London’s best secret bars
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.
Venue says The Vault serves up unpretentious, original and unforgettable cocktails in a welcoming basement bar hidden under the streets of Soho.
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.
Officially it is a members’ bar, and so discreet that the only outward evidence of its existence is a tiny sign next to a buzzer on Poland Street. But non-members can go – by booking the ground floor or basement bar only – up to 11pm. A list of rules states that the house doesn’t like noise, it doesn’t like rowdy, it doesn’t like poseurs or pickups. The restrictions are worth it for unfailing excellence.
Confession time: cocktails are a bit good at the Rev’s place in Fitzrovia. This bar is hidden in the former site of a rectory, although once you get down the stained glass stairwell, there’s not much more holy about the place. It’s a cosy bar with lengthy – not to mention comfy – sofas set in semi circles ideal for group outings. Say a little prayer for a clear head after.
Happiness Forgets may be known the world over for its impeccable cocktails and classy service, but you’ll need to be in the know to locate this hidden-away basement dive. Once you’re in, staff go out of their way to make sure you’re happy. Decor is minimal, table lighting is from candles, no standing is allowed. One of the best bars in east London – or in all of London, for that matter.
Kitsch, louche and very late-night, the Phoenix attracts a regular crowd of debauched luvvies and miscreants to its basement den. Decked out in publicity shots and gaudy art, this is a reliably upbeat and lively space. Membership is required to gain entry after 9pm, so it remains a bit of an inside secret (wink wink, don’t tell them we told you).
Venue says Netflix of private members clubs (£10/m). Pre-/post-theatre dining, performances and late-night bar! Non-members welcome with a reservation.
Once you find this hidden hangout, gawp at jaw-dropping design that creates a look of Eastern smoking den meets Western hipster hangout. Find Chinese vases and burning incense mixed with deep funky beats and retro armchairs. Much like neighbouring bar ECC, the entrance is concealed – just look out for a jade door on Gerrard Street.
Evans & Peel sure does make a big noise about being secretive, taking bookings for ‘cases’ on its website, introducing you to the venue by intercom interrogation. You’re then subjected to a meeting with a detective in their private office. How far you take the pantomime is up to you. The big reveal is worth it though, a supernaturally dark speakeasy revealed by a trap door.
Okay, okay, this is one of London’s worst-kept secrets. But go along with it for a bonafide ride. Cahoots is a vintage tube-themed bar and you’re met at the door by an awkward ‘train guard’ actor in Mockney character. He’ll escort you to the platform (you know, the bar) in time for cocktail hour – just so long as you’ve booked far enough in advance.
Snap up exclusive discounts in London
Time Out's handpicked deals — hurry, they won't be around for long...