Often it’s those hush-hush, hidden things that we desire the most. Something shrouded in secrecy tends to yield an intoxicating aroma of exclusivity when we are fortunate enough to be privy to it. This is why there has been a resurgence of speakeasies throughout the western world, despite the Prohibition Era being well and truly dead for nearly a century (or in the UK, for example, never having lived).
It is in these nooks and crannies of alcoholic worship that the world’s most adventurous and explorative folk gather, in search of the illustrious 1920s American experience. And the environment injects their conversations with a sense of importance and enchantment. The men are dressed in sharp suits, the women in glittering cocktail dresses. The camaraderie is palpable. The cocktails are delightful and accompanied by the mellifluous sounds of jazz. And your date thinks you’re bloody cool for letting them in on the secret.
If you like the sound of that, you definitely need to stay right to the end as we guide you through London’s hidden world of speakeasies. Be sure to add your favorites to your BUCKiTDREAM list. Good times await!
Burn the Candle At Both Ends At Nightjar Named after a nocturnal bird, Nightjar is everything that tempts you to stay up past your bedtime. Hidden away through an unremarkable doorway. Descend down the narrow, winding staircase. And as you arrive, you’re hit with a display wonderful of brass, dark wood and mirrors all touched with the gentle warmth of candlelight. The evening starts with soft jazz records, but as the night progresses, smartly-dressed musicians play a thunderous, lively set.
A bit of a warning: there can be quite the wait between ordering drinks and them arriving. Though, trust us, your patience is rewarded!
You’re In For One Sweet, Sweet Night at Milk & Honey Open since 2002, this London sister to Manhattan’s exceptional Milk & Honey quickly became a staple on the London cocktail scene with every connoisseur touting its praise.
Down Poland Street, the only indication of an establishment at the black iron door is an insignificant sign next to a buzzer. It is officially a member’s bar, but non-members are welcome as long as they stick to early in the week. This place spans three floors of pure, proper class and the drinks go down real easy. Definitely worth a look!
Can You Remember The Way Back to Happiness Forgets? You’ll look for a chalkboard discretely propped up against an unmarked stairwell. On reaching the bottom, you’ll enter a candlelit den of iniquity that – it seems – was born to relight old flames, and spark up new ones, over some killer cocktails.
And killer they are, with Alastair Burgess (former head bartender of award-winning Pegu in NYC) at the helm to perfectly execute some old classics with a couple of new twists.
Once again, the only issue is the popularity of the place, meaning you have to book to ensure getting a table – whatever day of the week. This basement room packs in the punters with a lively vibe, incredible cocktails, and, in our experience, dazzlingly wonderful service. The 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. The decor is minimal, table lighting is from candles, no standing is allowed.
Lab Coats On For the Experimental Cocktail Club This one is hidden in plain sight on a busy street in Chinatown. The battered entrance ensures that only those in the know don’t mistake it for some crack den. But this door, far from being representative of the rest of the joint, is merely a buffer for the lily-livered. Like the wardrobe the opens onto Narnia, this door leads to another world. Three floors flooded with the rushing sounds of swing, upbeat jazz, and big-band blues and every crevice filled with the coolest folk you’ve ever laid eyes one.
The drinks are across-the-board outstanding, so you’ll likely be inclined to walk (and then stumble) your way through the drinks menu. Bar staff are incredibly knowledgeable so any ignorance on your part will soon be washed away in a perfectly palatable alcoholic masterpiece.
Solve the Mystery Of the Perfect Martini at Evans And Peel Upon arrival, you’ll make your way down a spiral staircase and into a confined room masquerading as a 1930s-style detective agency with no exits other than the one you came through. In order to get a table, you’ll need to come equipped with a well-formed, fabricated crime you need help solving. You’ll speak with a detective who will not break character as he/she asks probing questions regarding your case. This part of the evening feels very much like you’re part of a play. It’s highly memorable and lots of fun. Once the detective has deemed your case worthy, you’ll be whisked away through a trapdoor to a slick bar with red-bricked walls, vintage furniture, low lighting, candelabras, paraphernalia, and a notably romantic atmosphere.
The drinks menu provides twists on classic drinks as well as brand new concoctions, many of which feature unusual distilled flavors. You’re gonna love this one.
Note: meet your friends or date at street level so that they aren’t left scrambling for a story when confronted by a detective and wondering if Google Maps screwed them over. Book in advance.
And there you have it, our list of the finest secret cocktail bars in London!
Now get suited and booted, and head out to fill your head with unforgettable experiences (actually, the memorability of these places depends on how much alcohol you drink – too much of that stuff has the tendency to erase an evening’s experiences from one’s mind). London life will never again be the same!
Be sure to share this – but only with your nearest and dearest – you don’t want the word getting out on your favorite speakeasy or it might turn into a Wetherspoons. Don’t forget to add your favorites to your BUCKiTDREAM planner. Bottoms up!