Joyeux Bordel

Joyeux Bordel Shoreditch
© Addie Chinn

For the non francophones out there, “Joyeux Bordel” roughly translates as jolly mess – but while there might be potential for a messy night, walking through the hidden entrance (this is Shoreditch, after all) and down the stairs to the bar gives off more of a sophisticated vibe, with just a little plenty-of-dark-corners kind of edge.

The latest born of the Experimental Cocktail Club, it’s got a drinks menu with the expected flair, and a reasonable amount of French influence – old aperitifs, dusty bottles with continental names and all the Suze and Lillet you’d ever want. Go for the bar’s signature drink – the Jolly Mess – which uses rye spirit, pear eau de vie, vermouth, cardamom syrup and chocolate liqueur. Sounds moreish and decadent but is surprisingly balanced, with a nice bitter chocolate aftertaste.

One thing you might not expect at first is that Joyeux Bordel is a music lover’s paradise – a nice touch when you know the space used to be legendary club Plastic People until it closed early this year. The sound system is one of the best in Europe, with speakers and amps legendary in a way that we didn’t manage to understand, so expect a refined line-up of DJs with The Clove Club’s Daniel Willis at the helm.

Best Bars tip: If you’re fond of antique bottles and glasses, and fancy sipping on something really special that no one quite knows the history of, Joyeux Bordel has a collection of antique spirits that they might just let the regulars try.

— Gaëlle Laforest, @gaellelaforest

Joyeux Bordel Shoreditch
© Addie Chinn

Cloud 23

Cloud 23 manchesterFor some of the best views Manchester has to offer, make your way up to Cloud 23. This slick and stylish cocktail spot has floor-to-ceiling windows (and boy are they high), so grab a spot next to one and sit back to enjoy the skyline. Come rain or shine, you’ll be happy sipping away in the clouds.

Prices may be as steep as the height of this bar, but with supremely friendly and attentive service you’ll feel alright about shelling out those extra shekels. For a fun and festive cocktail, try The Industrialist with a pre-batched frozen mix of Bulleit Bourbon, vermouth, mezcal bitters and maple syrup with is then poured over a big tuft of candy floss. Give a nod to ol’ Becks with the 7’s Club – a tasty mix of Haig Club whisky, Dubbonet, rosemary & demerara syrup, walnut and it’s served on a football pitch (of course).

Expect to see a mix of glitterati and polished out of towners all chirpily chatting away. You won’t spot too many sufferers of vertigo here though …

Best Bars tip: If you’re looking to impress, whether it’s a client or a date, this is the spot for you.

— Sasha Filimonov, @SashaSips

Cloud 23 manchester

Sovereign Loss

Sovereign Loss BrixtonNow, this one’s the real deal. You’ll find the great and greater of the bar world both sides of the bar at (pretty much) all times of night, and no doubt joining in will make you feel a bit special – even more so with drink in hand. Sovereign Loss is small, the list is small, but the welcome is warm and the knowledge without bounds. You’re in for a good night.

The drinks list changes weekly, so it’s hard to know what to expect. You’ll likely find classics slightly twisted and a short selection of drinks with a good emphasis on fruit spirits. While we cannot speak highly enough of the Army and Navy — a wonderfully creamy, slightly sweet and pleasantly bitter almond drink — the best thing to do at Sovereign Loss is to tell the team what you like to drink and they’ll be happy to find a serve to your taste that’ll still surprise you.

This is the perfect place for late-night drinking: hard to find (you’ll have to be escorted from an unexciting side door of the downstairs Prince of Wales to the bar), darkly-lit and open until 5am or more. Add to that very reasonably priced cocktails and the cosy 20s feel and you might as well move in. We sure are.

Best Bars tip: Week evenings are quiet enough, but if you’re planning to visit on the weekend, book ahead.

— Gaëlle Laforest, @gaellelaforest

Sovereign Loss Brixton

Hare & Hounds

Hare and Hounds Birmingham diningThe Hare & Hounds is a neighbourhood boozer with international musical reach and some of the most forward-thinking club nights in the region. Two upstairs venues cover off everything from jazz to to comedy to D’n’B, while pub quizzes, home-cooked grub and weekend DJs keep both the old and new sides of the bar downstairs busy every night of the week.

We like the regularly changing guest ales and reassuringly sizeable selection of ciders for sunny afternoons which turn in to all-nighters. For a more conversational start to your visit, try the newly-renovated side of the bar where classic cocktails are now being dispensed.

Not a venue where punters generally stop in for just one — we’ve lost whole weekends to this Birmingham giant.

Best Bars tip: Sign up to the e-newsletter to avoid missing out on the next big musical thing. UB40 started here.

– Katy Drohan, ICHOOSEBirmingham.com

Hare and Hounds Birmingham

MOJO

MOJO Leeds“Good Times Forever” is a pretty weighty motto for a bar to live by, and whilst we know that 18 years isn’t quite forever, since its opening in 1996 MOJO has shown no sign of straying from its hardy original promise. This is a party bar that never disappoints.

Drinks stay true to the bar’s fun, fast-paced nature. There’s a decent, rotating beer selection, a short but sweet wine offering and quick-serve cocktails – based on the staff’s best tried and tested recipes. MOJO has always made a big deal about being fanatical about rum, which is shown through perfected signature mixes such the Rumirez — a rum twist on a Martinez, and the best-selling MOJO Hurricane that comes garnished with your own little voodoo doll. Hardshakes are also not to be missed. Try the Dr Kraken Float — Kraken spiced rum and Dr. Pepper with an ice cream float and cherry on top. Americana-style bar bites are made fresh on site including burgers, wings, garlic butter fries and mac & cheese. Gluten-free alternatives and dessert dishes make a nice addition to the menu.

Bar staff are not only hired for drinks expertise but also for their impressive knowledge of music, so it’s no surprise that MOJO’s soundtrack borders on the epic. Those behind the bar run the show here so anything goes from reggae to rock and roll, funk, soul and indie. It’s an eclectic mix but fine tuned to whatever mood the crowd’s in for … which is usually hard-core partying.

Best Bars tip: The bar’s Rhum Room is one of our favourite Leeds spaces. It houses 100 rums, including incredibly rare blends, hosts intimate rum masterclasses and has a fantastic weekend vibe.

— Mieke-Kyra Smith, @mieke_chu

MOJO Leeds

Peony at Opium

Peony at Opium ChinatownLondon can’t get enough of its secret bars, and its latest hidden treasure is tucked within Chinatown’s “labyrinthine” Opium. Once you finally find the tiny bar that is Peony (this will undoubtedly take a few attempts), one glimpse at the ceiling and you’ll notice that the design of this space is a microcosm of the whole townhouse — in the best kind of way.

Drinks are crafty with inventive twists on classic cocktails, plus a dose of Asian influence. For tequila lovers, try the Mexican in China with Herradura tequila, Xilli liqueur, fresh grapefruit juice, lime and maraschino. And if you want to share the fun, get a teapot of the Peony Punch — an easygoing number with Absolut Blue vodka, dragonfruit and coconut puree, cranberry juice, lemon, Angostura bitters and nutmeg. Food here is irresistible, so it’s best to treat yourself to a bit of dim sum. Get the whole bloody platter in fact!

With beautifully intricate wallpaper, dim lighting and dark wood — you’ll feel like you’re hanging out in the hippest spot in Shanghai.

Best Bars tip: This is Opium’s even more elegant sister, so come down if you’re looking to impress and prove (once and for all) that you are the MOST “in the know”.

— Sasha Filimonov, @SashaSips

Peony at Opium Chinatown 2

The Shrub and Shutter

Shrub and Shutter Brixton
© Giles Christopher

This one’s a little out of the way, but so worth a visit. Stepping into The Shrub and Shutter feels like being in a giant terrarium – there are plants, the flicker of candles, slates on the walls and metal cans decorating the shelves and ceiling. The menus are on the wall, and they’ll catch your attention real quick: what’s growing in this bar is one helluva cocktail list.

The “drinks program” changes often, but with over 20 drinks to choose from, there are some regulars and always plenty to quench your thirst. The Brixton Buyers Club is great to start with – slightly fruity with earthy flavours coming from the sage and cardamom, but still easy-drinking. Like most drinks at this bar, it comes with a side of nibbles – here, some pineapple cubes and tiny pieces of ham. You Can’t Handle Chartreuse will blow your mind a little, and the Memento comes with a welcome theatrical touch in the form of – you guessed it – a Polaroid. It’s difficult to stop writing about the drinks, but the food helps: try the soft shell crab sandwich or gorge on a rib-eye. All ends of the food spectrum are covered.

The Shrub and Shutter wants itself to be a neighbourhood cocktail bar and despite a seriously impressive offering, manages to do just that. It’s inviting and friendly, and encourages discovery in a way that’ll probably turn a “just one drink” visit into an all-day affair. Frankly, worse could happen.

Best Bars tip: Nip to the back – there’s plenty more space for sitting with big groups, and an outdoors area for smokers and summer nights. 

— Gaëlle Laforest, @gaellelaforest

Shrub and Shutter Brixton food and drink