If you’ve read any of my previous posts, you will know by now that I may have a slightly unhealthy obsession with quirky cocktail bars… Luckily for me (not my liver or bank account), London is the perfect place to quench my thirst, as it’s jam-packed full of amazing venues. If you’re tired of two-for-one jugs of Woo-Woo from Wetherspoons, or sick of looking at your local’s threadbare carpet, check out my comprehensive list of tried and tested cocktail bars guaranteed to spice up your drinking life. What’s more – I’ll keep updating this one as and when I visit more bars I think you’d like (this gives me a great excuse to keep spending all my disposable income on cocktails… it’s research… right?!)
Nestled in the heart of Mayfair under an unassuming black sign, Purl is my absolute favourite and go-to bar. It has the most creative cocktail menu I have ever seen, which changes seasonally so you can never get bored of it! The ambience is discreet and cosy, with lots of comfy sofas and chairs tucked away dark corners, perfect for a first date or a catch-up with friends after work. If you have a larger group, there are several booths under low vaulted ceilings which keep the intimacy, while giving you a little more room to socialise. The decor is beautiful – think prohibition era high-society study – and they play contemporary music with a lean towards swing/jazz/blues, which fits in with the theme perfectly. If you want to get a table here, book, or arrive early.
Another speakeasy bar with incredible character, The Escapologist is located at Seven Dials, and well worth a visit. Styled as part ‘modern day Victorian men’s club’, ‘part Masonic lodge’, as soon as you step inside, you are whisked away to a raucous world of hedonism and intrigue. It has plenty of standing area, and the option to pre-book a more secluded booth if you are more in the mood for a quiet tete-a-tete. As part of the Adventure Bar group, The Escapologist is armed with a fantastic array of cocktails, ready to knock your socks off! My favourite is the Violet Femme. They also serve freshly made pizzas – perfect to line your stomach before you sample all of the cocktails! As it’s got quite a lot of room, this one quite often accepts walk-ins.
Hard-to-find Opium is a speakeasy bar behind the jade door above Gerrard Street in Chinatown. Once you walk up the stairs into the dark and secretive Apothecary area of the bar, you will be transported to 1920’s Shanghai – and you might not want to leave! Offering a creative cocktail menu based on the Chinese Zodiac served in beautifully designed mugs, Opium truly is a den of indulgence. Their website promises two further areas that I have yet to explore – Academy on the top floor with one half set as an old Chinese family lounge area, and the other half as The Carriage full of booths leading to the Bartender’s Table. Peony, the snug hidden within the main bar behind a red curtain – apparently it even has a different cocktail list! You can quite often get in without a booking, although you may have to queue up outside. However as it’s in such a busy area, if you have your heart set on this bar, just book ahead.
The ECC is another speakeasy bar located in Chinatown, with a great view over Gerrard Street. You’ll find it as a seemingly innocuous black door with a queue outside it on most weekends. It has a decadent and fun atmosphere – definitely a great place to start an evening in Soho. The cocktail list is long, and the service is good. Even with two floors of seating area, it can still get busy enough to leave only standing room! I’ve never booked ahead for this one, but the queue can get quite long.
A cocktail bar mixed with immersive theatre – this place ticks a lot of boxes for me. You must submit a case for the agency to work on while reserving your table, and upon arrival, you consult with the in-house detective about your case, which is very fun! You are then ushered into a nicely styled cocktail bar, keeping in theme with the 1920’s. The only thing I will say is that the cocktail list was quite short, and not particularly creative. Go here for the fun and novelty, not necessarily the cocktails! These guys have also got another bar they opened quite recently in Chiswick called The Pharmacy – I’m yet to check it out, so if you’ve been, let me know in the comments what it’s like!
Brightening up the Waterloo and Southwark areas, and probably the most instagrammable bar on this list, Tonight Josephine is a neon pink celebration of all things female. You are greeted upon arrival with a giant sign reading, “Well behaved women don’t make history” – perfect for posing next to with your best girl group! Its namesake is Josephine de Beauharnais, Napoleon’s wife – she reportedly grew bored of being his trophy wife and kept busy by throwing parties and taking a string of famous lovers (yaaas queen). As their website says, she lived life with the motto ‘c’est la fucking vie’ – and this bar certainly encourages you to do the same! As another member of the Adventure Bar group, you can find a similar menu to that of Bar Elba and The Escapologist – with a few twists to match the theme.
The rooftop answer to Tonight Josephine, Bar Elba is themed around Napoleon’s exile to the Mediteranean Island of Elba. According to their website, “he took 600 of his closest mates and his favourite horse, Marengo, with him. He stayed for 300 days. Party. Island”. Styled with a giant blue horse on the roof, and more instagrammable phrases painted around the bar, this is the perfect venue for some summer rooftop cocktails South of the river.
Okay, I’m going to ramp up the weird a little bit here, so this one’s not for the faint hearted. However, if you are brave enough to take a step into a world of taxidermy, shrunken heads and endless oddities, you will be richly rewarded! The Last Tuesday Society is a bar-cum-museum (albeit a museum like nothing you have ever seen before), and every last inch of the ceiling and walls is covered with intriguing curios from around the world. They have a list of delicious yet punchy cocktails guaranteed to knock your socks off, so proceed with caution! If you visit on a Tuesday, they also have a reptile petting zoo, with snakes, chameleons, and a whole variety of animals to make friends with. This place gets super busy, so book a table in advance.
Yet another speakeasy bar well and truly hidden in the streets near Spitalfields Market (this one took me a few laps of the block to find!). Originally a storeroom for the suit company above, this cosy little bar is beautifully styled to pay homage to its roots in the Pettycoat Lane area. It is the perfect venue for an intimate catch up with friends in city over some delicious cocktails! Side note – I absolutely loved their hummus and bread-sticks (and not just because I was already drunk)!
Have I missed out your favourite cocktail bar?! Have you been to any on my list? What did you think?
Let me know in the comments, I am always looking out for some new haunts!