Check out the varied and lively bars of Shoreditch – from live music at Big Chill Bar and the amazing view at Boundary Rooftop to the whimsical charm of Callooh Callay. This being Shoreditch, expect classic cocktails, craft beer and hipster stylings throughout. Do you agree with our choices? Use the comments box below or tweet your suggestions. And don't forget to visit our guides to Shoreditch pubs and clubs.
On an unremarkable backstreet in the Hackney/Islington borders is an old pub with a story. An all-too-familiar story in the world of the urban boozer: developers submit planning application to demolish and replace with residential units. Most of the time this tale has the same ending, and it’s not a happy one for drinkers. The Wenlock was a tap for the nearby brewery of the same name, and poured its first pint in 1836; it closed with its parent company in the 1960s, then reopened in 1994, whereupon it won awards for the quality of its real ale and plaudits for the toastiness of its real fire. But in 2010 the threats of redevelopment began, with many ups and downs, false dawns and setbacks. Wenlock regulars were more motivated than most, launching campaigns to defend it, but things looked bleak. However, in 2012 a sympathetic Hackney Council extended a conservation area to safeguard the pub, and the owners of the Red Lion & Sun in Highgate stepped in and signed a lease. Sleeves were rolled up for a refurbishment which involved a quality paintjob, some new furniture and even more beer fonts. The Wenlock is once again the quintessence of all that is good about pubs – it’s a taproom with minimal decor, minimal food (salt beef sandwiches, own-made scratchings) and brilliant beer. Plus it’s a free house, meaning it can buy from any brewery it chooses. To prove the landlord is anything but snobby, there’s Carlsberg too. The Wenlock Arms has risen while so many others like it have
The only problem we’ve encountered here is an excess of popularity: if you haven’t booked, don’t bank on getting a table whatever day of the week it is. Hoxton is not short of a bar or two, but this basement room packs in the punters with a lively vibe, incredible cocktails, and, in our experience, dazzlingly wonderful service. Staff go out of their way to make sure you’re happy. Some drinks have been on the list since the bar opened. They’re innovative but sensible, based on a tight grasp of cocktail fundamentals. 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.
The headlines you’ll read about this Hoxton cocktail bar will proclaim that it doesn’t use ice. That shows how extraordinary it actually is to dispense altogether with such a time-honoured way of chilling drinks, but it’s not even the most exciting thing about White Lyan. It was the first solo venue from single-minded cocktailian Ryan Chetiyawardana (see Dandelyan too), and not only has he chucked out the frozen water, he also employs no citrus, sugar, fruit or other perishables, and next to no branded products. You can’t order off menu, and there’s only one of each colour of wine and one lager. The former White Horse pub in the untrendy bit of Hoxton doesn’t give much away from the outside, but once inside it’s clear this is no standard operation. It’s all-black with a minimalist New York ’80s sort of look about it. Instead of a back bar stacked with spirits there are big fridges holding the pre-made products of hours of labour by Ryan and his team – most of the hard work here is done before opening. Spirits are especially made to order, or refined and ‘rebuilt’ using filtered water and distillations. All this, unsurprisingly, results in some pretty unusual drinks. The Moby Dick Sazerac is made with rye, Peychaud’s bitters and absinthe-soaked rice paper. The whale reference comes from the addition of ambergris – yes, the sperm whale secretion – which adds body. The Monkey Ball contains scotch, cassia, chocolate, and truffle and banana soda. Czech lager is the only beer, b
Nightjar opened in 2010 and has become such a huge success that it now operates an online-only booking system and charges your credit card if you don’t show up. It takes away much of the spontaneity that comes with stumbling across a place like this, but that’s the price of fame. And there is a good reason for it: Nightjar is a great bar. 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). This makes it a great place for experimenting, but you can also depend on expert handling of the classics. Early in the evening the sound system provides a discreet jazz and swing soundtrack; later the music goes live, with mostly jazz- and blues-orientated artists.
'Bull in a China Shop’ – a strange name for a bar, with its connotations of crashing-around clumsiness. And when you read their website, it does little to alleviate fears: ‘Our menu boasts eggs benedict, superfood salads, charcoal bun sandwiches, and Asian-spiced whisky glazed rotisserie chicken. Our bar serves an extensive selection of over 30 rare and premium whiskies, hailing from Japan and Scotland.’ Yet despite such a smash and grab of influences, Bull works. The spirits selection makes it a proper whisky destination – it has more Japanese whiskies than anywhere I’ve seen in London, from the cool Nikka From the Barrel to rare Karuizawa bottlings. There are some brilliant Scotches too, and a list of inventive whisky cocktails (a Wabi/Sabi at £12 was made with Hakushu single malt, vermouth, green tea syrup and black walnut bitters). The Bull’s menu, with its breakfast-to-late-night diversity, has a lot of good stuff on it. The rotisserie chicken is brined with ginger, marinated in yogurt and grilled with that whisky glaze – it’s great, although served in an annoying mess-style enamel bowl that makes it hard to cut. Most humans – civilians, at least – prefer to eat off plates. Remember that, restaurateurs. No bull: this Bull is a great place and a destination for whisky fans. All breakages, however, must be paid for.
Please note, the review below refers to a previous menu. - The Food and Drink Editors, Dec 2016 Up the spiral staircase from the bustling downstairs bar, the dining room at this 250-year-old corner premises is a good-looking, cosy space. A dozen linen-clothed tables – candlelit at night – are served by a small team of young, efficient staff. Choosing from a menu that included wild boar scotch egg, Chart Farm fallow deer and a host of seasonal goodies wasn’t easy, but the kitchen more than fulfilled its remit. Rich ham hock, foie gras and pork knuckle terrine benefited from tangy piccalilli, and sour goat’s cheese was a lovely foil for the sweetness of roasted red and yellow heritage beetroot. Mains of beer-battered fish and chips with mushy peas and tartare sauce, and Cornish brill with pea purée and black pudding were done to a T; the last ingredient slightly overpowered the purée, but it’s a minor quibble. Simple but effective afters might be chocolate fondant with vanilla ice-cream, or an artisan cheese sold by the slice – the Lancashire ‘strong bomb’ is sensational. There’s a choice of wine by the glass and carafe, as well a wide range of bottles (including five rosés), which goes for interesting tastes over establishment favourites and is aware of current trends: the wine of the month when we last visited was from the Lebanon. There are also local beers, such as Wandle Ale from Sambrook’s in Battersea, on tap, and East London Brewery's Nightwatchman. A top-notch opera
The premises vacated by Mason & Taylor are now home to the second branch of the Aberdeenshire brewery of the same name, after the original in Camden. You can buy Brewdog beers in Tesco and Asda now, and it has bars in almost every major British city, but it still somehow maintains independence and an air of rebelliousness. Brewdog Shoreditch looks bit like a foundry (bare lights, bits of iron, moulded aggregate). It's not as sterile as it sounds, and there are wooden booths for a bit of privacy from the crowds. As with Camden, it’s often rammed with hopheads male and female – it's all about the craft beers here. There isn't a single sop for Carling or Krony lovers in sight. Everything on offer is a celebration of the endless drinking possibilities that arise when malt, water, yeast and hops come into contact, from the dark and spicy Alice Porter to the sharp and fruity Raspberry Revolver. The most popular brew, Punk IPA, has enough hops packed into it to dispel all memories of any brackish brown beer you might have tried and hated. Average beer strength must be about 6.5 per cent, and none of it's cheap, so best stick to half-pints. Brewdog Camden sells good pizzas and burgers; here it’s 'Japanese street food'. In a Scottish brewery's craft beer bar in London. Why this is so isn't clear. But it's not bad – a ‘gyudon roll’ was stuffed with slow-cooked, salty sweet beef, and ‘katsu skewers’ were deep-fried morsels of lotus root and okra on sticks with dipping sauce. I'm not s
When a pub closes, as this one did way back in 1989, the worst thing that can happen to it is to be turned into a Tesco Metro. Next bad, demolition, followed by change of use to chicken shop or bookies. But sometimes, a pub comes back from the dead. Not in a creepy, zombie way, but a joyous, on-the-third-day style. And here is one of these born-again boozers – following wilderness years as a Chinese restaurant and a leather wholesaler, the Well and Bucket is once again brimming over with beer. A lot of care has been spent restoring the big room to resemble a pub once again. The Victorian tiling was once noted across London for its splendour; it now looks a bit battleworn, but is brilliantly atmospheric. Close your eyes and you can imagine the place packed with porter-drinking, pipe-smoking, H-dropping Cockneys of yesteryear. Phantom East Enders might be a bit unfamiliar with the huge array of craft beer on offer, which includes about 18 on tap: on our visit there was Evil Twin’s Hipster APA (vividly described by my companion as ‘dad-strong’), to the fruity, prickly, almost Hawaiian-tropical Omnipollo Fatamorgana. There’s even a little cocktail bar downstairs: in short, definitely one for the bucket list.
For five years now, one of London’s must-visit bars has been a place where the odds are really stacked against a visit. Experimental Cocktail Club is behind an anonymous doorway in Chinatown; if you don’t have a reservation, which is almost always required, there are people at the door whose job it is to decide whether you may enter or not. If that all sounds like an unnecessary trial to go through just for a drink, then (until it too becomes hugely popular) you can get some of why some cocktail aficionados are prepared to put up with such trials at the team’s new Shoreditch bar, in a basement off Curtain Road. The name literally means ‘happy brothel’, but used in France to mean a happy mess. It’s not a mess, though – louche, perhaps, with just enough light to detect the walls are a deep blue, and it’s rather bijou. Most of the seats and tables are that annoyingly awkward knee height, too low to lean into, so sit at the bar or on the banquette to avoid backache. Or drink a few cocktails so you don’t notice – they’re strong, simple and on the sensible side of surprising. We liked the Softly Softly, a subtle mix of vermouth, bitters, gin and chilli tincture, neat in a frosted coupe glass (£9.50). Something Italian (£9.50) had something American in it too (bourbon, with Cynar artichoke liqueur and amaro digestif) and was almost challengingly bitter. A crew of studiously colloquial staff keep things running smoothly; and yes, there’s a chap at the door whose job it probably is
Venue says: “Winner of the 'world's best high volume bar' at the 2016 Spirited Awards. Open seven days a week 6pm-1am. Cocktail classes also available.”
The menu is housed in an empty cassette case, the toilet is hidden behind a secret door in the wall and the cocktails have such cringe-o names as 'Ume? Yes You' and 'Fennel Countdown'. Sure, Callooh Callay sounds gimmicky, but the tipples at this long-established Shoreditch bar are the real deal. The staff are friendly and knowledgeable (no moody, 'I'm actually in a band’ hipsters serve here) and mix delectable elixirs like vodka and rhubarb with vanilla shrub and whisky with apricot jam and chocolate bitters (just ignore the names). The exposed brick walls, Milk Tray-coloured soft furnishings and abundance of tealights make Callooh Callay a very cosy spot to sit. Neither trashy nor pretentious, the vibe here is fun but still stylish, and, unlike in neighbouring bars, you won't be surrounded by swarms of obnoxious suits or stag-dos.
Make like Bugs Bunny and eat your carrots before descending the stairs to Worship Street Whistling Shop: it’s so dark you can barely see your feet. But the descent is worth the danger. You enter an equally dim room with the full complement of faux-speakeasy decorations. There are various seating options, some offering so much shadowy seclusion that you could conceive or even give birth to a child and no one would notice. The drinks here have always been right out there, both in conception and presentation. But even when they sound wacky, they have a tendency to taste great. Despite looking a little tired in places (a rumpled, stained drinks menu, for instance), this place is still whistling a happy tune.
Tucked in the basement of Nordic restaurant Rok Smokehouse, this cocktail bar is less ‘below the smoke’ and more ‘in the smoke’: there’s a faint scent of forest fire throughout. Not in a bad way: the smell only adds to the Scandinavian feel. It’s carried through in decorative minimalism from white walls to oak furniture. Beyond that, it’s A-Level science lab minus the Bunsen burners, with a metallic counter topped with tinctures. Sciencey vibes seem about right since cocktail experimentalist and Peg & Patriot owner Talented Mr Fox has devised the menu of Scandi-influenced drinks. The house bellini (£10) with fermented cucumber, dill-infused gin and prosecco has a subtle hint of the herb garden. And the Earth and Trees Martini (£7), with beetroot vodka, birch sap and vermouth leaves an alcoholic tingle as warming as a Sarah Lund jumper. On the downside, the waitress muddled our order (no negroni for me). But when drinks are this cleverly themed (and delicious) we’re happy to smoke the peace pipe. There’s nor-way you’ll find better Scandinavian cocktails in London.
Bar staff with see-through legs. It’s not a totally unreasonable request, especially when the most interesting beer at this City Road pub isn’t on the taps. Instead, it’s down in the fridges – which are impossible to get a good look at without intimating an ankle fetish. Thankfully, not only are the 100-odd beers available on a neat list, but staff actually know what they’re selling. I ordered a Zodiak IPA from Swedish brewer Omnipollo and it appeared without issue. No praise due there, you might think – but it does come in a bottle with no text on the front. Despite the well-curated menu, pints of Sierra Nevada and Camden Hells were the order of choice when I visited. It’s to be expected, really; this is a pub that sits at the border of Shoreditch and the City, after all. If you want to pore over a third-pint of Danish imperial stout you can, but the set-up caters just as well to those looking to smash a couple of quick pints and some meaty ballast (the cheese and bacon burger – well priced at £12 – is great) before jumping on a train back to the ’burbs. It’s a lovely place to sit awhile, though. Victoriana may not be as thrilling an aesthetic as it once was, but given the building was once the HQ of Singer sewing machines, it at least feels authentic. The volume of the music isn’t conducive to gentle conversation, but there’s a separate cocktail bar downstairs for anyone seeking a little more intimacy. Even so, the beer list is still the reason to pop in – there are bott
Ever been in a pub cellar? Probably not. And you aren’t missing much. There’s the sour tang of spilled beer, the glow of strip lights, lots of things to bump your head on and a crusty old mop in the corner. Mini-chain 5cc has a better use for cellars – turning them into atmospheric cocktail bars. Each 5cc specialises in a different spirit, but all combine a superior level of service with excellent cocktails and a stay-all-night atmosphere. This Old Street branch is hidden below the Singer Tavern, in a building that once housed the sewing machine company’s HQ. The Singer’s not bad (lots of craft beers), but the 5cc below it is the real treat – vaulted, lots of secret corners and some great gin-based cocktails (that’s the speciality here). Bartenders use such rarely seen distillations as Dictador Colombian aged gin. Non-gin-based drinks are inventive but restrained. So if this space is still the pub’s cellar, where have the beer kegs and the dried-up old mop gone? Who cares. It would be great if more pubs did this with their downstairs bits. The Singer has got this one sewn up nicely
Venue says: “Come down and enjoy your evenings with our newly launched seasonal cocktail menu!”
Despite its inconspicuous location at the bottom of a spiral staircase on a quiet street in Shoreditch, Ninetyeight is not a bar afraid of its own ostentatiousness. Inside, it’s as bizarre as it is colourful, and a range of quirks in the decor – from spray‐painted chairs to toy dinosaurs on the walls to a ‘bandage room’ (literally a room in which everything is covered in bandages, available for private hire) – places this joint above the darker, stuffier cocktail bars nearby. Cocktail‐wise, you’re looking at a small but impressive menu of original innovations (no bog‐standard mojitos or margaritas here); the Candylife, served with enough strawberry puree, yoghurt and Haribo to overwhelm its vodka base, will please anyone who favours sweetness above all, while the Smoking Head (whiskey with coffee liqueur and orange bitters) and the Chilli Treasure (chilli‐infused tequila, lime and agave syrup) should satisfy anyone after something a bit harder. In terms of sheer quality, you can’t go wrong with their Green Lady: gin complemented by cucumber, apple and cucumber liqueur and pepper – the latter of which didn’t quite give the kick it was probably supposed to, but the rest of which worked well for an easy‐drinking yet complex cocktail. Ninetyeight is practically empty in the late afternoon and early evening, but the crowds really ramp up from sundown until closing (at 1am). Despite that, table service is the norm and the servers are as friendly as they are knowledgeable about the
It was always going to be popular, this bar, based as it is at the thronging epicentre of Shoreditch’s nightlife circuit. On our visit, there were chain-smokers outside and security on the door. But fair play: this third branch of the ‘records’ gang (joining Venn Street Records in Clapham and Northcote Records in Battersea) is a fun enough hangout. Spread over two floors – a barely lit basement lounge and a brighter groundfloor – the look is fairly formulaic (exposed brick walls, industrial ceiling ducts, bare filament bulbs, red neon). But there’s a cursory nod to the music theme, with records stacked tall on shelves. Live music and DJs keep the place buzzing, with tunes blasting out in the cosier basement space, too. It’s all secured the venue its status as a spot for group gatherings – as a three, we were the smallest table there. Two-for-one offers on a sprawling cocktail list and deals on a small range of pizzas pushes Old Street Records fully into party territory. A smoked pineapple punch proved an uplifting cocktail choice, although other drinks we sampled were a little shaky. The pizzas were solid – the fiery diavolo ’nduja the winner – but with a 45-minute wait after ordering and with no other pizzas flying around, we had to question what was going on in the kitchen. This party pooper aside, Old Street Records seems to be in its groove.
This unsurprisingly popular spot is perched atop the Terence Conran-designed Boundary Project, which also contains a boutique hotel, a restaurant (Boundary), a café (Albion) and a deli. The alfresco rooftop retreat in the heart of Shoreditch offers impressive panoramic views of London, with the City skyline at its most dramatic after dark. There’s restaurant seating for 48, with diners choosing from grills and lighter snacks from the deli downstairs. However, you can also lounge about on wicker chairs and summer seats surrounded by shrubbery, heaters, the smoky scent of cigars and a wood-burning fire. The range of bottled beers includes Meantime Wheat and Meteor pilsner from France; pitchers of house-designed cocktails and jugs of sangria; and more than a dozen wines offered by the glass, half-bottle and bottle. Boundary Rooftop bar was remodelled in 2013, with a weatherproof pergola allowing the bar and dining area to stay open in all weathers.
A Courage cockerel stands guard above the bar of this madeover pub, formerly a bog-standard boozer but now a wannabe-boho hangout. Here congregate comparatively grown-up drinkers, slightly more sensible than the hedonists and cutting-edge creatives who fill other Hoxton spots; they gather in the main bar, beads of illuminated baubles strung around it like a fairground, alleviating the otherwise accurate impression that you’re standing in a bashed-up pub. The fireplace and the glitterball add to the confused decorative impression. There are more rooms on the upper two floors, but few venture up there. The beers are standards, as are the snacks (toasties, ciabattas, tortilla) and the mains (pizzas, fish ’n’ chips).
Its decor a cross between a bordello and a corner pub, Redchurch is a quirky curveball to throw into any Brick Lane bar crawl. Narrow and (yes!) red, it’s a DJ bar at heart, which grows lively as the clock nears midnight, but the bar also prides itself for ‘working for over a decade with mixologists who specialise in punches’. Quite so: there are other cocktails, including bloody marys (with Finlandia) and bloody marias (with tequila), but it’s the punches that catch the eye, serving four to 20 people at £9.50 a head. House cocktails include a house mojito with Bacardi, elderflower, ginger ale and a suspicion of gingerbread, and a Chinese cosmopolitan (£11) with lychees, citrus and Grey Goose Le Citron. You’ll find Sagres, Duvel and Cusqueña among the beers, a variety of Rekorderlig fruit ciders, and nondescript house wine from £4.50 a glass.
Note the capitals here – this is not a gay bar but an arty hangout provided by the City Arts & Music Project, hence the acronym. Shoreditch creative James Priestley is behind it, so it’s a funky, urban spot, quite bare and open-plan, currently lined with photos taken by students for end-of-year grades. It’s a DJ venue too, with decks set up by a long bar counter where taps of Amstel and Heineken complement a short cocktail menu that includes a gin-and-elderflower smash and a CAMP spring punch. The furniture feels somewhat institutional – empty, you’d expect an evening class to be starting pretty soon – but excitable early-evening chatter quickly lends a youthful, everything-to-live-for vibe.
First established in 1787, the Royal Standard had a modern refurb in 2016 and is now an inviting, family-friend corner pub. The big windows let light stream in to show off the fun graffiti-style artwork on the walls (and ceiling) and industrial-chic decor. Food includes options for meat-lovers, fish-lovers and veggie-lovers, with the likes of barbecued ribs, pan seared tuna and butternut squash and blue cheese strudel propping up the menu. There's also a meal deal for the little ’uns comprising a main and dessert for £7.90. Drinks include South African, French and Italian wines, as well as cocktails, and beers such as Estrella, Big Wave Golden Ale and Belgian Bavo on tap.
Venue says: “Happy hour Monday-Friday, 3-7pm: bottle of house wine £10, selected craft beers £3 a pint, two-for-one cocktails.”