London’s underground is not just home to the tube, oh no; get below street level and you’ll find a whole warren of hidden venues. Yes the sky rises might be imposing and impressive, but do they have the charm of a hidden vaulted cellar, the mystery of a bar with no sign and the history of a club which was once a WC? No. Here are 13 of our favourite underground venues.
What: Behind the Bookshelf
Why: You know how things aren’t always quite what they seem? That’s the deal with Milroy’s whisky shop in Soho. That bookshelf in the shop, it’s not a bookshelf. It’s a hidden door and if you go through it you will come across The Vault. A cosy, little, basement bar, is all exposed stone and wood panelling, the perfect place to hide away from Soho with a cocktail or two.
Where: 3 Greet Street, Soho, W1D 4NX
What: Pimlico's Hidden Bar
Why: Hidden below Pimlico’s boutique hotel, The Artist Residence, Clarendon Cocktail Cellar is known by those in the know but a hidden gem for those unaware. The bar serves top notch cocktails with an overriding theme – at the moment they’re focusing on the movies so you can sip a ‘Titanic’ made with rose, Plymouth gin, sea salt and iceberg, or try an ‘Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy’; brown butter-washed Monkey Shoulder Scotch, chardonnay reduction, oak angostura and orange bitters. We see what you’ve done there…
Where: 52 Cambridge Street, Pimlico, SW1V 4QQ
What: Cosy Wine and Charcuterie Bar
Why: The cleverest name we’ve heard in a long time, WC Clapham stands for Wine and Charcuterie as well as being located in a former ‘water closet’. Small tapas-style plates include spicy Venetian bruschetta, a hot crab and parmesan dip and baked St Marcelin fondue with bread soldiers whilst slates include a selection of cheeses and charcuterie to be picked at with a glass, carafe or bottle of old and new world wines. Sunday and Monday nights sees live music and whilst booths can be reserved, the rest of the space is walk-in only.
Where: Clapham Common South Side, Clapham, SW4 7AA
What: Pop-Up and Supper Club Venue
Why: Below the ground at Waterloo lies more than a network of trains. The Vaults is a space that has hosted everything from supper clubs to pop-up cinemas (it’s home to the Underground Film Club) and with an ever-changing line up of events it’s worth keeping an eye on the website. Expect Monday night life drawing, the Dinner at The Twits immersive supper club, Wahaca’s Day of the Dead celebrations and the return of the award-winning Alice’s Adventures Underground experience in early 2017.
Where: Leake Street, Waterloo, SE1 7NN
What: Behind the Scenes of the London Underground
Why: For an informative and insightful experience, book yourself in to a Hidden London tour. You’ll discover everything from a WW2 bunker 30 metres below the streets of Clapham South to some slightly spooky disused platforms. Different tours are available so read a bit about each before you book – you’ll find Churchill’s Blitz refuge at Down Street, the lost tunnels of Euston, London’s first skyscraper at 55 Broadway and the subterranean shelter at Clapham South.
What: Free Live Performances
Why: Burlesque and cabaret is order of the day at Aldwych’s Cellar Door, where city boys and girls go to let their hair down. Describing itself as New York dive bar meets 30s Berlin, the intimate space sees a programme of drag queens, cabaret, burlesque and open mic nights with Sunday evening turning into an atmospheric piano bar with the spontaneous and talented Pete Saunders on the keys.
Where: Zero Aldwych, WC2E 7DN
What: The World’s First Underground Theatre
Why: An underground venue with a difference, the Brunel Museum celebrates music, theatre and engineering as well as being the oldest tunnel in the oldest underground in the world and the world’s first underground theatre. Dug beneath the River Thames, the tunnel was the first in the world to exist below a river and was used by Brunel for underground fairs and banquets in the nineteenth century. The underground chamber now hosts regular theatre shows, concerts and opera making it a magical and unique venue for a night with a difference.
Where: Railway Avenue, Rotherhithe, SE16 4LF
What: Tapas Under the Church
Why: Next time you go to Brixton then forgo the market and village and instead head to St Matthew’s Church because underneath it you’ll find tapas restaurant, Gremio de Brixton. Walking down the stairs you’ll find yourself in a dimly lit, cavernous room with exposed brick arches. There are nods to Roman Catholicism and Spanish matadors throughout but it’s the tapas that we’re really there for. Well priced and generous portions, make sure you order the chorizo with cider, patatas bravas and chicken skewers with aubergine hummus. At the weekend then dance it all off when the DJs take to the decks – if you’re not too full.
Where: St. Matthew's Church, Effra Road, Brixton, SW2 1JF
What: Award Winning Bar
Why: For those not in the know then finding Happiness Forgets can be a game of ‘let’s circle Hoxton Square looking for a small staircase that leads down to this basement bar’. Well now owner Ali Burgess has recently teamed up with chef Chris Smith to open Petit Pois Bistro above it, much easier to find. Having opened in 2010 Happiness Forgets has since been listed as one of the top bars in the world serving up cocktails with no fuss but with all the flourish you’d expect. The bar is intimate thanks to the blood red walls and candles but homely too. Head here on a date.
Where: 8-9 Hoxton Square, Hackney, N1 6NU
What: WC Turned Bar
Why: If you were to have gone to the site of Bermondsey Arts Club in the past, then you’d have met a very different scene. Now an art deco inspired bar with monochrome tiles, brass panelling, a marble-clad bar and an artsy crowd, it started off life as a WC, not that you can now tell. Just think about that and its past customers whilst you sip one of their brilliant, innovative cocktails…
Where: 102A Tower Bridge Road, Bermondsey, SE1 4TP
What: Pudding and Cocktails
Why: Things you don’t tend to find in a cellar: cocktails and pudding. You do however in Soho’s Basement Sate. Which means when you’re out drinking and suddenly get a craving for peanut butter and Oreo cake (who doesn’t?), you’re craving can be satiated with a quick trip to Basement Sate where puddings come first and cocktails come second. Genius.
Where: 8 Broadwick Street, Soho, W1F 8HN
What: Immersive Theatre
Why: You’ll find the Ivory Vaults hidden in the vaulted cellars of the Grade II listed Ivory House at St Katherine Docks. Steeped in history, the impressive 200 year old structure can now be hired for private events and if you want, their immersive theatre company can put on a whole host of events, including Venetian masquerade balls and medieval style banquets. So if you want to see your boss dressed in medieval garb then you know where to book for your Christmas party.
Where: Ivory Vaults Ivory House St Katharine Docks London, E1W 1BP
What: An Actual Under-the-ground Bar
Why: Exposed brick work and WW2 era aesthetics, the Stafford has a secret underground wine cellar, which only a special few are privy to. The mid-19th Century saw the wine cellars as home to the famous Madame Prunier wine shipping company and to this day you can still see the last original wine casket and corking machine on display in the main chamber that is used for hosting dinners. Drink by candlelight in the intimate spaces, and forget that anyone else exists in this nostalgic setting.
Where: 16-18 St James's Place, Mayfair, London, SW1A 1NJ
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