London’s Best Secret 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
When it comes to date night, you can’t beat a secret bar through a hidden entrance. From a neon-lit rock bar tucked behind a Narnia-style wardrobe to a boozy bodega concealed by a telephone box, and a whisky bar you get to through a bookcase. Here’s your ultimate guide to London’s secret bars.
Secret entrance: Knock on the door with the peeker hole
This is one of London’s original secret bars, and it’s near impossible to find – we won’t give more details, because that would just spoil the fun, right? You’ll arrive inside a tiny little box room completely covered in comic book paper.
Knock on the door, the little hatch will slide open, and you’ll be asked for the secret password. In you go, to this snug little cocktail bar that looks like a mashup between a junk shop, Banksy’s attic and a vintage dining room.
Dive into the outrageous cocktails, from smoking clay pots to boozy snow globes. Once you’ve sunk two or three you’ll be ready to hit the dressing-up box (oh, yes). Check out the newly refurbed – very Instagrammable – al fresco lounge, with an outdoor sofa and fireplace on an astroturfed lawn.
Barts, Chelsea Cloisters, 87 Sloane Avenue, SW3 3DW
Secret entrance: Behind a bookcase
This awesome little booze den is hidden inside London’s oldest whisky shop, Milroy’s. Head inside and explain that you want ‘in’ to The Vault. You’ll be pointed over to the bookcase at the end of the shop.
Fiddle around with the hardbacks and when you hit the right one, the case will swing open, revealing a secret neon-lit staircase. Down there, you’ll find a cool little cocktail den; it’s nicely no-frills, with exposed brick walls and wooden benches.
All focus goes on the drinks – they do seriously good whisky cocktails, like their Coconut Butter Old Fashioned. While you’re here, say hey to Chester the house dog, who enjoys slurping water martinis by the bar.
The Vault, 3 Greek Street, W1D 4NX
Secret entrance: Shake the golden hand
Inside the swish St. Martin’s Lane Hotel, head to the boutique tea counter, where you’ll find a golden hand sticking out of the door. Give it a good old shake and it’ll swing open the door, revealing a huge secret drinking palace.
It’s all pretty smart in here, with a golden-lit bar at the back and lots of candlelit leather booths – just the place for date night. There’s a different cocktail to represent each corner of the world: including London, England, with earl-grey tea infused gin, and the Kyoto Japan cocktail, with hibiki harmony whiskey. Come along on a Tuesday for live jazz and swing.
Blind Spot, 45 St. Martin’s Lane, WC2N 4HX
Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town
Secret entrance: Slip inside the Smeg fridge
Cool-kid diner The Breakfast Club on Artillery Lane is harbouring an awesome secret bar. Where to find it? Step inside, and hunt for the Smeg fridge. Open the door and – nope, no milk and eggs, but instead you’ll find a flickering fairground-style arrow pointing you to the fun times below.
Head down to this dimly-lit cocktail den, where they dearly worship the cat (if your name is Garfield, you drink for free!)
Along with fun vibes and rocking cocktails, this place is also home to ‘The World’s Second Smallest Disco’ in the toilet, with a glitter ball and BeeGees pumping out while you pee.
Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town, 12-16 Artillery Lane, E1 7LS
Discount Suit Company
Secret entrance: Inside an abandoned suit shop
Hidden on Wentworth Street is a deserted, eerie marketplace in Aldgate. Look out for the old suit shop, with letters dangling from the brick walls. You’ll see a discreet black side door.
Slip in and down the stairs to this tiny bar, with subtle hints to the suit storeroom it used to be – with little wooden drawers lining the front of the bar and umbrellas poking out of the ceiling.
Cocktails are modern twists on old school recipes. Try their smoky take on a Piña Colada, the Piña Fumada, with Mezcal, velvet Falernum, and pineapple.
Discount Suit Company, 29A Wentworth Street, E1 7TB
Evans & Peel Detective Agency
Secret entrance: Through the bookcase in the detective’s office
This one involves a lot of role play and some real imagination. Knock on the door and the detective – Mr. Peel – will usher you into his office, where you’ll spin him a tale about the case you need solved.
Once he’s cracked it, the detective will turn to his bookcase and… up it opens, revealing a sprawling speakeasy, with crackling vintage tunes and some serious mixology going on. Pull up a chair at one of the candlelit tables and make eyes at your beau over Lapsang tea cocktails.
Evans & Peel, 310c Earls Court Road, SW5 9BA
Secret entrance: A jade-coloured door in Chinatown
You’d never guess what’s behind that unassuming door on Gerrard Street. Push it open and head up to 1920s Shanghai – a late night dim sum parlour and cocktail haunt, styled on an Asian smoking den. This place is a maze of beautiful, themed rooms, each of which is a unique, standalone bar.
Check out Apothecary, where neat shelves of mysterious potions line the wall. Keep exploring until you find the ‘secret bar within a secret bar,’ Peony. It looks like a retro Chinese living room, with bold floral wallpaper and rows of dainty teapots on the shelves.
The cocktails here are just as theatrical as the decor. Order the Opium #6 – served in an opium cup with billowing dry ice – and don’t forget to try their famous steaming juicy dumplings, too.
Opium, The Jade Door, 15-16 Gerrard Street, W1D 6JE
Secret entrance: Behind a glowing telephone box
Lurking about late in Hoxton? There’s one place you need to head – La Cabina. This Spanish-style bodega is hidden behind a neon-lit telephone sticking out of the wall on Kingsland Road.
Crack the code on the keypad and it’ll unlock the door, down to a debaucherous, late-night drinking den, which only starts to fully kick off around midnight (open until 3am on weekends). This place all about the party times, with live DJs and one of the latest happy hours in town (week nights it’s 2-4-1 cocktails from 8pm-9pm).
La Cabina, 232 Kingsland Road, E2 8AX
Secret entrance: Underneath a Shoreditch kebab shop
You’d never guess it’s there. Keep an eye out for the nondescript door next to the kebab shop right by the big crossing on Great Eastern Street. Head through the distressed-looking hallway and down the stairs to this ‘Mad Men’-style living room, and one of the most imaginative cocktail bars in town.
Try one of their truly bonkers cocktail tasting menus. Previous themes have included the Enchanted Forest, with boozy ‘tea sap’ served on a china log and a blob of alcoholic jelly presented on a leaf. It will truly blow your date’s mind.
Lounge Bohemia, 1E Great Eastern Street, EC2A 3EJ
Palace of Humbug at Callooh Callay
Secret entrance: Through a Narnia-style wardrobe
Venture through the wardrobe on the top floor lounge at Callooh Callay and discover this secret drinking haunt. It’s pretty exclusive up here, but give the bartender a cheeky wink and try your luck.
This moody little rock bar is a world away from Narnia, with neon signs, glowing round tables and cocktails named after the emotions they stir up – Love, Anxiety, Calmness. What are you feeling?
Don’t be surprised to find some world-famous bartenders doing guest stints behind the bar – you’re in for a magical night.
Palace of Humbug, 65 Rivington Street, EC2A 3AY