So you’ve been with your mates to the best bars in the city. You’ve already taken your significant other to the most impressive date night spots in town. Now how to show off? What about a night out on the inside track? London is swimming in secretive bars shrouded in darkness, beind hidden entrances and with plenty of surprises in store. Don’t worry though; we’ll let you in on our favourite little secret bars for a big night out under the radar.
London’s best secret bars
Venue says: “The Vault serves up unpretentious, original and unforgettable cocktails in a welcoming basement bar hidden under the streets of Soho.”
Psst! Over here! The Vault of Soho is a bar hidden behind an unsuspecting bookcase at the rear of Soho whisky specialist Milroy’s. Once you find your way through and then down the stairs, find a dark, delectable little basement where cocktails are made from potent spirits – whisky included, naturally. Keep an eye out for the bar’s resident Jack Russell.
A bar-within-a-bar out the back of Herne Hill’s medical-themed First Aid Box, Blinder has got a run-down Prohibition vibe. The ‘Peaky Blinders’ theme sees a few retro lamps on a covered billiards table, some pistols dotted about (as you do) and subtle flashes of copper. Cocktails are made from dark spirits, to fit the dark and secluded setting.
By Appointment Only is housed in a stunningly opulent space beneath a tiny wedge of a building with Turkish embellishments that are incongruent with the slick City surroundings. The bijou exterior belies the scale of the bar: once below ground, the ceramic walls glisten gold, the tiled floor beams brightly and drapes hang exotically in this Victorian era Turkish bathhouse.
Hackney Road’s The Natural Philosopher takes residence in the converted storeroom of a Mac repair shop, and nothing much gives its presence away. An ageing rug on the floor, a grandfather clock and deep red walls give a retro feel that contrasts with the computer workshop upstairs. The bar is found lowered into a well in the ground, while a small room behind and below the bar makes for an intimate cubbyhole.
As a nod to its Prohibition-flavoured nickname (‘blind pig’ being US underworld slang for a good old-fashioned den of iniquity), look under the vintage ‘Optician’ sign for the blindfolded hog doorknocker. The decor is authentically retro but never schmaltzy with a mirrored ceiling, and copper-topped bar making you feel like a wide-lapelled Capone when out for cocktails.
Disrepute’s Kingly Court entrance is pretty discreet, and getting into this member’s club makes you feel like you’re letting your date in on some sort of secret. The cocktail list at this Soho ‘speakeasy’ is equally enigmatic. It comes with a separate coded sheet in case you actually want to know what’s in your beverage. Otherwise, take a gamble and pick a tipple from the lyrical, lusty tales used to describe each drink.
It may look like an old, run-down tailors, but this is a place for very serious drinking in the dark. After finding the DSC (not easy for first-timers), descend the steep stairs and watch your head so you don’t bump it on the incredibly low ceilings. This wood-heavy, dimly atmospheric London ‘speakeasy’ does tailor-made cocktails to a tee.
Experimental Cocktail Club isn’t the kind of place you’d expect to find in Chinatown. In fact, it’s not the kind of place you can expect to find very easily at all: don’t be surprised if you walk past the bar’s unassuming battered door several times before realising it leads to this buzzing three-floor joint filled with trendy groups and dating couples absorbed in lively chatter.
Forget a password or knocking three times. At La Cabina, you’ll be granted access through a phone booth. ‘From Sevilla to Shoreditch’ is the tagline, and the tiny underground space is half shabby-chic Barcelona bodega, half hip London dive bar. If the faff of a phone booth puts you off, know this: La Cabina is worth a visit for its (very) late licence.
This dimly-lit basement bar beneath the Breakfast Club in Spitalfields is reminiscent of a Twin Peaks cabin with moose heads, mirror balls and retro wallpaper. How do you find it? Through the café’s Smeg fridge, of course. Cocktails, consisting of classics and house specials, are well-crafted on the whole.
Find more secret spots for a drink
Traditionally, speakeasies were places for illegal boozing that came to prominence during the Prohibition era in 1920s America. But ever since, they have taken on a mythical status: teacups brimming with gin, suave jazz musicians and a glitzy, retro dress code. Here’s our pick of London’s speakeasy-inspired bars.