up your rue. The charming Kentish Town spot will make you feel you’ve been transported to mid-century Paris, with memorabilia, sliding ladders in front of bookshelves and lots and lots of candlelight. Lock eyes with a loved one (or a stranger, no judgment here) over a Lemon Garden, a smooth gin martini with bitters and a sprig of lemon thyme.

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Tonight Josephine
  • Bars and pubs
  • Cocktail bars
  • Waterloo
  • price 2 of 4

‘Why the fuck can’t I have fun all the time?’ asks a sign outside. ‘Well-behaved women don’t make history,’ screams a neon sign at the bottom of the stairs. ‘Wear the pants, boss lady,’ insists the wallpaper. In millennial pink? You bet. This tiny basement bar is plastered in cyber-sayings and meme-material. It’s silly, sassy and utterly shameless. It wants you to be too – and then to post about it on social media. Time to get sassy.

Vaulty Towers
  • Bars and pubs
  • Café bars
  • Waterloo

Part pub, part theatrical production, this Waterloo-based boozer is owned by the brains behind The Vaults – and you can tell. The place is littered with humungous props that whisper of onstage antics. There’s Espresso Martini on tap, draft Negronis (from a tap shaped like a miniature barrel) and boozy lychee or Pimm’s slushies. Anyone who can’t decide what cocktail to have will find themselves offered a spin on a ‘Wheel of Fortune’-esque pointer. 

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