London’s Secret Garden Bars
Just Opened London’s ‘Best of’ series covers a combination of recently opened venues and established London favourites, to make sure you get the full lowdown on where to spend your time and hard-earned cash.
Words: Helen Glaberson
Shhh! Not everyone knows about these tucked away bar gardens… From a concealed urban farm on a rooftop in Piccadilly to an al fresco 1920s-style living room in Chelsea, to a hidden Spritz rooftop in Farringdon. Your secret booze sanctuary awaits — all you need now is a cheeky ray of sun.
The Exhibit Balham
Secluded sun trap
South Londoners need to know about The Exhibit’s concealed garden, with slick white wooden walls and dangling pot plants, a barbecue and giant Jenga — what more could you need from this Miami-style escape? They’ve recently jazzed it all up for the summer with some tropical flamingo artwork on their dedicated ‘Selfie Wall’. Cameras at the ready, it would be rude not to strike a pose…
Thirsty? Keep it tropical with a Too-Ting rum cocktail, with pineapple, Ting and passionfruit.
The Exhibit, 12 Balham Station Road, SW12 9SG
Al fresco living room
Head to Chelsea and seek out this great little speakeasy (we won’t tell you where exactly as that would just spoil the fun). Knock on the door and a tiny slide hatch will open, and some blinking eyes will ask for the secret password. You’ll then be greeted inside this tiny speakeasy with a cute back garden, recently revamped to look like the collapsed room of a house where nature has taken over. There’s a comfy leather sofa, fireplace and mantlepiece, alongside climbing wall plants and an astroturfed carpet.
Francesco and Luca behind the bar are absolute wizards on the cocktails — ask for an Está Padre, served in a green bell pepper and made with tequila, fresh chilli, agave, lime and apple juice. FYI: The garden is only open between 5 and 8pm every day, so get there early!
Barts, Chelsea Cloisters, 87 Sloane Avenue, SW3 3DW
Ham Yard Hotel
Urban farm and beehives
You’d never guess, but up on the top floor of Ham Yard Hotel you’ll find a tranquil garden — one of central London’s best-kept secrets. It’s like you’ve stepped into a lift in Piccadilly and come out into the English countryside, with a wishing fountain, a little urban farm and a mini ‘wild meadow’ out the back. Everything grown here goes on the specials menu at the hotel’s restaurant and bar, including the goods made in the two hives hidden in the back. The resident bees buzz all around leafy West London to produce some very local honey, which is used in many Ham Yard cocktails throughout the year, like the Hunter’s Punch, a rum-based serve with Jägermeister, strawberry and candied ginger.
The only catch with this rooftop is that you can’t just rock up here — you need to book in advance. In the summer you can save a place on the special sundowner drink sessions, or in the colder months there’s a winter-themed pop-up with festive winter warmer cocktails.
Ham Yard Hotel, 1 Ham Yard, W1D 7DT
Revamped Victorian pub garden
Some top London bar industry guys recently bought up this 140-year-old Kings Cross pub. They’ve given the whole place a cool, low-key makeover, which mainly involved ripping up everything to expose some of the beautiful old décor underneath. The garden was previously unused and unloved, just a dumping ground out the back. But now it’s been given some love by ex-landscape gardener and co-owner Ty, and has been transformed into a cosy little hidden sun trap with a handful of tables and chairs.
On a sunny day (remember them?), cool down with a refreshing Penicillin In A Storm cocktail: blended scotch, whizzed up with ice, ginger syrup, lemon juice and Porter beer, served up in a chunky glass tankard. It’ll hit the spot.
The Racketeer, 105 King’s Cross Road, WC1X 9LR
Fancy fairy-lit terrace
With tumbling plants and fairy lights, this tucked-away terrace is ‘date night’ to a T. Hidden just off all the crazy buzz of Oxford Street and Tottenham Court Road, it’s heated throughout the colder months, with rugs on hand to make sure you’re super snug. And who couldn’t be tempted by the ‘Guilt Free’ section on the cocktail menu, with drinks made with low alcohol content and low refined sugars, like the Clarissa, named after the high-society Virginia Woolf character Mrs Dalloway, with ginger Kombucha, mango and Skinny Prosecco, (yes it’s a thing).
Dalloway Terrace, 16-22 Great Russell Street, WC1B 3NN
Bird of Smithfield
Secret Farringdon rooftop
Not everyone knows about Bird of Smithfield’s rooftop bar, hidden up on the top of a Georgian townhouse in Farringdon. Head up the stairs to this little green sky-high haven, with a lawn and beautiful views overlooking Smithfield Market. It’s fashioned up as an Italian-style Spritz terrace during the summer, and when the sun’s shining, you can almost fool yourself you’re on Milan’s Terrazza Aperol.
Although Spritz is a major thing here, don’t go forgetting about the cocktails — these guys make some pretty stunning creations. Try Nuts In Love, a mash-up between a lemon meringue pie and a cocktail, made with limoncello, apricot purée and blowtorched pistachio foam brûlée on the top.
Bird of Smithfield, 26 Smithfield Street, EC1A 9LB
Tropical paradise in Hammersmith
Unbeknownst to many Londoners is this lush hideaway on the top of the Lyric Theatre, with dark wooden decking and large ferns that make for a refreshingly tropical backdrop against the Victorian rooftops. With lots of wooden benches to perch on, it’s where you want to be on a sunny day. For the drinks, we’re all about the Lyric’s Negroni — made with locally sourced spirits: East London Gin, Sacred Vermouth and Amaro London.
Lyric Theatre, 29 Shaftesbury Avenue, W1D 7ES
Dalston Roof Park
Low-key sky-high party bar
East London’s worst kept secret — for a reason, there’s a banging rooftop garden party kicking off here most nights of the summer. There’s none of that flashy neon signage to locate it from the street, just a discreet sign saying ‘Main Entrance’. Head up lots of stairs to this astroturfed hipster hub, with sprawling views of Dalston and a tiki bar serving up tropical cocktails and Disco Pils — a lager made especially for the rooftop and created in the very same building.
Dalston Roof Park, The Print House, 18-22 Ashwin Street, E8 3DL
Garden Lounge at Corinthia London
Fancy outdoor lounge
The Corinthia Hotel has a garden-cum-living-room tucked inside its inner courtyard, serving up breakfasts, brunches, afternoon teas and late-night cocktails (they’ve got it all covered). The word ‘lounge’ hints to how posh it is out here, with smart tiled floors, slick red sofas and a bar with a hefty whiskey collection — there’s even a fancy mosaic that’s been shipped over from Paris.
It’s also probably the only place in London where you can lock your cigar away in a mini cigar safe — along with a cigar and drinks pairing menu, specially chosen by in-house Cigar Sommelier Adam Lajca. Come winter, The Garden Lounge is the place to be, with a brazier roasting chestnuts, a roaring fireplace and huge fur rugs to wrap up in –- it’s all on the list for date night.
Corinthia London Garden Lounge, 10a Northumberland Avenue, WC2N
Gardening Society — John Lewis roof
Perk up your shopping trip
Bored boyfriends slumped outside the changing rooms on a Saturday afternoon need despair no more: they can now catch a sun-soaked drink on the hidden rooftop on John Lewis Oxford Street. See, during the summer, the roof turns into a sprawling garden, with wooden benches, fresh herbs and flowers, a vine-draped pergola, and The Gardener’s Arms — apparently Britain’s smallest pub.
Cocktail-wise, get an antioxidant fix with Green Society: rum mixed with matcha green tea and mint plucked from the roof itself. While you sip, look down on the crazy shopping crowds below and feel very, very smug that you’re in on this awesome little secret.
Gardening Society at John Lewis, 300 Oxford Street, W1C 1DX