Quirky bars and pubs in London
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.
Welcome to Bobby Fitzpatrick: a ’70s-themed cocktail bar in West Hampstead that takes nostalgia to new levels. Think natty wallpaper, a stucco ceiling, a vintage playlist and way too much wood. Imagine a shag pad fit for Austin Powers. There’s something weirdly comforting about escaping our decade for the evening and knocking back retro cocktails. Very groovy drinking.
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.
This speakeasy takes Prohibition seriously – so seriously that, in keeping with the spirit of the time, you’re responsible for bringing your own, er, spirits. Staff will then wheel their antique drinks trolley to your table and mix you a drink based on your preferences. Just make sure you bring a worthy enough bottle.
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.
Callooh Callay is the Narnia of the cocktail world – quite literally. The main parlour hides a bar-within-a-bar that’s called Wonderland, is accessed through the back of a wardrobe and serves suitably imaginative and theatrical cocktails. A teeny space up above also hosts different bartenders in monthly residencies.
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’. Or order a snort of snuff, which is sold at the bar in various flavours for £7.50 a pop.
Ever imagined yourself in ‘Coyote Ugly’? Imagine no more. This inspired bar is bringing back counter-top dancing, big time. It’s on the site of Peter Stringfellow’s old club in Soho. Go figure. And it’s decked out like an American saloon bar. Expect live country tunes and some serious moves from “Harry’s Honeys”’ (their term, not ours).
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.
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, or with witty additions such as Lucozade syrup. Pharmacological paraphernalia abounds, too. Sit up at the bar for banter with the barmen – and the best view of these night nurses preparing customers’ ‘prescriptions’.
Remember when a sesh at the arcades was the best thing you could do with your Friday night? At this, London’s only arcade bar, it still can be. Lose yourself to the retro delights of ‘Pac-Man’, ‘Space Invaders’, ‘Street Fighter’, et al. There’s nothing retro about the drinks list, which features loads of local craft beers. Committed gaming geeks should opt for the bottomless filter coffee.
Venue says Arcade in London!
Although public lav conversions are becoming as common as, well, muck, in London these days, there are still few enough of them to be classed as ‘quirky’. This bar in Kentish Town makes clever use of Highgate Road’s dinky underground facilities. The well-balanced rhubarb and custard cocktail – or the regularly changing menu of ‘boilermakers’ (a shot of whisky with a beer chaser) will keep you well lubricated.
A bar that’s actually dedicated to Pat Butcher. That’s just one of the many quirks you get in the bargain at Little Nan’s Bar in Deptford. The non-stop-fun spot also does leopard print galore, teapots filled with sugary cocktails, royal family memorabolia, pop anthems (and the odd sing-a-long) and sparklers in your cheesy chips. Bow down to Queen Pat.
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. The award-winning Mezcallywag (£10), aka the house bloody Mary, includes peppercorn-infused tequila, charred peppers and thyme syrup.
Sure, every bar these days has a gin list to envy. But Mr Fogg’s Gin Parlour has an encyclopedia gintonica as its menu, boasting 300 ways to drink your gin. The setting is a weird Victorian parlour kitted out with chaise longues and frilly furniture, and staff keep up the act that this is a step back in time. If you like your gin and tonic with pomp and circumstance, head here stat.
Hackney Road’s The Natural Philosopher takes residence in the converted storeroom of a Mac repair shop. After making your way down a set of stairs, the bar is found lowered into a well in the ground, which means ordering while peering down onto any potential bald spots. A small room behind and below the bar is filled with framed pictures of ladies with their knockers out. Their cocktails are also knock-outs.
‘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.
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.
Tony Congliaro’s Zetter bar has a design with quite the back story – quirky doesn’t do it justice. According to the bonkers write-up, the bar is the fictional abode of an equally fictional great aunt Wilhelmina, filled with trinkets from her extensive travels. Somehow, it works. The cocktail list features old-fashioned concoctions using walnut bitters, bee pollen and paprika tincture (not all in one glass).
Venue says Afternoon tea has landed in Clerkenwell! Try Aunt Wilhelmina’s dainty 'Traditional Tea' or Uncle Seymour’s heartier ‘Gentleman’s Tea’.