CARLY – ANN CLEMENTS, MARCH 2018
Brits love adopting American culture. Some are less welcome than others. But it’s not all Black Friday and supersized fast food. There are a few diamonds in the rough, too. And our favourite? Speakeasies.
Born from the 1920s alcohol ban, speakeasies were underground bars and clubs selling illicit drinks. The homemade booze was mixed in new and interesting ways to shroud the taste of the bathtub it had been brewed in. Now, these concept bars are offering up a fun atmosphere and skillfully crafted libations all over the city, but which are the best? Here are London’s top speakeasy bars.
1. Milk & Honey
Soho is full of unmarked doors and clandestine venues but one of the best well-known secrets is Milk and Honey. When it opened in 2002, it topped all of the best bar lists. Now, more than 15 years later, it’s still the place to take a date if you want to impress. The super classy, dimly lit bar is famed for its drinks but it’s the atmosphere that makes it special. It’s much more 1920s millionaire playroom than a rowdy underground party.
2. Call Me Mr Lucky
It’s been a while since hipster eatery The Breakfast Club has been a cool secret, so they had to do something to bring the excitement back. And they’ve done it with speakeasy bars. Call Me Mr Lucky is its hidden London Bridge bar tucked under the main restaurant on Southwark Street. To get in, you have to whisper “I want to get lucky” to the door man who will lead you down to a cavernous bar decorated in brightly coloured lanterns and fairy lights.
3. The Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town
Along with Call Me Mr Lucky, The Breakfast Club has opened The Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town – Shoreditch’s branch of the not-so-secret bar. Guests must ask to “see the mayor” before being led to the hidden bar through a fridge and into a wallpapered, disco-balled room serving fun cocktails and reasonably priced wine. The Breakfast Club has two other speakeasies – The King of Ladies Man in Battersea and Doctor Kluger’s Olde Towne Tavern in Canary Wharf.
Possibly the most popular on the list, Nightjar has been pulling in the crowds for more than half a decade now. The award-winning bar is a legit speakeasy. Serving up impressive cocktails – earning them 69k followers on Instagram – and offering a candlelit, whispering-in-the-corner vibe, Nightjar will make you feel like you’re starring in your own episode of Peaky Blinders. There’s even live jazz. You can’t get more authentic than that.
Before speakeasies were ten a dozen and the 1920s theme became rather cookie-cutter, there was Purl. The just-off-Bond Street bar is famed for its out-there mixology and broody atmosphere. The cosy, candlelit den is often cited as one of London’s top bars and offers an impressive menu filled with aromas, fogs, foams and other innovative ingredients and techniques to give you a magical experience.
As if a speakeasy wasn’t enough of a concept, BYOC has stepped it up. Unlike most bars, BYOC doesn’t charge per drink. Actually, they don’t serve any alcohol. Instead, patrons are asked to pay a £30 entry free and to provide their own booze. You see, BYOC stands for Bring Your Own Cocktails and in the 1920s casino-themed venue – complete with vintage roulette, poker and blackjack tables – the mixologists will make you bespoke cocktails using homemade juices and bitters with the spirits you provide.
7. Experimental Cocktail Club
Chinatown is full of dodgy doorways and need-to-know only venues. But knock on the right door and you’ll find Experimental Cocktail Club. Located over three floors, the not-so-easy-to-find drinking hole is for serious cocktail drinkers. Forget the fancy tricks and impressive trimmings, Experimental Cocktail Club focus on well-crafted, beautiful classic cocktails in an elegant setting.