Hidden Bars & Restaurants in London
Away from the tourist hotspots and chain restaurants, London boasts an array of hidden venues. From restaurants disguised as sex shops to bars nestled within wardrobes, these secret locations provide those in the know with a quirky alternative to the standard night in the city.
An intimate restaurant concealed within a clothes shop.
Hidden behind a clothes shop on Brick Lane, Back In 5 Minutes is an intimate restaurant and private dining room from the Disappearing Dining Club. The restaurant, which can be found down the shop's stairs and behind a curtain, offers elegant European food, while drawing upon Head Chef Fredrik Bolin's Swedish roots. Diners can enjoy potted meats with sourdough, smoked chicken hearts with apple and walnut slaw, and braised lamb shoulder with snail and red wine risotto. Pudding options include salt liquorice and lemon curd Eton Mess, boozy fruit crumble served with Swedish custard, and a white chocolate and raspberry cheesecake. Every Wednesday there is a Dinner Club where thirty seats are spread around three tables with one menu for all diners, creating a friendly get-to-know your neighbours evening; Thursday through to Saturday provides a restaurant menu with three starters, mains and desserts to choose from.
Recreate the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe at this bar's free members' club.
Often regarded as one of Shoreditch's best cocktail bars, Callooh Callay is a popular venue with an ambitious, regularly changing cocktail menu. Examples include the Electric Ladyland, a blend of passion fruit vodka, fresh tarragon, raspberries and blackberries; Coca Kola Crocodile, reminiscent of Panda pops, this cocktail mixes rum with blue curacao, Kola tonic, chartreuse and bitters; and the Well Thymed, bourbon, lemon juice, rhubarb and thym liqueur are shaken with egg white. As well as the main bar and lounge, Callooh Callay also houses a hidden members' bar: The Jubjub. Free to join, it's well worth it just for the excitement of entering - hidden behind a Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe-esque doorway, the bar is a more relaxed affair and provides an attitude-free members' bar experience.
A bar that's off the beaten track and encourages creativity.
Located off Battersea's beaten track, within the ex-dairy warehouse Testbed1, the Doodle Bar is a venue ideal for the creative types. Found through a dark alley and across a car park, and with nothing but a small neon sign stating 'Bar' above the warehouse entrance, it takes word of mouth or just a lucky stumble for people to come across this gem of a venue. Originally a pop-up, the Doodle Bar concept was so popular that it succeeded in being granted permanent residency. The notion is for visitors to embrace their inner artist and doodle on the blank canvas that is the chalkboard walls and bar. The Doodle Bar also houses a ping pong table, serves organic food and hosts a weekly pop up bakery, life drawing classes, and comedy and music events.
Intimate restaurant that's tucked away within Clapham.
It's almost as if this restaurant above the Clapham North Pub doesn't want to be found, with a private entrance tucked away as it is on Landor Road, flagged by a discrete blink-and-you'd-miss-it sign. It's so private you even have to ring a bell to get in. All this gives the impression that Four O Nine wants to remain a well kept secret, only frequented by those in the know. The menu is an evolving selection of classic European food with a inventive flair. The calming purple hued interior, dimly lit and modern, is perfect for a romantic night out. It all adds up to a welcome refuge particularly when considering the usual chain options on Clapham High Street. After this, Four O Nine may no longer be the well kept secret it was but, when the place is this good, it's only fair to share.
Intimate 1960s style restaurant hidden beneath Wardour Street.
Bucking London's no-bookings trend, Old Tom & English is a reservations-only restaurant from co-owners of The Arts Theatre Club, Costas and Maria Constantinou. Hidden beneath Wardour Street, it has been designed by the critically acclaimed Lee Broom - responsible for the décor of The Nightjar - and brings together old Soho and new Soho, with the name referencing the 18th century British 'Old Tom' gin recipes. To gain entry guests must ring the doorbell of a heavy slatted wooden door and, if a reservation has been made, they will then be welcomed through a hidden hatch into an intimate dining space. Broom's concept is a contemporary take on a 1960s home, with low lighting, a post-modern fireplace, sleek grey wool sofas and a vibrant red carpet. Served from bespoke decanters and glassware, the vintage cocktails are not to be missed. The menu includes two takes on an Old Fashioned, a smoked version and a barrel aged gin option; a Coffee Cocktail, made using fresh ground coffee and Tia Maria; and a Champagne Float, topping Cornish ice cream with gin and Pol Roger N/V. The food menu, meanwhile, consists of a number of small plates that allows guests to create their own tasting menu. Options include confit smoked guinea fowl, crispy cider braised pig cheeks and deep fried popcorn cockles.
An industrial underground cocktail bar with an impressive drinks list.
Despite being located on the busy Shaftesbury Avenue, Freud Bar does a good job at keeping its location under wraps. Accessed via a New York-style black metal staircase, which looks like it leads to a staff-only basement, this underground cocktail bar is far from obvious. Once inside, those in the know are greeted with a small, industrial style cocktail bar that has concrete benches for seats. With a generous menu of high quality cocktails and a dozen or so bottled beers the bar pulls in the crowds and often sees a number of drinkers seated upon its indoor staircase and any other space available. With its discrete location this bar has a 'locals only' feels to it and is an ideal spot for a cheeky after work drink or pre-club cocktails.
Upmarket, candlelit drinking den with a 'no wallies' rule.
Embracing the new wave of drinking habits in London, Happiness Forgets is a quaint underground bar that provides drinkers with decent cocktails and a place to sit and enjoy them. Owner Alastair Burgess aimed to create somewhere different that made drinking an enjoyable experience, and so his 'high-end cocktails, low-rent basement' bar was born. With a 'great cocktails, no wallies' rule, this candlelit drinking den provides top quality classic drinks with a modern twist injected.
An upmarket Mexican hidden within a Soho sex shop.
The combined talents of London restaurateur Will Ricker, British entrepreneur Ed Spencer Churchill and New York nightclub designer Serge Becker give us La Bodega Negra, an upmarket Mexican restaurant hidden within a Soho sex shop. The eaterie is a two-in-one combination of a taqueria and cafe on Moor Street and a larger 100-seat restaurant with a bar on Old Compton Street. With Will Ricker, whose other sites include Eight Over Eight, E&O and Great Eastern Dining Room, in charge of the operation and overseeing the food - ceviches, tacos and tostados, supplemented by rotisserie from the wood burning grill - the standard should be high. And Becker's interiors - see La Esquina, Miss Lily's, Joe's Pub, Bowery Bar, the Box and the Mercer Hotel in New York - will undoubtedly be hip enough to sip your cocktails in.
A late night cocktail bar with a secret.
September 2012 saw Kilburn welcome a new resident, one that loves to stay up late and make no secret of its two main pastimes. Love & Liquor is a late night cocktail bar that is fashioned on the cocktail lounges of Brooklyn. It offers classic cocktails with a twist - the Smoked Old Fashioned, the Velvet Elvis and the Pomegranate Cosmopolitan - and1920's favourites such as the White Lady, the Manhattan and the Hemingway Daiquiri. Embracing the chic warehouse décor that Londoners love, the bar features exposed brickwork, metal piping and neon signs - along with some more unique features that include a raised n' caged VIP area overlooking the bar. Also, not to advocate gossip, but, the bar has a secret...one that may only be discovered once revellers have had one too many tipples and are on a hunt for the cloakroom. Hidden through a wardrobe in the main bar, more than a few coats await. Once through the doors, guests will discover the Volstead Library - a prohibition-themed private room that's ideal for those wanting to party the night away without the worry of prying eyes.
Decadent drinking den hidden within Fitzrovia.
Elusive location? Check. Mismatched furniture? Check. Random antiques used for decoration? Check. And finally: an extensive cocktail list? Check. The Lucky Pig has all the elements needed to be considered a 'cool' London bar. Located in Fitzrovia, the bar can be found behind a black door at the bottom of an unmarked staircase. Once found, guests will be welcomed into a subterranean, decadent drinking paradise that boasts leather sofas made for lounging and curious artwork worthy of admiring. Split into four categories - refreshing, revitalising, sophisticated and caring is sharing - the cocktail menu leaves no corner unturned and provides something to please all palates. The Lucky Pig also plays host to weekly music nights with live bands and DJ sets.
The people behind Chelsea speakeasy Barts, the first speakeasy bar in London, present a new offering in 2013, Mr Fogg's . Modelled on the very home that Jules Verne's eccentric Mr Phileas Fogg would have come home to after travelling the world in 80 days, the bar is a world of artefacts, trinkets and objects from his travels. The walls are adorned with stuffed Indian tigers and crocodiles, while annotated maps and pictures, umbrella stands made from elephants feet, birdcages, bicycles and clocks, representing the importance of time to Mr Fogg, and the very balloon that he travelled in also features. A piano is there to encourage sing-alongs and an open fireplace is a welcome addition for any weary traveller. Being a private man, Mr Fogg's is located down a quiet alley in Mayfair, with only a small plaque and some Victorian lanterns to suggest its location. Once inside, guests will be served by staff dressed in bespoke, old-fashioned military uniforms, appropriately coloured dependant on their seniority. The drinks menu is one Mr Fogg would be proud of, with rare ingredients sourced from each continent and tipples representing 'Victorian Cocktailian Culture': Absinthe Aperitifs, Gin Fizzes, Stirrup Cups and Pouce Cafes. Bookings are recommended but don't be late, they're on a very tight schedule!
A world of dim sum and cocktails lurks behind an elusive jade door.
Hidden behind an unassuming jade door in Chinatown an intoxicating world of hedonism awaits. The Opium Cocktail & Dim Sum Parlour is a maze of nine different rooms spread across three floors, each of which contains something unique and intriguing. The offerings include the Dining Spaces, where dim sum with a modern twist can be enjoyed; an Apothecary Bar, brave drinkers can experiment with mysterious concoctions served from bottles only identifiable by their Chinese characters; and the Parlour, where you can sip rare Oriental teas by Postcard of Mayfair. An attic bar can also be found through a carriage saloon reminiscent of the Orient Express. Here guests will discover founder Dré Masso's academy table where they can watch Dré and his team conjure up a number of experimental delights - his signature cocktail, Opium Cocktail No.1, includes a heady mix of absinthe, two varieties of rum, ginseng and lime.
A popular restaurant with those in the know of its whereabouts.
No longer a well-kept secret, Brixton's best restaurant is still impressively well-concealed, with just a small buzzer advertising its existence on the second floor of an attractive townhouse. The atmosphere in the buzzy bar and tiny dining room is charming, mixing smart contemporary decor with a sense of clubbable informality. The food is contemporary European, full of clever, unusual combinations like sea bream with curried scallop, and interesting little stacks of stuff. Prices are the highest in the area, but still excellent value.
The Breakfast Club's dirtiest, boozy secret.
The Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town is The Breakfast Club's dirty little secret - a bar hidden within the Shoreditch branch of the café chain. Inside the restaurant an unassuming Smeg fridge can be found; but, unbeknownst to most diners, this fridge actually conceals a secret speakeasy bar. Diners in the know simply have to ask to see the Mayor and they will be discreetly invited to step through the fridge door. Once inside, guests will discover a moodily-lit cocktail bar with great music and a good selection of cocktails, plus a range of simple sandwiches and platters to feast on. Also, located within the breakfast club, it seems only fair that this joint also dishes up an early morning offering, hence the recent addition of 'Hair of the Cat: Brunch behind the Fridge'. The concept of which is simple - diners can enjoy their brunch with a cheeky guilt-free tipple on the side. In order to keep their dirty little secret, the bar only has one rule: NEVER exit through the fridge door.
A world of tequila, late night pancakes and pink flamingo burgers.
Not content with leading London's breakfast scene, The Breakfast Club are now also pioneers in cocktail bars. Along with the opening of their café in London Bridge in mid-2014, they launched the latest addition to their hidden bar collection, Call Me Mr Lucky. Housed behind a locked door and through the kitchen, the bar is only accessibly to guests willing to declare 'I'm here to get lucky'. And lucky they will get, for those in the know will be led into a world of tequila, late night pancakes and pink flamingo burgers - what more could you want? Well, if you're still not convinced, there's also a Wheel of Fortune that wins a round of shots for everyone in the bar when someone can spin the arrow to land in the right place.
The Breakfast Club, 5-9 Battersea Rise, London, SW11 1HG | Tube: Clapham South Station
This kitsch cocktail bar is accessed via a hidden wall in The Breakfast Club's Battersea branch.
Now that enough people have successfully found The Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town, accessed via a Smeg fridge in the Spitalfields branch, The Breakfast Club have opened another hidden bar, The King of Ladies Man. The delicious and gut-busting meals served at the American diner-style outlets have fast grown in popularity and more often than not you can expect to queue for your helping of pancakes and milkshakes. But, only those in the know can enjoy the secret bars. Housed within the Battersea branch, the entrance to The King of Ladies Man is concealed behind a secret sliding wall in the launderette and is certainly worth finding. The 1970s style bachelor pad is decked out with kitsch pink flamingos and bamboo, while Hawaiian-shirted bartenders serve cocktails such as Pina Coladas, Tequila Sunrises and Mai Tais. Food options include grilled cheese sandwiches, mac 'n' cheese and palm potato fries.
3rd August 2015
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