Where to find London’s best speakeasy bars
Discover London’s best hidden and not-so-secret prohibition-inspired cocktail bars.
London is world-renowned for its nightlife… and with good reason. While admittedly the nightclub scene isn’t what it was in the ’90s and 00s, the quality of its bars has certainly increased tenfold. Back in 2013, Metro Girl published a guide to London’s speakeasy bars to coincide with the release of The Great Gatsby movie. Over the years, this post has continued to get a lot of readers, but it’s time for an update. A lot can change in five years with cocktails bars opening and closing all the time. While many of these hidden drinking dens are 1920s themed and underground, some are on ground level, but are included on the list for their vintage vibe. Of course, in the capital, nothing stays secret for long so reservations are recommended for most of London’s hidden bars.
- 69 Colebrooke Row
Islington cocktail bar with a 1950s Italian café vibe crossed with Film Noir. Billed as ‘The Bar With No Name’, it’s a tight squeeze with only 30 seats. Includes experimental cocktails, food, cocktail masterclasses and weekly live music. Reservations highly recommended.
– 69 Colebrooke Row, Islington, N1 8AA. Nearest station: Angel. For more information, visit the 69 Colebrooke Row website.
In the true spirit of a speakeasy, this secret bar is hard to find. Barts is hidden away in a 1930s Chelsea apartment block behind an unassuming door requiring a password to enter. The venue is styled as a 1920s gangsters’ hideout with the cocktail menu inspired by Uncle Barts’ mob. Read Metro Girl’s review of Barts.
– Barts, Chelsea Cloisters, 87 Sloane Avenue, Chelsea, SW3 3DW. Nearest stations: Sloane Square or South Kensington. For more information, visit the Barts website.
- Beaufort Bar
Although not a speakeasy or a basement bar, the exquisite Beaufort Bar deserves to be on the list for its stunning Art Deco interior alone. While many visitors head to The Savoy’s American Bar, they often miss out on its sister bar. Expect stunning black and gold decor, fabulous cocktails and exceptional service. Read Metro Girl’s review of the Beaufort Bar.
– The Beaufort Bar, The Savoy, Savoy Court, The Strand, WC2R OEU. Nearest stations: Charing Cross, Embankment or Temple. For more information, visit The Savoy’s website.
Located hidden down a side street in Kingly Court, Cahoots is a step back in time to post-war London. During the Blitz, many of the capital’s tube stations were used as bomb shelters. Cahoots is essentially a post-war tube station, with plenty of vintage TfL memorabilia and furniture, 1940s-themed cocktails, and live swing and lindyhop. As well as cocktails, they also have late night music nights and boozy picnics. To get in, you are advised to make a reservation or try and talk your way in by getting into character and saying the right thing. Read Metro Girl’s review of Cahoots.
– Cahoots, 13 Kingly Court, Soho, W1B 5PW. Nearest stations: Piccadilly Circus or Oxford Circus. For more information, visit the Cahoots website. Read the rest of this entry
Flappers, cocktails and roulette at the Prohibition Party 10th birthday
The rise in Speakeasy and hidden bars in the capital shows just how much of an appetite we Londoners have for secret revelry. So why not take things once step further and immerse yourself in the 1920s spirit at The Prohibition Party. The long-running event is celebrating its 10th birthday with its most fabulous party yet. Expect flappers, cads and cocktails galore in a night of dancing, drinking and gambling.
Guests are invited to sneak into secret and intimate rooms with a password to keep the feds away. There will be live bands, gramophone DJs, silent cinema, dance troupes and gambling tables. To keep up the pretense of Prohibition, the cocktail menus will be hidden in books while drinks are served in teacups. Aside from the main venue, there will be hidden bars and a secret party room for you to seek out.
Revellers will be encouraged to dress in their finest vintage wares, with lots of tassels, pearls, Mary Janes, tuxes and spats for an evening of 1920s opulence. Early arrivals (7pm-8pm) can have the chance to learn the Charleston at a dance class with the gang from Swing Patrol.
The event is organised by Bourne & Hollingsworth, known for their fabulous parties, bars and restaurant. Along with their landmark The Prohibition Party – they are also behind The Blitz Party, Dark Circus, Cocktails In The City, SS Atlantica and The Chap Olympiad.
- The Prohibition Party takes place on Saturday 30 September 2017 from 8pm-2am. Tickets from £30. The Vaults, Leake Street, Waterloo SE1 7NN. Nearest station: Waterloo or Lambeth North. For tickets, visit the Prohibition Party website.
Cocktails fit for a mobster as Barts speakeasy launches its Comic Book menu
As someone who doesn’t like to follow the crowd, I’m a huge fan of speakeasy bars. I love the idea of venturing into a secret bar or restaurant that only a few know about. Barts in Sloane Avenue has been on my to-do list for quite some time and this week, I finally paid a visit to attend the launch of the venue’s new Comic Book menu.
Barts is located in Chelsea Cloisters – a 1930s apartment block on Sloane Avenue. You’ll have to hunt a bit to find it – there’s no neon street sign guiding you to your destination. We eventually found the hidden door and rang the bell, prompting a tiny letterbox-sized window to open revealing a pair of eyes to check if you’re not the fuzz. Once we entered, we were greeted by an intimate, quirky space featuring cosy red and wood interiors. Vintage Bric-à-brac, such as taxidermy, lampshades and tennis racquets, adorned the walls.
The venue originally opened in 2009 and describes itself as ‘London’s worst kept secret’. However, the team behind Barts have decided to shake thing up and have launched a new Comic Book menu. The new drinks listings come in the form of, you guessed it, a comic book, which tells the story of how Chicago gangster Uncle Barts crossed the Pond and started his bootlegging business in Chelsea’s mean streets. Aside from the obvious of being a place to peruse the alcoholic concoctions on offer, the menu also gives you something to read (handy when your friend or date is running late!) and provides an entertaining back story to some of the innovative cocktails. The menu is separated into eight chapters (e.g. ‘The Real McCoys’ and ‘Most Wanted’), with each having a distinct theme and with boozy mixes complementing Uncle Bart’s adventures animated on the opposing pages.
After spending rather longer than we expected perusing the extensive menu, we settled on the Charleston Crumble (Grey Goose vodka, cranberry juice, rhubarb purée and vanilla syrup) and the Jazz Singer (Russian Standard Original vodka, passion fruit purée and vanilla syrup). On reflection, they had very similar ingredients, but tasted rather different. Mine was the Charleston, which tasted like a dessert and I absolutely loved it. When I tried a bit of my friend’s Jazz Singer, it was more fruitier. Next up, my companion wanted something a bit more dramatic – the intriguingly named Kidnap & Handsome. When the drink arrived at our table, it made quite the entrance. A short tumbler was oozing smoke under a bell jar, with the gangster theme continuing with dollar bills, a lipstick-smudged playing card and chocolate truffle. The drink itself was a mix of sweet and bitterness – Sauvelle vodka, oak-infused vanilla syrup and oak bitters. My choice, The Alchemist (Belvedere vodka, elderflower cordial, mint, gomme syrup and cloudy apple juice) was decidedly less theatrical in a simple coupe glass, but refreshing and subtly sweet.
Drinks aside, Barts also plays host to regular parties and live entertainment. During the night, we were entertained by the fabulous, feel-good vocals of the Haywood Sisters, who really fitted into the retro vibe. Barts regularly have live music on the bill so it’s worth checking out their website.
Overall, we had a great evening – the service, venue and drinks were all exceptional. I loved the intimate feel of the bar, while the staff were friendly and clearly knew their stuff when it came to mixology. Barts would be a great venue to impress a date or celebrate a birthday. I’m off to join Uncle Barts’ mob!
- Barts, Chelsea Cloisters, 87 Sloane Avenue, Chelsea, SW3 3DW. Nearest stations: Sloane Square or South Kensington. For more information, visit the Barts website.
For more of Metro Girl’s bar reviews, click here.
The one tube you CAN drink on! Head underground for post-war frolics at Cahoots
I’m always on a lookout for a bar with a difference and unlike the other themed drinking establishments in the capital, Soho‘s newest nightspot celebrates one of my favourite things – London itself. Playing up to the building’s history as a former World War II shelter, Cahoots is an underground basement bar which takes guests back in time to the 1940s. Located in Soho, Cahoots has been styled as an abandoned underground station in post-war London, where those in the know come to party.
I was lucky enough to be invited to the bar’s launch party recently as the premise really excited me. My blogging name is Metro Girl… the bar is underground themed.. surely it’s got to be a match made in heaven? The bar’s entrance is subtle from the street, but once entering and heading down the wooden escalator-style steps (which prompted flashbacks to riding the tube as a child in the ’80s) we were greeted by a doorman (who in character and in a rather spiffing accent, old chum), told us the station was ‘closed’. We played up to it and said ‘we had an appointment’ and were shown the way in. The interior of the bar is pretty amazing – along with a recreated tube carriage (where we subsequently ended up sitting in most of the night), there were vintage-style signs from both the London Underground and the post-war years. Sandbags, bunting, and waiters dressed in vintage clothing furthering the vibe. We parked ourselves in the carriage with our drinks resting on an old suitcase which doubled as a table. The theme continued through to the toilets, with 1940s street sound effects adding to the atmosphere.
The cocktail menu is extensive and unique, with influences from popular drinks from the 1940s, as well as unusual ingredients such as tea leaves, beetroot and Oxo cubes. Cocktails are served in a variety of vessels, such as tin cans, Thermos flasks and milk bottles, ranging from £7-£9. I tried quite a few cocktails, but my favourite was a ‘Vera Lynn’, a fruity gin concontion which came served in a lovely green china version of the wartime dame in her heyday. There’s also an impressive sharing cocktail for groups, the Tanqueray No.10 Station Clock, where you dish out your booze from a giant hollow clock.
As well as the interiors and cocktails, there is also great entertainment with swing bands and dancers performing on many evenings. We were encouraged to try a bit of dancing, but I politely declined over fears of making a fool of myself, but some fellow guests were game and did a good job. The music was a mix of jazz, swing and lindy-hop, so you really feel like you’ve stepped in a time machine. Although this may seem like an immersive experience, we enjoyed ourselves so much I could see Cahoots becoming a regular drinking den for me and my pals. For those looking for something a bit different for a night out, I can highly recommend Cahoots. As long as you’re looking for adventure and are open to embracing the strong theme, head underground. Just don’t tell everyone…
- Cahoots, 13 Kingly Court, Soho, W1B 5PW. Nearest tube [apart from Cahoots obviously… ;-)]: Oxford Circus. For more information, visit the Cahoots website.
For more of Metro Girl’s bar and restaurant reviews, click here.
To read about Metro Girl’s visit to the disused tube station Aldwych, click here.
Lucky Pig review: Swig a cocktail (or four!) at this decadent drinking den
I always loved the 1920s and 1930s as a stunning era for fashion, design and architecture. So with the release of the recent Great Gatsby movie, I was in the mood for an evening at a venues which fit the bill for a flapper’s night out. Arranging to meet a girl friend for some mid-week post-work drinks and a gossip in central London, we decided to meet at Oxford Circus and check out The Lucky Pig in Fitzrovia. While there are nearer tube stations, it’s really such a short walk to Clipstone Street – which is just off Great Portland Street. Located just under Bolshover House on the junction with Bolshover Street, you are greeted by a colourful mural with the name of the bar, inviting you downstairs to the basement below. While the cocktail bar is located in a basement, it is far from dinghy. Some skylights, coupled with twinkling chandeliers and retro lampshades, give the place just enough light. Although it hasn’t been there for years, the faded and peeling wallpaper, old posters and vintage furniture make you feel like you’ve walked into a hidden gem that’s always been there.
My friend and I arrived on a Tuesday evening, but found most of the tables were reserved or taken so pulled up a stool at the bar. Happy hour was on giving two-for-one cocktails so we spent quite some time trying to decide between the wide range of original cocktails. We started off being a bit decadent than usual – well it did fit the theme of the bar! – by ordering a Prosecco-based mixture. We started with the Isadora Belle – a concoction of Belvedere Raspberry Vodka, framboise, pineapple juice and Prosecco, served in a martini glass and was delicious. We also tried a more light, refreshing Grey Goose Le Fizz – Grey Goose Vodka, lime, elderflower and soda. Although on the night in question there was quiet background music enabling us to talk, the bar does host live music and DJs too. Overall, the staff were friendly and the drinks went down very easily. I loved the venue’s faded-style grandeur which gave it a lot more atmosphere and style than so many other bars in the area. I will definitely be back.
- Lucky Pig, 5 Clipstone Street, Fitzrovia, W1W 6BB. Nearest stations: Great Portland Street or Regent’s Street. Open Tues-Sat. For more information and detailed opening times and menus, visit The Lucky Pig website.
For a full list of all of Metro Girl’s bar and restaurant reviews, click here.
Go back to the roaring ’20s with these Great Gatsby-inspired days and nights out
For a updated 2018 guide to London’s best speakeasy bars, click here.
Tonight sees the gala première of Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby movie at the opening of this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Out of all the decades of the 20th century, the 1920s is the one which appears the most decadent, stylish and hedonistic. Personally for me, it’s my favourite decade of last century, I just love the fashion, the architecture and the cocktails. It’s safe to say, the impending release of the F Scott Fitzgerald adaptation has kicked off Gatsby fever, with many shops, bars and restaurants embracing the 1920s with themed menus, events and fashions. So if you’ve got a taste for the period and want to have your own Gatsby night (or day), here’s Metro Girl’s guide to both pop-up and permanent 1920s and Gatsby-themed venues and events around London.
1920s and prohibition themed bars and club nights
- Bourne & Hollingsworth Bar
Intimate basement cocktail bar in Fitzrovia looks like a grannies’ tea room, yet serve some strong cocktails which pack a punch. Bourne & Hollingsworth, 28 Rathbone Place, Fitzrovia, W1T 1JF. Nearest station: Goodge Street or Tottenham Court Road. For more information, visit the Bourne & Hollingsworth website.
- Cellar Door
A former Victorian men’s public toilet at Aldwych has been converted into a basement bar. Features a range of cocktails, bar snacks, snuff (!) and a range of entertainment, including cabaret and burlesque. Open from 6pm until 1am nightly. Cellar Door, Zero Aldwych, WC2E 7DN. Nearest station: Covent Garden or Temple. For more information, visit Cellar Door’s website. Read Metro Girl’s review following a recent visit.
- Evans & Peel Detective Agency
Basement speakeasy bar and restaurant in Earl’s Court. With cocktails being the main draw and 1920s experience, also features occasional live music. Booking in advance recommended. Evans & Peel Detective Agency, 310c Earls Court Rd, Earl’s Court, SW5 9BA. Nearest station: Earl’s Court. For more information, visit the Evans & Peel website.
- 69 Colebrooke Row
Twenties-style cocktail bar in the backstreets of Islington. Billed as ‘The Bar With No Name’, it’s a tight squeeze with only 30 seats. Includes experimental cocktails, an occasional pianist and the chance to take a cocktail masterclass. Reservations highly recommended. 69 Colebrooke Row, Islington, N1 8AA. Nearest station: Angel. For more information, visit the 69 Colebrooke Row website.
- Beaufort Bar @ The Savoy
You’ll be spoiled for choice from this extensive cocktail menu at the stunning black and gold, Art Deco bar in The Savoy Hotel. Excellent service, frequent live music with cocktails averaging £14.50 each. The Savoy, Savoy Court, The Strand, Westminster, WC2R OEU. Nearest station: Charing Cross, Embankment, Covent Garden or Temple. For more information, visit the Savoy’s website. Read Metro Girl’s review of the bar here.
- Happiness Forgets
Cocktail bar in a Hoxton Square basement. Reservations recommended. Happiness Forgets, 8-9 Hoxton Square, Shoreditch, N1 6NU. Nearest station: Shoreditch High Street (overland) or Old Street. For more information, visit the Happiness Forgets website.
- The Lucky Pig
A speakeasy-themed basement bar in a Fitzrovia backstreet. Featuring Art Deco décor, red velvet curtains and an extensive cocktail list. Open Tues-Sat. The Lucky Pig, 5 Clipstone Street, Fitzrovia, W1W 6BB. Nearest station: Great Portland Street or Goodge Street. For more information, visit the Lucky Pig website. Check out Metro Girl’s review of The Lucky Pig.
- St James Bar @ Sofitel London St James
Hotel bar inspired by Coco Chanel’s 1920s Paris apartment. Features vintage and signature cocktails, champagne and bar menu. Sofitel London St James, 6 Waterloo Place, St James, SW1Y 4AN. Nearest station: Charing Cross or Piccadilly Circus. For more information, visit the Sofitel St James website.
- Rise 46
A 1920s-inspired bar in Clapham, featuring live music and entertainment. Open daily from 5pm, closing times vary, but 2am on Friday and Saturday nights. Rise 46, 46 Battersea Rise, Clapham, SW11 1EE. Nearest station: Clapham Junction. For more information, check out the Rise 46 website.
- Various dates : Prohibition 1920s Parties
This company has been hosting 1920s-themed parties in the capital for several years in various secret locations. Dress up in the 1920s-style to drink cocktails from tea cups, dance to live bands and DJs, gamble and watch silent cinema. Tickets: £20. For more information, visit the Prohibition 1920s website.
- Various dates : The Candlelight Club
A pop-up vintage nightclub which appears in various secret locations. Customers are asked to dress in 1920s-themed costumes, but nothing too flammable as the venue is lit entirely by candles! Includes one-off cocktail menu, special themes, live jazz bands and vintage DJs in a secret London location. For more information and tickets, visit the Candlelight Club website. For Metro Girl’s review of a Candlelight Club night, click here.
- Every Saturday : Kit Kat Club @ Proud Cabaret City
The City branch of the Proud Cabaret chain is transformed into a 1920s speakeasy on Saturday nights, featuring 1920s menu and burlesque performers. £49 inc three course meal and show. Reservations highly recommended. No.1 Mark Lane, City of London, EC3R 7AH. Nearest station: Tower Hill or Monument. For more information and booking, visit Proud Cabaret’s website.
Specials events during the film’s release (Spring 2013)
- Now until 20 May 2013 : 1920s-themed pop-up bar at Harrods
The folks at Knightsbridge’s iconic department store have transformed the underground tasting room and wine shop into a 1920s-themed bar in honour of the film’s release. Includes cocktail-making demonstrations and special creations by Courvoisier, Hendrick’s and Johnnie Walker available for consumption. Open during store hours. Harrods also features themed cocktail recipes and inspiration for fashion on their online ‘Summer Of Now’ shop. 87-135 Brompton Road, Knightsbridge, SW1X 7XL. Nearest station: Knightsbridge. For more information, visit the Harrods website.
- 16 – 19 May 2013 : Whiteleys Goes Great Gatsby
To celebrate the opening of the Great Gatsby film, Whiteleys shopping centre is hosting four days of 1920s-themed events. Includes Charleston performances, swing dancing lessons, 1920s-inspired fashion shows, beauty boudoir, piano playing, photo booths and a speakeasy bar. Following the launch night on Thursday 16th, the event will be running from noon-5pm on Friday until Sunday. Whiteleys Shopping Centre, Queensway, W2 4YN. Nearest station: Bayswater and Queensway. For more information, visit the Whiteleys website.
- From 1 May 2013 onwards : Roaring ’20s Afternoon Tea @ Harvey Nichols
Season at The Fifth Floor restaurant of Harvey Nichols will be serving a unique Gatsby-inspired afternoon tea experience. Includes lobster rolls and peanut butter roll-up ‘Gatsby’ cigars as well as scones, macaroons, served with a glass of Champagne with gold leaf or prohibition cocktail. Available daily from 3-5pm. £30 for afternoon tea, or £40 including cocktail or Champagne. Harvey Nichols, 109-125 Knightsbridge, SW1X 7RJ. Nearest station: Knightsbridge. For more information, visit the Harvey Nichols website.
- 23 May 2013 : Gatsby night @ Libertine
The Fitzrovia club is hosting a one-off 1920s-themed night featuring cocktails, champagne, canapés, jazz beats and special performances. Dress code: 1920s glamour. Tickets: £30. From 8.30pm – 3am. Libertine, 4 Winsley Street, Fitztrovia, W1W 8HF. Nearest station: Oxford Circus. For more information, visit the Libertine’s website.
- Every Thursday in May : Great Gatsby Nights @ The Montagu
The Montagu restaurant at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, The Churchill is laying on a 1920s-inspired three course set-menu, including a coupe of champagne on arrival and live music from the hotel’s resident band Hot Dog Corn Dogs. Guests are encouraged to dress in themed fancy dress, with the best dressed winning free tickets to a screening of the film and the chance to win a three night stay at The Grand Hyatt New York. Price: From £35 per person for set menu and a glass of champagne. 30 Portman Square, Marylebone, W1H 7BH. Nearest station: Bond Street or Marble Arch. For more information, visit The Churchill’s website.
For a look at what London looked like in the ’20s, watch this amazing colour video shot in 1927.
If the coverage of the Cannes Film Festival inspires you to visit the town, read Metro Girl’s blog post on my trip to the French Riviera last summer.
photo credit: carbonated via photopin cc