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London scores high with 10 venues in the World’s 50 Best Bars 2018

Savoy The American Bar © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2018

A First Impressions cocktail at The American Bar

The winners of the World’s 50 Best Bars 2018 have been revealed. Unsurprisingly, London has taken the crown and features an impressive 10 establishments on the list. Five hundred drink experts from around the world debated the annual ranking of bars, with the 2018 list unveiled on 3 October.

This year, the best place in the world to get a cocktail is Dandelyan at the Mondrian hotel on London’s South Bank. The bar opened in 2014, but creator Ryan Chetiyawardana announced this week it’s set to close. Meanwhile last year’s winner is at a respectable No.2 this year; The American Bar at The Savoy, with its long history dating back over 100 years.

Looking at the London establishments, I’ve been to a few of them, but my ‘to drink at’ list just got a bit longer! Here’s details of the capital’s top drinking destinations and their placing, according to the World’s 50 Best Bars 2018.

Swanky bar on the ground floor of the Mondrian hotel on the banks of the River Thames. Dandelyan is the brainchild of award-winning bartender Chetiyawardana, the man behind White Lyan and Super Lyan. British designer Tom Dixon curated the interiors with baby pink seating and a green marble bar.

Mondrian London, 20 Upper Ground, South Bank, SE1 9PD. Nearest station: Waterloo, Southwark or Blackfriars.

The Savoy’s bar is London’s oldest surviving bar, having opened in 1904. Expect art deco interiors, top class customer service and a live pianist on many evenings. The current menu (including First Impressions cocktail pictured) has been inspired by the photography of Terry O’Neill. Over the decades, it has quenched the thirst of Winston Churchill, Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe, Ernest Hemingway, and many more.

The Savoy, Strand, Westminster, WC2R 0EZ. Nearest stations: Charing Cross, Temple or Embankment.

Plush Mayfair hotel bar with a 1920s vibe, featuring Cubist-inspired wood panelling, dark leather, candlelight and huge mirrors. Bar snacks and evening canapes also available.

Connaught Hotel, Carlos Place, Mayfair, W1K 2AL. Nearest station: Green Park or Bond Street.

Inspired by the bar at the Termini station in Rome, this cafe-cum-bar will particularly appeal to fans of coffee. Expect exposed brickwork, chequerboard tiles and wood interiors for a continental feel.

7 Old Compton Street, Soho, W1D 5JE. Nearest station: Leicester Square, Piccadilly Circus or Oxford Circus.

Oriole cocktails © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2018

International inspired cocktails @ Oriole

Hidden in the depths of Smithfield Market is a cosy, subterranean drinking den. Featuring explorer-style décor of teal and bamboo, there is also a decent food menu and live music in addition to the extensive cocktail menu, themed on different parts of the world.

East Poultry Avenue, Clerkenwell, EC1A 9LH. Nearest station: Farringdon.

A neighbourhood bar inspired by France. Cocktails inspired by French avant garde cultural icons sit alongside a selection of contemporary French dishes, including weekend brunch offerings.

423 Bethnal Green Road, Bethnal Green, E2 0AN. Nearest station: Bethnal Green.

This cosy Hackney bar has a simple premise and aims to be ecologically responsible. The menu is split into five sections: Tree, Overground, Plant-Bush, Underground and Sea, which feature pairing taster snacks.

224 Graham Street, Hackney, E8 1BP. Nearest station: Hackney Central.

This slimline Dalston bar changes its menu weekly. As well as cocktails, wine and beer, it also serves a range of cheese and wines.

510b Kingsland Road, Dalston, E8 4AB. Nearest station: Dalston Junction.

Hip speakeasy basement bar in the heart of Hoxton. Expect low lighting, exposed brick and a ‘no wallies’ policy. Although they keep seats for walk-ins, it’s very popular so getting a seat can be difficult.

8-9 Hoxton Square, Hoxton, N1 6NU. Nearest station: Old Street or Hoxton.

Swift bar covers two floors with each one having a different feel. Drinking aficionados should head to the basement bar for the best Swift experience, with the bar offering a strong focus on whisky and an extensive menu.

12 Old Compton Street, Soho, W1D 4TQ. Nearest station: Leicester Square, Piccadilly Circus or Oxford Circus.

For Metro Girl’s bar reviews, click here.

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Where to find London’s best speakeasy bars

Discover London’s best hidden and not-so-secret prohibition-inspired cocktail bars.

Disrepute © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2018

Head to one of London’s hidden basement 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 bars opening and closing all the time. While many of these hidden bars 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.

  • Barts

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 exception 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.

  • Cahoots

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 websiteRead the rest of this entry

Mail Rail review: Travel under London on the Royal Mail’s underground railway

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2018

The Mail Rail is a ride on the Royal Mail’s former underground railway

We all know about the Victorian origins of the London Underground, which has been transporting commuters since 1863. However, did you know it’s not the capital’s only underground railway in existence? For eight decades, the Post Office ran their own subterranean train system to transport letters and parcels under the city’s streets. Affectionately known as the ‘Mail Rail’, it closed for good in 2003. However, in September 2017, the railway was brought back to life and adapted for human passengers as part of a new experience at the Postal Museum.

Road traffic has been a problem in London for centuries, stemming back to the days of horses and carts. For owners of the Post Office, the impact on their deliveries arriving late was not good for business so something had to be done. In 1909, a committee was set up to devise a traffic-proof delivery system, and by 1911 had settled on the idea of driverless electric trains. Construction began in 1914 with a trial tunnel in Plumstead Marshes, south-east London, with the main 6 1/2 miles of tunnels completed by 1917. By this time, World War I was in full swing so lack of labour and materials meant the project was put on hold. However, the tunnels did find some use during WWI as the National Portrait Gallery and the Tate stored some of their artworks in them for safe-keeping. Following the end of the Great War, costs of materials had risen so much, it wasn’t until 1923 that work could finally resume. Finally, on 5 December 1927, parcels were transported underground between Mount Pleasant and Paddington for the first time.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2018

One of the former stations, where busy Royal Mail workers would be hauling carts of post to and from trains

The trains run in a single 9ft tunnel featuring a double 2ft gauge track. Approaching each station, the tunnel would split into two 7ft tunnels with a single track each. The railway’s deepest point was 70ft, although the stations tended to be slightly closer to street level. By 1930, the original rolling stock were knackered so they were replaced with new trains. These new ones featured a 27ft single car train with each container having a capacity for 15 bags of letters or six bags of parcels. These were used until they were replaced in 1980 by a new fleet. Over the decades, some of the stations came and went, including the Western Parcels Office and Western District Office, with the latter name being reused at a new station at Rathbone Place, which opened in 1965. In 1987, the train system was renamed ‘Mail Rail’ to mark its 60th anniversary. In 1993, the whole system was computerised so the trains could be controlled from a single point. By the end of the 1990s, only the stations at Paddington, Western Delivery Office, Mount Pleasant, and the East District Office were being used, carrying over 6 million bags of mail annually. However, as the system aged, Royal Mail decided it was becoming too costly to run the railway, claiming road transport was cheaper and its death warrant was signed. On 31 May 2003, the Mail Rail was closed for good.  Read the rest of this entry

Nine Lives review: Tropical vibes and exotic concoctions at London Bridge’s zero waste cocktail bar

© Nine Lives

Nine Lives is a tropical subterranean drinking den a short walk from London Bridge station

London Bridge and Borough is one of my favourite areas of London to socialise in. It’s got great transport links and is good for rendezvous to meet friends travelling all over the capital. Usually I end up in one of the traditional boozers around Borough Market, the dominant type of drinking venue in the area. I’ve always thought there wasn’t quite enough cocktail bars in the area, but that is gradually changing thanks to new hotspot Nine Lives.

A short walk (and a world away) from the commuter and tourist-centric pubs near the station is a new subterranean nightspot from the team behind Sweet&Chilli. The spacious Victorian basement on Holyrood Street has been turned into a cosy tropical space with low-lighting, cosy booths and wicker. As someone who is currently binge watching Mad Men on Netflix, I was drawn to the Sixties-influenced interiors. Although I visited with my best friend, my immediate thought upon entering the venue was how perfect it would be for a romantic date. Fortunately a booth was available – my seating of choice as they generally tend to be the most comfortable. We had a good view of the bar so could people watch and soak up the atmosphere.

© Nine Lives

A Kuti Bird cocktail (Vodka, tropical triple-sec, pineapple, Aperol)

Nine Lives is billed as a zero waste bar as they attempt to make the most of their ingredients. They use herbs and plants from their own garden, recycle water and put leftovers in the compost. Even the branded bamboo straws are reusable. The menu features four genres of cocktails – ‘Shorty’; ‘Long’; ‘Tarted Up’; and ‘Lowriders’, with prices around £6.50-£9.50 so affordable quality concotions. We started with some ‘Lowriders’ – the rather boozy Alright Blossom (Raspberry, Rose, Hibiscus and Prosecco) and Stingray (Port, Raspberry Liqueur, Citric acid, Mint). Alright Blossom was sweet and light thanks to its fragrant floral notes. The Stingray was rather different, with the Mint bringing a refreshing note to the heavier Port flavour. Next up, we went for something different and rather theatrical it turns out when the drinks were presented on our table. The Kuti Bird (Vodka, Tropical triple-sec, Pineapple and Aperol) is a very tropical mix and served in a Pacific Island-esque glass. My friend and I are big fans of Aperol and Vodka – although rarely drink them together – and found it an unusual strong mix of fruity and bitter, but it certainly went down well. However, I preferred the delicious Crossfire Hurricane (Rum, orange, lemon, pineapple, passion fruit, bitters), with the fruity flavours overpowering the rum.

During our evening, we had the right amount of attention from the friendly and knowledge bar staff who are passionate about their offerings and their ethos. As we were there on a weeknight, it was rather chilled, but Nine Lives really livens up at the weekend with DJs and live music. For me, the two main selling points were their zero waste policy and the good value menu. I’m getting so used to seeing quality cocktails in double figures these days, it was good to see prices more attractive to average Londoners. I’m definitely planning to head back for a weekend party session.

  • Nine Lives, 8 Holyrood Street, London Bridge, SE1 2EL. Nearest station: London Bridge. Open Tues-Wed 5pm-12am, Thu-Sat 5pm-late. Closed Sun and Mon. For more information, visit the Nine Lives website.

For more of Metro Girl’s bar reviews, click here.

Disclaimer: Metro Girl was a guest of Nine Lives for this review. However my views are, as always, honest and my own.

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Victorian Bath House review: Step back in time for exotic cocktails in one of London’s subterranean hideouts

Victorian Bath House © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2016

The Victorian Bath House is a new bar in a 19th century Turkish bathhouse

I’m always on the lookout for something a bit different when it comes to London nightlife. The latest new opening in the City definitely has that unique feeling. Situated in a churchyard just off bustling Bishopsgate is a 19th century Turkish bath house, now open as a new bar, restaurant and event space called Victorian Bath House.

Victorian Bath House © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2016

Bottled From The Lost City Of X (left) and Craven & Dunhill Ceramic Duo, served with a mini bottle of Peanut Butter Rum to add

The bath house was originally built as an underground palace of relaxation and hygiene, opening in February 1895. Designed by architect G Harold Elphick for Victorian entrepreneur James Forde Neville and his brother Henry, the bath house was narrow so it could fit between two 19th century office buildings – now long gone. With Turkish baths being all the rage at the time, the Bishopsgate ones were a huge hit with the public, who loved their marble floors, hot rooms and mosaics. The tiles were designed by Elphick and specially made at Craven Dunnill in Shropshire. The baths managed to survive the Blitz, but closed in 1954. Over the decades, the Grade II-listed building was used for various restaurants, a nightclub and storage space, before it was reopened as the Victorian Bath House in April 2016.

Today, the space is used primarily for special events, with the bar open ‘By Appointment Only’ from Thursdays to Saturdays. Last month, two girl friends and I booked a table on a Friday night to experience a night of decadence down below the streets of London. Walking into the courtyard, your eyes are immediately drawn to the Moorish pavilion entrance to the Bath House with its onion-shaped cupola and terracotta tiling. It certainly stands out among the modern, uninspiring office blocks surrounding it. After checking in our coats, we stepped down the winding, tiled staircase to the main bar – split into two rooms. A lot of the original tilework is still in situ, with the modern, Moorish-style furnishings complementing the interior. Low glass lamps and oil burners certainly made the bar very atmospheric.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2016

The interior of the bar still features the original tile work and mosaics

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2016

Rhubarb Flip (Egg Yolk, Rhubarb Vodka and Granulated Sugar)

The menu features a range of wine and cocktails inspired by Victoriana with a modern twist. Of course, gin being the 19th century tipple of choice, it features prominently on the menu, with different flavoured gins available so you can mix your own cocktail. In a throwback to the building’s original use, the ‘Wash, Rinse… Repeat’ is a mini bath tub served with mini cocktail bottles to make your own boozy bath water. However, I started with the ‘Craven & Dunhill Ceramic Duo’, two versions of Peanut Butter Rum to mix to your own taste. Despite being a fan of peanut butter and rum separately, I wasn’t sure how well they would work together, but it was sweet and had a nice kick. Clearly I was in the mood for something sweet, so next I ordered the ‘Rhubarb Flip’, a smooth combination of Egg Yolk, Rhubarb Vodka and Granulated Sugar, which was thick and delicious. Meanwhile, my friends tried the intriguingly named ‘Bottled From The Lost City Of Z’ – a glass bottle filled with Coconut Water, Sugar Cane Rum infused with Almond, Pink Peppercorn, Rose Water and Fresh Pineapple, which they said was nice and refreshing. Served in a bottle with a straw reminded us of drinking school milk.

The evening was thoroughly relaxing with the setting really bringing a different dimension to what would be a typical Friday night social practice. The service was excellent and we found the waiters very informative and friendly. The drink menu was certainly imaginative and unique, which would really put cocktail and gin aficionados in their element.

  • Victorian Bath House, Bishopsgate Courtyard, EC2M 3TJ. Nearest station: Liverpool Street. For more information, visit the Victorian Bath House website.

For more of Metro Girl’s bar and restaurant reviews, click here.

Why not try out a bar in converted Victorian men’s toilet, Cellar Door in Aldwych?

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By Appointment Only Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Going underground: Visiting the Clapham South deep-level shelter

Clapham South Deep-Level Shelter © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2015

Clapham South Deep-Level Shelter is rarely open to the public

Last month, I was fortunate enough to have a peek of one of London’s secret subterranean treasures. As part of their Hidden London series, the London Transport Museum were running tours to visit the Clapham South Deep-Level Shelter, one of the only purpose-built World War II shelters that is still accessible to the public, albeit rarely.

Clapham South Deep-Level Shelter © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2015

The sub-shelters at Clapham South were named alphabetically A-P after senior British naval officers

Following the outbreak of World War II and the subsequent Blitz, many Londoners were using tube stations as shelters from the Nazi bombing. However, many civilians were concerned the stations weren’t adequate protection, which was confirmed in October 1940 when a bomb hit the road above the north end of Balham underground station. Water from the burst sewers above and earth filled the southbound tunnel, killing 66 people who were sheltering there at the time. Three months later, a further 111 civilians were killed when a bomb hit Bank station.

The same month of the Balham disaster, the Government started making plans to build deep-level shelter accommodation for 100,000 people. Having lots of experience of building underground, it made sense for the Government to enlist London Transport to co-ordinate the project within the swiftest time possible. With Londoners frequently dying in bomb attacks by the Nazis, time was of the essence. It was decided it would be easiest and quickest to create shelters below existing tube stations, specifically the Northern and Central lines. Originally the plan was for 10 shelters to be built, however ones at St Paul’s and Oval were abandoned during construction due to concerns over being too close to the Cathedral and unsatisfactory ground quality respectively.

Construction – by hand – began on the tunnels in 1941, with final eight complete in 1942. Situated 30 metres (just under 100 foot) below ground level, the tunnels were built from either end using two vertical shafts. When they were complete, each shelter consisted of two parallel tunnels around 400 metres long divided into upper and lower floors. The tunnels at Clapham South were divided further into 16 sub-shelters with each named alphabetically after a senior British naval officer. The sub-shelters at Clapham South were named Anson, Beatty, Collingwood, Drake, Evans, Freemantle, Grenville, Hardy, Inglefield, Jelicoe, Kepple, Ley, Madden, Nelson, Oldam and Party. Each sub-shelter featured triple-tier bunk beds and some wider bunks for mothers with young children, bringing the total number of bunks to 7,952.

Clapham South Deep-Level Shelter © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2015

The existing triple-tied bunks (right) and wider bunks (left) for mothers and young children in one of the sub-shelters

By the time the shelters were ready for action so to speak, the Nazi bombing campaign on Britain had eased off. The Government ended up letting the American military use half of the Goodge Street shelter. By June 1944, Hitler’s armies had set their sights on destroying London again – albeit this time with V-1 flying bombs, followed by V-2 later that year. Finally, the shelters could be used for the purpose they were intended for.

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The one tube you CAN drink on! Head underground for post-war frolics at Cahoots

© Cahoots

Grab a seat and hold tight! A vintage tube carriage has been recreated in 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.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2015

Cheers! We enjoyed gin-infused cocktails, such as the Vera Lynn, served in a green female-shaped mug

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 flashback 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.
© Cahoots

Don’t tell everyone! The entrance to Cahoots feels like a real-life tube station


 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.

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Thames Tunnel tour: Discover the Victorians’ Eighth Wonder of the World

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2014

Looking south down the Thames Tunnel from Wapping station

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2014

Visit the Grand Entrance Hall at the Brunel Museum – where the outlines of the former spiral staircase can be seen

The Thames Tunnel, once one of Victorian London’s greatest attractions, hasn’t been open to the public for nearly 150 years. While thousands pass through it every day on a London Overground train, many wouldn’t be aware they are travelling through an impressive feat of engineering. This weekend (24-26 May 2014), the London Transport Museum hosted special tours for people to follow in the footsteps of Victorian Londoners by walking the tunnel as it was originally used for.

As you may have noticed, after Tower Bridge going east there is no bridge crossing the River Thames until you reach the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge at Dartford, Kent. In Victorian London, with the industrial revolution in full swing, the docks and factories east of the city were booming and it became apparent of a growing need for a river connection between docks on north and south of the river. Various ideas were considered over the years, but it wasn’t until 1823, Anglo-French engineer Marc Isambard Brunel (1769-1849) produced a plan for an underwater tunnel between Rotherhithe and Wapping using his and his son Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s (1806-1859) new tunnelling shield patent, which revolutionised tunnel building.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2014

The arches along the tunnel used to house stalls during its pedestrian heyday

With the tunnel originally planned for use by horse-drawn carriages, Marc found funding from the Duke Of Wellington, among others, and construction began in February 1825. Brunel’s team started building a shaft at Rotherhithe – which is still there today and forms part of the Brunel Museum – which is where pedestrians and (ideally) horse and carriages would enter the tunnel. In November 1825, the shaft was complete so the tunnelling could begin. Using the Brunels’ tunnelling shield, work progressed slowly, with only about 8-12 foot of tunnel being built a week. Conditions were horrible, with many workers falling ill from the sewage strewn water seeping into the tunnel. Marc’s son Isambard ended up taking over the project at just 20 years old when resident engineer William Armstrong fell ill in 1826. At one point, they started allowing visitors in to see the shield in action, charging a shilling each, to boost the spiralling budget.

In November 1827 – while the tunnel was still being built – the Brunels hosted a banquet in the tunnel for 50 guests with music provided by the Coldstream Guards. In May 1827 and January 1828, the tunnel flooded, with the later incident resulting in the loss of six men and Isambard himself narrowly escaping death. Following this, there was loss of confidence in the project and it was put on hold for seven years. However, by December 1834, Marc managed to raise enough money – including a loan from the Treasury – to resume the project. Despite more floods, fires and gas leaks, construction was finally completed in November 1841. It measured 35 feet wide, by 20 feet high and 1,300 feet long, at 75 feet below the Thames surface. It was swiftly fitted out with lighting, staircases and roadways. An engine house was built next to the shaft for machinery used to drain the tunnel, which can now be visited as the Brunel Museum. The tunnel had taken so long to build, there was no money left to construct two further shafts to transport the horse and carriages down to tunnel level. So with the original design brief unfulfilled, it was opened to pedestrians in March 1843, who entered via the Grand Entrance Halls in the shafts using spiral staircases.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2014

The Southbound tunnel from Wapping station

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2014

A rat’s or mouse’s eye view of Rotherhithe station from the tracks

After hearing so long about the delays and dramas of the tunnel construction, unsurprisingly Londoners and those from further afield were curious to see the engineering wonder. It was initially hugely popular with tourists, with 50,000 people visiting on opening day, with a total of 1 million visiting in the first three months – equivalent to half the population of London at the time. Billed as ‘the eighth wonder of the world’, visitors paid a penny to pass through the tunnel and soon found plenty of occupy them as stalls were erected in the arches between the adjoining east and west tunnels. Among the products on sale included snuff boxes, paper weights and gin flasks. In 1852, organisers hosted the Fancy Fair, the world’s first underwater fair, featuring entertainment such as tightrope artists, fire-eaters, sword swallowers and magicians. Despite the initial popularity, the novelty soon wore off and 10 years after opening, the tunnel was home to some very unsavoury characters, including thieves and prostitutes.

Investors were relieved when the East London Railway Company purchased the tunnel in 1865, with trains eventually running through it four years later after they had extended it further south. In 1884, a disused shaft was used to create Wapping station. Eventually the line came into ownership of London Underground for the East London Line and then in 2010, became a line used by London Overground.

  • The London Transport Museum very rarely conducts tours to the Thames Tunnel, but keep an eye out on their events page for further openings. The Brunel Museum is open all year round, with regular tours to visit the Grand Entrance Hall. Brunel Museum, Railway Ave, Rotherhithe, SE16 4LF. Nearest Overground: Rotherhithe. For more information, visit the Brunel Museum website.

Metro Girl Likes: When you’re in the area, check out the nearby 17th century Mayflower pub with a deck overlooking the River Thames.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2014

Walking through the Victorian train extension of the tunnel leading to Rotherhithe station


To read about Metro Girl’s visit to the disused Aldwych tube station, click here.

For more of Metro Girl’s London history posts, click here.

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Cellar Door review: Cocktails, cabaret and popcorn in converted Victorian conveniences!

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

Drink and be entertained in Cellar Door, a bar in a converted Victorian men’s public toilet

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

Angel Eyes cocktail (Nicaraguan White Rum, Blackberry Liqueur, Campari, freshly squeezed Lemon Juice and Soda

Cellar Door is perhaps one of the most unique drinking spots in the capital. Located at Zero Aldwych on the junction with Wellington Street, this intimate bar and club is actually in a former Victorian men’s public toilet! According to their website, it was previously one of  the most infamous men’s toilets in Theatreland, with Oscar Wilde, Sir John Gielgud and Joe Orton among its former users. However, don’t be fooled and think you may be drinking among porcelain urinals. This small space has been cleverly converted into an entertainment venue, with just the square windows from the street above the only hint at its former incarnation.

The entrance certainly gives a hint of the grandeur which lurks below with red VIP-style velvet rope outside the door. Once you’re downstairs, a doorman sweeps open the velvet curtain to reveal the space – a bustling well-lit bar to the left, a mix of sofa and bar stool seating and a little ‘stage’ area in the corner. The venue includes just two actual toilets – which, fortunately, could not be further from the ones which would have stood here over 100 years ago. The cubicle doors appear to be worryingly clear when you first step in, but cleverly ‘frosts’ over when you lock it… so make sure you do! Entrance is free and so is the entertainment, but a service charge is added to your drinks to cover both.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

Unique: The red velvet ropes and neon sign gives a hint of what’s to come

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

Order a cocktail, bottle of wine or even snuff at the bustling bar

A few female friends and I visited on a Saturday night and were lucky to get the last table and stools. As you would expect, there isn’t much space so it’s worth arriving early or reserving. The bar is open from around 6pm and includes entertainment from 9pm nightly and gets full pretty quickly. We managed to get in a round of cocktails during the Happy Hour (1/3 off), which finishes at 8pm. Their extensive menu features a range of original and classic cocktails, with many themed around the bar’s style icons Marilyn Monroe, Betty Page and Dita Von Teese. I started with an Angel Eyes (Nicaraguan white rum, Blackberry liqueur, Campari, lemon juice and soda), a sharp but refreshing long drink. I followed with an old classic – a Moscow Mule (Vodka with fresh line, sugar and ginger). As well as cocktails, wine, hot drinks, they also sell snuff, which fits in with the retro basement dive vibe. The Cellar Door ‘Angel’ waitress serves your drinks with complimentary popcorn, although there is a small bar menu, serving food like olives, nuts and pitta plates.

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Fancy some snuff on the side of your cocktail?

At 9pm every night, the entertainment kicks off. Includes cabaret, DJs, magic acts, film screenings, drag queens and open mic nights. On the night we were there, we were provided with a soundtrack and some laughs by a flamboyant drag DJ. Unfortunately, we missed the burlesque act which performed later on, so I will have a make a repeat visit to see more of the entertainment. Overall, I really liked Cellar Door. The venue was cosy and intimate, the bar staff were friendly and what we saw of the entertainment was good. The clientele was a friendly crowd ranging from 20s to 40s. The cocktails were really delicious and I was tempted by many of the original concoctions, so will have to make a return visit to try those out.

  • Cellar Door, Zero Aldwych, WC2E 7DN. Open from 6pm until 1am nightly (sometimes opens earlier for weekend events). Nearest stations: Covent Garden or Temple. For more information and listings, visit Cellar Door’s website.

To read more of Metro Girl’s bar and restaurant reviews, check out our contents page.

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Going Underground… Easter Holiday Camp @ Old Vic Tunnels

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Easter Holiday Camp @ Old Vic Tunnels

London has always been a subterranean place. Aside from the obvious tube network, there’s a host of amazing spaces underground – basements, World War II bunkers, toliets…

But so many of these underground places are off-limits to the public. In the opposite direction, rooftop bars are becoming more popular every year, but unfortunately given our unpredictable weather, these open-air venues never reach their full potential.

The olde stalls @ Old Vic Tunnels

However, when it comes to weather, the unique London venue that is the Old Vic Tunnels has nothing to worry about. Having been curious about this venue for quite some time, I was intrigued when I found out about the Easter Holiday Camp taking place over the Easter Weekend, which turned out to have disapointing weather.The large venue had been turned into a retro Easter Holiday Camp spread over several tunnels – think Hi-De-Hi meets school fete. What was so appealing was it had things on offer you hadn’t done since your schooldays, such as the coconut shy, a badminton court and bouncy castle. A bonus was there were no children… as much as I like children, their presence would have made the camp feel like a normal school fair. Having attended a few children’s parties over the years, I’ve always lusted after a good jumping session on the bouncy castle, but it’s socially unacceptable for adults to do this alongside little kids. Unsurprisingly at the Easter Camp, there was a bit of a queue for the bouncy castle, with a host of twentysomethings and thirtysomethings desperate to relive their childhood. Once on it with my friends, we and the other people on it found ourselves laughing our heads off – it really is quite hilarious being hurled into the air when your friend has landed on the next bump.

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Coconut Shy @ Easter Holiday Camp

Another element which made the fair an altogether adult experience was several bars serving a selection of alcohol and the ultimate British summer beverages, Pimms. Who needs sunshine when you’re chilling out on a deckchair with a jug of Pimms and a stick of candy floss (which was free BTW… a nice touch!)? As we chilled out on the chairs, we were entertained by the retro sounds of girl band, the Tootsie Rollers, who got the crowd going, despite looking rather chilly in their outfits.

Overall, the camp itself was entertaining and an unusual way to spend some of the Easter Weekend. I loved the venue of the Old Vic Tunnels and will definitely be keeping my eye out for future events in such a unique venue.

  • The Old Vic Tunnels are located on Leake Street, Waterloo, SE1 8SW. Nearest tube/overland Waterloo.

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