Situated below London’s oldest whisky shop, The Vault is a proper, Hollywood-like secret bar. Walk in with confidence and make your way to the back of the shop to push with all your strength against the bookcase; and down you go to a small cellar bar where we guarantee a boozy night. A little rough around the edges, this feels like the old school Soho so many are saying is going and gone – a must-visit, then.
Keen on a little education? Take a seat at the bar and let the bartending team guide you through the menu. This is a bar where you sort of have to go big from the start – so try The Buckley, with punchy agricole rum infused with fruit and balanced with egg white. Later at night, you can’t go wrong with The Simo, named after the bar’s owner and main bartender, a twist on a Manhattan made with rye whiskey, dry vermouth and delicately bitter Byrrh.
If you fancy extending your stay, the leather sofas are welcoming, the salted almonds a dream, and some days of the week, Simo’s dog Chester hangs around – let’s make it a rule that all bars must have a dog now, shall we?
Best Bars tip: There’s a barrel-shaped room at the back that’s available to book if you’ve got something to celebrate…
— Gaëlle Laforest, @gaellelaforest
The BFI is a bit of a maze, with things to discover on all floors – cinemas, exhibitions, but bars too. Entering from the riverside, you’ll have to adventure yourself deep inside the building to find yourself in The Drawing Room, a small and cosy cocktail bar attached to Benugo, where the library décor sees conversation and drinks flowing.
It’s got a bit of that classic London vibe to it, so the menu’s got a welcome focus on bubbles and Martinis, with well-executed drinks with just a touch of inventiveness to surprise Southbank tourists and entice boozers. The Quince and Vanilla Bean Margarita combines powerful and tangy flavours for something very moreish, while the Elderflower and Violet Blossom is a simple and delicate pleaser. There’s a few draughts and plenty of wine to pick from too.
It’s really the atmosphere that makes this worth the visit though. Set a bit away from the BFI, it’s calmer and quieter, and the ceiling-high bookshelves filled with quirky old books and old-school posters on the walls make this perfect for a date night, or a long conversation about noir films with your dad over a whisky. You get the picture…
Best Bars tip: There are a few nibbles to try too – try the empanadas platter!
— Gaëlle Laforest, @gaellelaforest
L’Escargot: a Soho institution that exudes French flavours and old-world panache. For one of the most classic (and classy) dinners in town, book yourself into the restaurant. But if you want a members’ club experience that’s intimate, quirky and high brow – then get yourself upstairs. With a few fresh licks of paint and an insane art collection, this 280-year-old townhouse is perfect for sophisticated yet laid-back, grown-up sipping.
Coco Chanel used to imbibe here, so we say go for classic cocktails and head to the Salon Grande Siècle for a big, bright experience. We’re particularly fond of the bubbly French 75 made with gin, champagne and a whack of lemon for a zesty kick.
If you’re hungry, then tuck into staple fare such as lobster salad or a steak sandwich (done well). And if you’re here, then you know you best be ordering some snails. It’s a sin if you don’t.
Best Bars tip: This labrinthine space is perfect for private parties – no matter the size. Either get your closest pals together for debaucherous drinks in one of the small lounging rooms or throw a massively lavish dinner party for your fanciest friends in the Bureau.
— Sasha Filimonov, @SashaSips
Situated right down from the station and not too far away from the beach, this spacious venue is popular with the post-work and student crowds alike.
While a lot of people come to the Hope & Ruin for the friendly, laid-back attitude and the fact that it stays open nice and late, the rest arrive for the music. The bar’s outdoor sign, which features a logo of a retro Orange amp, should set the evening’s tone well.
Upstairs you’ll find a 100-capacity venue, Hope Live, where the venue hosts four or five gigs and club nights a week. It is here that you can catch both local indie types as well as touring acts from around the world. Downstairs, expect an assortment of old but comfy sofas, a jukebox, a pint or four of something cold and a good playlist soundtracking the night. If you fancy a bite to eat, then the bar’s tapas and pizza menus should do the trick.
Best Bars tip: The Strokes, Adele and The White Stripes have all played at The Hope over the years. We suggest catching an up-and-coming band here while they’re still up-and-coming. You never know…
– Heather Steele, @steeleheather
Just under the bridge that marks the end of Shoreditch High Street and the beginning of Kingsland Road sits, you guessed it, The Bridge. From the outside, the dark facade and gloomy entrance give the impression of a place that time forgot, but head inside and you’ll be talking about this treasure trove until the cows come home.
Boxing gloves, a vintage Coca Cola fridge full of beers and an old fashioned till are only a few of the mismatched memorabilia that make this coffee house/bar so enchanting. A small television above the bar even shows black and white boxing matches throughout the day and night – we hear the owner’s a huge fan and we challenge you not to be after an hour in this place.
It’s what’s upstairs that makes this treasure trove so special, though. Fringed and art deco lamps light the throne-like armchairs and sofas that festoon this space. Got a penchant for velvet? You’re in luck – the windows and ceiling are draped with the stuff, making it the perfect getaway for afternoon tea drinking or early evening beers. Cake lovers will be happy to hear that the downstairs display fridge is chock full of french cakes and fancies, while savoury pastries keep those with a savoury tooth sweet.
Best Bars tip: Get there early on a Friday night and enjoy the opulence of the upstairs parlour before you embark on an inevitable evening of drinking on foot on the east London scene below.
A beautifully renovated Victorian house with wood-board ceilings, an open kitchen, cosy booths and trendy staff. West Thirty Six is a townhouse of treasures, with secret dining rooms, open fires, smoking terraces and private party spaces. It feels like a members’ club, but it’s open to everyone. Nip by any time of day and hang out in the sunny ground floor bar – either nab a seat overlooking the open kitchen or park up in one of the leather banquettes.
If you’re coming for dinner, head to the first floor dining room – it’s seriously dark and seriously sexy. The menu is a mash-up of American and British cuisine, so come hungry. We had the scallops, steak, crab trifle, beef tartare and finished it off with a luxurious deconstructed banoffee pie. It was all hearty and delicious (and our waistlines were not the better for it). But who can resist a perfect seared steak and dishes full of ultra smoky and unctuous flavours. Since we love a good drink, naturally we had to have a few Manhattans – and you should too.
The crowd here is west London hip, with big groups of young guys and gals sharing big plates and bottles of bubbly then heading out to one of the FOUR alfresco areas for a smoke. Yes, four. In the summer, you’ll be spoiled for choice when it comes to alfresco drinking.
Best Bars tip: Looking for a private party space? The top floor is where it’s at. Hire it out and it’ll be like the best house party you’ve ever been to (with DJs and drinks supplied).
— Sasha Filimonov, @SashaSips
The battle for “bar with the greatest view of London” is a hard-fought one and Rumpus Room is the most recent contender. Facing the river from the top of Mondrian London at Sea Containers, a drink there will definitely give you that Londoner pride feeling – and not least so because the bar’s part of Mr Lyan’s portfolio.
The space really is the star player here. Visit at night, when the room is dark and lit by dandelion-like pendant lamps, the backbar and the city’s windows and streetlights. The deep red sofas are super comfortable, but if the weather’s right, nip out on the terrace to really take in the view.
Drinks wise, the menu’s split between ten classics and ten Rumpus serves – don’t expect the same as downstairs in Dandelyan. Here the drinks are a bit more approachable; twists on well-known names mostly. We liked the fresh and easy-drinking Pineapple Dark’n’Stormy, and the note of hops in the cistrusy Lemon Balm Margarita. There are also a few bites available – if you’ve managed to avoid London’s lobster frenzy, now is really time to give a lobster roll a try.
Best Bars tip: Rumpus Room is often closed for private events, so check before visiting.
–Gaëlle Laforest, @gaellelaforest