A few years ago, going for a drink in London meant stumbling into an old-man boozer or an outdated wine bar. But now the speakeasy; a different breed of bar based around the atmospheric drinking dens of Prohibition America, have swept the city by storm, bringing formidable cocktails and an unbeatable array of spirits to the table. Here are some of London’s best:
Those who have been to Indian restaurant Lokhandwala, will know that it is based on Victorian aristocrat Lady Charlotte, the spurned lover of Vijay Kapur, an insalubrious cad from Bombay. Then, it was Vijay’s turn to have somewhere dedicated to him as a speak easy bar above the restaurant opened. A secretive bar where he could run his empire and no doubt hide from Lady Charlotte. Just like Vijay, the bar is rich, moody and opulent with an impressively stocked bar, striking bronze chandeliers, oil paintings and a silver elephant; come the summer, you’ll be able to drink on the alfresco terrace.
The cocktails narrate the story of Lady Charlotte and Vijay, which rather reads like a 19th century Jilly Cooper: broken hearts, promiscuous unsuitable lovers and lots of fleeing to and fro. We’ve got our eye on the Spice Route made from red saffron infused Sailor Jerry rum, camomile infused Cointreau, liquore Strega, anise syrup, cinnamon syrup and goji berries bitter.
Hidden away under the old Harrild & Sons pub on Blackfriars Road, 5CC is centred around a glowing bar stocked with every spirit imaginable (there are over eighty kinds of whisky alone). Cocktails such as the Sherry Nutkins, made with house bitters and a salted peanut crusta, are seriously impressive.
Ziegfeld Follies: a series of Broadway and Vaudeville shows in early twentieth century New York. The follies were famous for their troupe of beautiful, slightly risque, chorus girls, known as Ziegfeld girls. Wearing elaborate costumes they “paraded up and down flights of stairs as anything from birds to battleships”. It’s this inspiration that , DND, hidden under the Vintry & Mercer hotel takes to bring the speakeasy style bar to life.
With pictures of iconic Ziegfeld girls on the walls, the century-old images look kindly on the retro glamour and sophistication that DND (Do Not Disturb) have brought to the space. Lit by sultry candles and decked in velvets and leathers with art deco detailing, DND promises dark corners, glamour and a seductive combination of discretion and luxury. Open to hotel guests and visitors alike the cocktail lover will be able to savour speciality barrel-aged and vintage cocktails served alongside a menu of small plates.
If you’re venturing away from The City, know that the brand new Vintry & Mercer also boasts a speakeasy style bar, serving authentic vintage cocktails tucked away in the basement.
It’s your 1930s Prohibition-themed casino bar, but with an intriguing twist – you bring a bottle of your own spirit, settle down to a table and watch your very own mixologist create bespoke cocktails based on your tipple of choice. Oh, and B.Y.O.C stands for bring your own cocktail… in case you thought they’d got it wrong!
Where: 9-11 Basement, Camden High Street, Camden, NW1 7JE
Disguised in a block of flats in Chelsea, Barts is a real riot of cocktails and absurd design. Find the cartoon wallpaper, ring the bell and head inside for an Abstinence Cocktail – Campari, absinthe bitters and gin.
Park Chinois opened ‘The Wave Bar’, a speakeasy-style bar that sits as a separate offering to the main restaurant. The bar is open everyday serving a full cocktail menu, including an array of eclectic and premium Negroni offerings such as the house-made ‘Negroni De La Maison’ and the ‘Espresso Negroni’. The show-stopping cocktails are served alongside gourmet Chinese appetizers and the bar is open from 6pm onwards. There will also be live performances and DJ sets accompanying their cocktails. It’s sexy, it’s Instagrammable and it’s oh, so speakeasy!
Where: Park Chinois, 17 Berkeley Street, Mayfair, W1J 8EA
Nearest station: Green Park (0.2 miles)
Just a couple of minutes from Old Street tube, it’s tucked behind a very unassuming door – the sort you walk past and never give a second glance; but if you were to stop you’d see a small plaque with a little Nightjar bird on it. Once through the doors, you head downstairs to an underground, speakeasy style room, dark, seductive, glamourous but also homely. You’ll be instantly drawn to the bar where the bartenders were mixing up the drinks with a good measure of theatrics – it isn’t just mixing a cocktail it’s an art form. Cocktails are on point and we think you’re going to love them… if you can find the venue that is!
If all the drama and secrecy isn’t your thing, 69 Coleman Row – a bar so unpretentious it doesn’t even have a name – is the one for you. The focus is on the drinks, with world-class mixologists rustling up a seasonal menu of cocktails. Just be sure to book in advance.
Lewis Carroll-themed interior and long menu of innovative cocktails will greet you at Callooh Callay cocktail bar. Whether you’re part of the Jubjub members’ club or not, you can enjoy cocktail highlights of pisco punch, s’mores with chocolate bitters and an atmosphere as crazy as the Had Matter himself!
From old classics such as the Sicilian Gimlet to big bold newcomers (the Olive Oil Gin Fizz is unbelievable), the cocktails here are the main draw, but it’s the decor of fireplaces-and-marble that make you want to stay. And a steady flow of funk and soul seals the deal.
We’d forgive you for thinking that Evans & Peel was actually a real detective agency. Based around the crime novels of the ’30s and ’40s a la Raymond Chandler, the attention to detail here is really special – a bookshelf leads through to the bar, bottles have to be drunk out of American brown paper bags, and cigar boxes filled with cocktails.
With its late-Victorian theme more reminiscent of Jack the Ripper than Al Capone, the Worship Street Whistling Shop isn’t your usual Prohibition speakeasy. Cocktails inspired by nineteenth-century drinking trends – old-timey flavours like rhubarb, marmalade and forgotten Sarsaparilla make delicious cameos – prove worthy treats.
Not quite a speakeasy, but we still thing as far as quirky underground venues are concerned this falls right into the category. As specialists in events, the incredibly versatile vaults are throwing a 1920s event named Embargo that will transform the space into a speakeasy – hurrah! There’ll be booze, gin in tea cups, jazz, show girls, magicians and we’ve still got out fingers crossed that Leo turns up as The Great Gatsby, with prohibition being the theme of the night!
The Ivory Vaults is an exclusive location situated within the historic vaulted cellars of the Grade II listed Ivory House at St Katharine Docks. Nestled between the Tower of London and Tower Bridge, Ivory Vaults are close to the city and beneﬁt from fantastic transport links to central London, Excel, The O2, East Village and London City Airport. The 10,000 sq ft venue is available for groups of up to 450, devised of nine intimate vaulted areas interlinked by a vast open passageway. The 200 yr old structure exudes charm and individuality, perfect for a bespoke event unique to your company.
What a name! Already a legendary drinking hole, The Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town has a whole mythology of its own. Ask to ‘see the mayor’ in The Breakfast Club, and you’ll be led through a retro ’50s style Smeg fridge and into a whole new world of speakeasy. Have a dance, enjoy the drinks, and sneak out through the hidden exit through the toilets.
When you’re looking for a good ruse, we find that a boutique tea counter is a good disguise – no one will suspect that behind it lies a cocktail bar influenced by the British Empire and its ancient tea trade. So, if you happen to be in St Martins Lane Hotel, pull the secret gold handle at said tea counter and see where you end up…we’ll tell you, it’s opulent speakeasy, Blind Spot serves up cocktails inspired by twenty -five different destinations.
Find more of London’s quirkiest spots for a drink here