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 16 of our favourite underground venues.
Taking over the basement that once housed Adventure Bar, Blame Gloria is a retro-inspired drinking den from the award-winning team behind Tonight Josephine, The Escapologist and Bar Elba. The Gloria in question is a former girl about town, she partied with Hendrix, spent her life in hotels, taught Bowie how to do his make up and can make a mean whiskey sour. Now that she no longer has the best legs in Soho, she has moved into the basement and is throwing the best parties.
Where: 20 Bedford Street, London WC2E 9HP
Pop-Up and Supper Club Venue
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
Hidden Wine Cellar
If you thought 116 Pall Mall was impressive above ground then you need to head below street level to check out the cellars. Once the wine cellars of Prince of Wales and the United Service Club, you enter the Wine Bar through a pair of stunning iron gates that served as the original cellar doors. With vaulted ceilings and exposed brickwork, the space is filled with character and is perfect for dinners, wine tastings (of course), film shoots and drinks receptions. And despite being a wine bar, they also have ales and a dedicated gin menu.
Where: 116 Pall Mall, Westminster, London, SW1Y 5ED, United Kingdom
Nearest station: London Charing Cross (0.3 miles)
An Actual Under-the-ground Bar
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, United Kingdom
Nearest station: Green Park (0.2 miles)
Back to the 1940s
Hidden beneath Kingly Court lies Cahoots, an underground bar, set in an ‘underground’ station keeping the camaraderie of the Blitz spirit alive. As you enter down the old escalator you’ll find yourself in a post-war 1940s tube station where locals swing dance around the old piano and drink dazzling cocktails.
Where: 13 Kingly Court, Carnaby, W1B 5PG
Adam Handling Goes Underground
Adam Handling has joined forces with Matt Whiley (aka Talented Mr Fox and owner of Scout) and Rich Woods (aka The Cocktail Guy) to launch Iron Stag, a subterranean cocktail bar, located beneath The Frog Hoxton. Whisky is the order of the day with an emphasis on Scotch but you’ll also find bourbon and ryes and whisky cocktails if you’re not quite up to drinking it straight. To soak it all up you’ll find haggis bon bons, cheese doughnuts and iconic battered Mars Bar with honeycomb ice-cream and salted peanuts.
Where: 45-47 Hoxton Square, N1 6PD
Cafe in the Crypt
The Café in the Crypt is, as the name suggests, a café in the crypt of St Martin in the Fields. One of Trafalgar Square’s best kept secrets (until we go and include it in this guide), the café has been serving up excellently priced for food for central London for the past 30 years. And it’s got atmosphere in bucket loads with the original brick-vaulted ceilings and historic tombstones lining the floor. It’s going to beat any Starbucks in the area, that’s for sure.
Where: St Martin-in-the-Fields, Trafalgar Square, WC2N 4JH
Behind the Bookshelf
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
Pimlico's Hidden Bar
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
Cosy Wine and Charcuterie Bar
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
Behind the Scenes of the London Underground
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.
Free Live Performances
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
The World’s First Underground Theatre
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
Award Winning Bar
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
Tapas Under the Church
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
Pudding and Cocktails
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
WC Turned Bar
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
Urban Subterranean Venue
For your next event take your guests to The Postal Museum, a unique, urban, subterranean venue. The blank canvas space has an industrial feel with vaulted arches and original exposed brick work. We also say unique because how often would you get a miniature train ride at an event? Exactly. Here though you can explore the secret 100 year old Mail Rail tunnels, which for more than 75 years was a vital artery in Britain’s communication network, keeping conversations flowing but all hidden from view.
Where: 15-20 Phoenix Place, London WC1X 0DA, United Kingdom
Nearest station: Farringdon (London) (0.5 miles)
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
Nearest station: Tower Hill (0.4 miles)