Welcome to the Bar With No Name. This intimate bar isn't your typical speakeasy, lacking exposed brickwork, candlelit tables and vintage furniture, it is actually just a simple bar that boasts extraordinary cocktails. Mastermind of the bar, Tony Conigliaro, has created a pioneering cocktail menu that speaks for itself. The options include the Prairie Oyster, a blend of tomato yolk, horseradish vodka, sherry, shallots and pepper sauce; the Flamenco, a sugar cube coated with paprika butter, sherry and topped with champagne; and the Rhubarb Gimlet, homemade rhubarb cordial stirred with gin and a grapefruit twist. For those feeling less adventurous, there's also a choice of wines, beers and soft drinks, plus a selection of bar snacks.
Speakeasy Bars in London
69 Colebrooke Row, Islington, London, N1 8AA
Tube: Angel Station
Chelsea Cloisters, Sloane Avenue, Chelsea, London, SW3 3DW
Tube: South Kensington Station
Taking its inspiration from the American speakeasy movement, Barts is a tiny, intimate and relaxed bar in South Kensington which promises a refreshingly fun experience - providing you can find the damned place. Located on the ground floor of a 30s residential building on Sloane Avenue, Barts isn't a bar you'd ever stumble upon. Once through the unremarkable foyer, you find yourself in a cupboard sized, windowless space. There you have to ring a buzzer and (once given a one-over by the doorman through a small flap in the door) you'll finally be granted entrance. On the other side there are about a dozen small tables in a compact room adorned with clutter and bric a brac: comics, clocks, framed portraits, number plates, old radios and squash rackets, pewter tankards, a "thirst aid" box and luggage stacked in overhead holders. There's even a dressing-up box - which might explain the staff's lederhosen-style uniforms. Beers come in 2/3 pint glasses while there's a decent cocktail and wine list plus a no-frills bar menu of feel-good snacks.
28 Rathbone Place, Fitzrovia, London, W1T 1JF
Prohibition-era themed basement bar in Fitzrovia, with a good line in retro comedy. The joke is that it's a bar dodging the law by masquerading as a tea-house, so there's flowery wallpaper, lace all over the place and excellent cupcakes from Laduree in the early evening. It's sufficiently well hidden to avoid the Oxford Street crowds, and a tight music policy ensures it attracts plenty of bright young things from Soho and the nearby London College of Fashion. Good cocktails (at very reasonable prices for the area), add to the buzz and in order to continue the tea-house theme, a selection on the menu even include the quirky ingredient tea syrup and can be supped from quaint china cups. The charming bar is perfectly vintage and an effortlessly cool hangout for anyone lucky enough to be in the know.
28 Bedfordbury Street, Covent Garden, Covent Garden, London, WC2N 4BJ
A speakeasy bar with a twist, B.Y.O.C is a cocktail bar that doesn't stock any alcohol. But, before snubbing it in disgust, you can relax in the knowledge that it certainly isn't trying to promote a new wave of mocktails. This unique concept actually allows Londoners to bring a bottle, or three, of their favourite tipple with them, pay a set entrance fee and then smugly enjoy a number of cocktails with the knowledge that the end of the evening will not see a bank-breaking bill placed on the table. Wheeling an antique drinks trolley from table to table, the skilled bartender will blend the beverage of choice with an encyclopaedic selection of fresh syrups and bitters, pressed fruit and vegetable juices, spices and herbs to create individual drinks with the guests' personal tastes in mind. Hidden behind the counter of Covent Garden's Juice Club, this secret drinking den is a serene world of candlelit tables, hanging glass ware, an original fireplace and vintage décor.
Zero Aldwych, Covent Garden, London, WC2E 7DN
The Victorians built their public buildings on a grand scale and they built to last, which is why this former public toilet makes a surprisingly chic and comfortable 60-seat bar. The steps down are in the middle of the street, just opposite the Lyceum Theatre. Things are pretty intimate here, but there's no sense that you're cramped, just the pleasure of being close to the stage, and on friendly terms with neighbouring tables. The cocktails are excellent, and they've found a novel way of getting round the smoking ban by selling snuff behind the bar. The decor is a seductive futuristic take on Weimar Germany, with purple neon a dominant theme. As a tribute to the venue's original purpose, they also have some decidedly... unusual toilets. A progamme of jazz, cabaret and burlesque enlivens the small stage on most evenings and the low-arched roof and chic decor create a speakeasy atmosphere that would be impossible to replicate in a more conventional space.
310c Earls Court Road, Earls Court, London, SW5 9BA
Taking the speakeasy trend to another level, the Evans & Peel Detective Agency is a bar moonlighting as fully functioning detective company. The basement bar can only be visited with an 'appointment' and upon arrival guests will be greeted by the detective. There's the possibility you may be asked to divulge some information about the case you are there for, but o the extent at which you take this role play is up to you. Once through the threshold, guests are greeted with a dimly lit bar that serves cocktails, infusions from the bygone era and American tapas style food.
13A Gerrard Street, Soho, London, W1D 5PS
A low-key speakeasy spread over two floors in the heart of Chinatown, this cocktail bar is a seriously stylish location in which to spend your evening. Having opened in late 2010, the London Experimental Cocktail Club showcases exceptionally well-crafted drink concoctions alongside cosy, intimate interiors and is as impressive on the eye as it is on the palate. Be sure to check out the powerful 'Havana', made with cigar-infused bourbon, and the 'Rag Time', an intoxicating blend of Rittenhouse 100 Rye, Peychaud's Bitters, Aperol and Absinthe - if you're in the mood for something that powerful! There's also a collection of rare vintage gins and vodkas dating back to the 1950s and beyond for those that are after something more basic - be warned though: they come at a cost of around £150. Due to the club's popularity, it's worth calling ahead to book a table, which comes with a £5 charge after 11pm.
12-16 Artillery Lane, Spitalfields, London, E1 7LS
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.
61 Poland Street, Soho, London, W1F 7NU
With no number on its door, no name emblazoned outside, a ring-before-you-arrive guest policy, an underground location and some rather interesting house rules, this bar oozes mystery. Designed in the manner of a prohibition-era speakeasy, the land of milk and honey is, more accurately, overflowing with gin swizzles and champagne cocktails. The rules - no name dropping, no shouting, gentlemen will not introduce themselves to ladies - are only sporadically enforced, but they add to the general sense of sophistication. Clearly the less than inspired food menu is not putting off the rail thin ladies who typify the female Milk & Honey regulars - after all, a liquid supper suits them just fine. Access to non-members is by reservation only until 11pm. For members and their guests the bar is open until 3am six nights a week.
129-131 City Road, Clerkenwell, London, EC1V 1JB
Tube: Old Street Station
For live jazz and adventurous signature cocktails in a subterranean speakeasy setting try The Nightjar Bar in Shoreditch. Taking its cue from the illicit anti-Prohibition bars of 20s and early 30s America, Nightjar has a typically understated entrance: a stone's throw from the Old Street roundabout you'll find a wooden door between a kebab house and a café. Beyond this door - bearing a picture of the Nightjar bird after which the bar is named - a staircase leads down to a dimly-lit underground drinking den. With its exposed brickwork, old furniture and faux wood-panelled ceilings, it's very Manhatten-lite - but it's all good fun, and a revelation for the area. Jazz, blues and rock are performed live on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays - when an additional cover charge will be added to your bill - while on Friday nights retro tunes are played by DJs. The cocktails (£8.50) are meticulously mixed (by dapperly dressed barmen) and excitingly edgy: one, called The BBC, is even served with absinthe smoke. Full table service means you shouldn't head here if you're after a quick beer, but for such a grotty area, this is a real find.
50/54 Blandford Street, Marylebone, London, W1U 7HX
Tube: Baker Street Station
Drinks come with a pre warning at this flamboyant cocktail bar. Purl is a speakeasy bar that prides itself in its extravagant cocktail menu, which sees drinks served with a side of fire, liquid nitrogen, smoke and loud noises. Aside from the smoke and mirrors, the drinks themselves are regularly changing and of high quality. Examples include the Puffing Devil, an intriguing blend of Woodford Reserve, brown sugar and bitters, served with porter ice-cream and malt foam; the Sevillanas, chorizo washed Beefeater, Cocchi di Torino, sherry and a skillet of marinated carrots; and the Milk & Cookies, cognac, Four Roses bourbon, milk, sugar, lemon and Paychaud's absinthe, served with shortbread and absinthe snow. As well as this sensory overload, the bar also serves wine, a range of craft beers and a small selection of food, while ears a treated to the sounds of swing, jazz and blues.
2 Varnishers Yard, Regents Quarter, King's Cross, London, N1 9AW
Tube: King's Cross Station
VOC is a 17th Century-inspired Punch House from Fluid Movement, the people behind speakeasy bars The Whistling Shop and Purl. Taking its name from Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie, the Dutch East India Company that was lucrative in the Asian spice trade, the idea for a bar that combines drinking with herbs and spices was developed. Uniting traditional 17th Century punch recipes with modern techniques, the bar treats guests to an original menu of cocktails alongside an extensive cigar selection and a bar menu that's designed with the drinks in mind. Church candles, exposed brickwork, antiques and casks containing barrel aged punches further the forgotten era theme.
63 Worship Street, Shoreditch, London, EC2A 2DU
Tube: Old Street Station
There are no whistles for sale at the Whistling Shop nor, we suspect, will you necessarily hear anyone actually whistling. What you will get, however, is a cocktail worthy of wetting your whistle at this vintage Victorian underground bar. This is the second bar by Fluid Movement, run by directors Thomas Aske, Bryan Pietersen, Tristan Stephenson and Matt Whiley. Following the success of their flagship bar, Purl, they bring the same level of attention and experimentation to the Worship Street Whistling Shop. And when it comes to cocktails they really don't mess around. "Many of our drinks have been painstakingly researched and prepared within our in-house laboratory" they claim. And they really have been - on the premises, in the lab in the dining room with some high pressure hydrosol thrown in (that explains the Exploded Vodka Martini). True enthusiasts will love the 'multi-sensory experience' of the 'Cocktail Emporium', a small room separate to the main bar where you can enjoy an evening of food and drink dedicated to 'The History of Rum'. As well as an astounding array of gins and gin-based concoctions there are barrels behind the bar filled with whisky, Old Tom, Genever, Gin & Pep, Jager Tee and Rye Whiskey most certainly worth a try. With bar tenders dressed as if they've woken up in the 1920s, the Whistling Shop is just the ticket if you fancy a fun evening that takes you back a century or so. Flapper dress optional.
25th November 2015
IN THIS ARTICLE
69 Colebrooke Row
Bourne & Hollingsworth
Evans & Peel Detective Agency
The Experimental Cocktail Club
The Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town
Milk & Honey
The Nightjar Bar
The Worship Street Whistling Shop
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