London has arguably the best bars and clubs in the world. Naturally, the good people of New York City might have something to say about that, as would our neighbours in Barcelona and Berlin, but let’s be honest here people: London is the greatest show on Earth. From cocktail flagships to roof terrace hideouts to underground bunkers to specialist dens, we are leading the world for top hidden bars and clubs. The trick is, knowing exactly where to look.
The Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town
City of London / Bar /
Liverpool Street - The ultimate in secret bars. So secret, you wont even know you're there even when you're there. Our tip: head for The Breakfast Club in the City of London. Ask the lady with the clipboard kindly if you can see the Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town, and your secret entrance will be revealed.
Waterloo / Bar / Cuisine: Cafe
Waterloo - With all the antique paraphernalia covering this small, cosy cafe-cum-bar-cum-coffeehouse-hangout, it feels a little like peaking through the Stargate into 1950s Italy. Plus, the rear garden is gladly not spacious enough to swing a cat (good news for Stanley, the boy cat, and Bob, the girl cat). Every Monday night there's movies shown downstairs and during the day it's all laptop Wifi, inexpensive coffee (the hot chocolate is outstanding), and one-to-one Spanish lessons. How flippin' cool?!
BYOC (Bring Your Own Cocktails)
West End / Bar /
West End - this secret cocktail bar in London's West End is the first of its kind in the capital as it doesn't actually stock any alcohol at all. There's a clue in the name though, hearty drinkers! With this cocktail bar you actually bring your own bottle of spirit with you and the mixologist with the antique drinks trolley will mix you a drink on the spot using that very liquid. Neato huh? This underground bar is hidden through a secret door. which sits behind the counter of the Bedfordbury Street Juice Club.
Three Blind Mice Bar
Shoreditch / Bar /
Shoreditch - This underground basement bar in Shoredtich is the archetypal hidden gem: not easy to spot, even when stood right outside. I was doing just that when the music drew me in. I didn't even know if it was a bar or not. Once enticed inside, I grabbed a beer (cans of Red Stripe, no taps), sat at the bar, and within 2 minutes was engaged in one of the friendliest conversations I've ever had. The barman, the owner, the DJ, and the other customers all got in on the action. Just too easy to recommend.
Clapham / Bar / Restaurant / Club / Cuisine: Organic
Clapham - For me, this is the Shoreditch/Spitalfields vibe taking a sabbatical in south west London. Beneath the arches of Clapham train station, Secondo is unique because of the bar/cafe/clothing shop personality it has evolved, offering a massive range of vintage threads and tunes. And it has a caravan. Wifi is free but be advised, they charge to juice up laptops. Also be advised, it's encouraged to request more rations if the home-cooked lunch doesn't quite fill your gut (and at no extra cost!).
Wandsworth / Bar / Restaurant / Cuisine: Eclectic
Wandsworth - This bar-restaurant-pub from Youngs is largely unremarkable at first glance: stylishly new, but in situ at the base of a new apartment complex in Wandsworth, miles from the nearest tube station, and with hardly a beating pulse in terms of atmosphere. And these are exactly the reasons why I love it. Hardly anybody knows it's there so it's fantastic for grabbing a good book, the Sunday newspapers, or a secret lover and heading for some proper peace and quiet right on the banks of the River Thames.
West End / Bar / Cuisine: Bar
West End - Probably not completely hidden from the databanks of those in the know, but still not particularly easy to spot from the busy Shaftesbury Avenue/Covent Garden roadside. Rough around the edges and with a healthy interest in two of life's most essential pleasures - coffee and cocktails - Freud bar is also an art gallery, hosting a different exhibition every month. Ladies, wear flats; those stairs are treacherously steep.
Borough & Southwark / Bar /
Borough - The Rake bar next to Borough Market is a real gentleman's paradise. Every flavour of stout, ale, bitter and porter any man would ever need to drink in his lifetime, even if he tried his hardest. I've been several times and only managed to work my way through about 25 different beers from 10 individual countries. Only about another 250 to go! Like most decent hidden gem bars in London, The Rake is as cosy as a blanket knitted by y'nan, so where possible, avoid the peak hours during the week.
Kings Cross / Bar / Cuisine: Spanish
Kings Cross - When Spanish bar & restaurant, Camino, is your older brother, chances are people will have high expectations and London's very first sherry bar relies on its larger sibling for outdoor courtyard space and toilet facilities. Using the in vogue Enomatic dispensing system (so everyone gets to try the expensive stuff), this Andalucian drinking den is not afraid to make food pairing suggestions either, such as the Devon Crab salad served in the shell, which is best served with a glass of Puerto Fino.
Angel & Islington / Bar /
Islington - This tiny bar, set beneath the Famous Cock Tavern next to Highbury & Islington tube, is especially rewarding when picking the fruits known as Crimes Against Pop and the imaginatively titled indie karaoke night, Indieoke. The staff are not only lovely but also quick, and the drinks are reasonably priced. The clientele is eclectic - gay, straight, white, black, smarties, geeks - all who share an obsessive passion for music. And the best part? Too-cool-for-school Shoreditch hasn't found it yet.
The Luggage Room
Mayfair / Bar /
Mayfair - This is one of those hidden bars for the end the night. We've been to this bar with a few friends after dinner during the week or during a night out on the weekend. Each time it's had the same effect: awe. No matter who you come here with, you'll never manage to leave before 3:30 (their unofficial closing time). The Luggage Room just seems to suck you in a time warp.