The Junction

The Junction Birmingham foodSet in a commanding Victorian building at the top of Harborne High Street, open fireplaces, chequerboard tiles and sink-in-to-me-and-never-leave booth seating places The Junction squarely into must-have weekend territory.

With six regularly changing real ales and a stellar reputation for world beers – and that’s before world beers were a thing – The Junction just gets us. And if the bubbly brown stuff isn’t your thing, the rich yet revitalising Bloody Mary alongside Saturday brunch or The Junction’s epic Sunday lunch is our drink of choice.

Get your hands on a paper, some pals and settle in for the long haul – The Junction has everything you could possibly need. It even does boardgames.

Best Bars tip: Sunny day? The secluded beer garden, which isn’t visible from the front of the pub, is sometimes overlooked.

– Katy Drohan, ICHOOSEBirmingham.com

The Junction Birmingham interior

Bond No 9

Bond No 9 EdinburghBond No 9 in name refers to its location on Leith’s Commercial Street, in a large building once a whisky bond, shared by a Michelin-starred restaurant, offices and a furniture store among the residents. A lot of the original stone has been revealed in the main area with a good sized bright conservatory out to the rear which can be booked out for events. During the summer months it’s also a great place to park up and enjoy the weather in their outside area.

We made our way there for some decent sustenance after a cycle around Edinburgh’s coastal paths and arrived just in time to grab one of the last tables in the conservatory area. Brunch is served every weekend and the offer of their “bigger breakfast” was too good to skip: pork and herb sausages, smoked bacon, and Stornoway black pudding were the main stars of an ample dish backed up with the usual brunch features. Although the cocktail list is ample and well executed it was a strong cuppa and a virgin Bloody Mary with their house blend of spices for us, this time.

Leith is an area which due to a lot of redevelopment in recent years attracts a diverse crowd and Bond No 9 is no exception. Weekdays the main draw is relaxed food and great coffee, weekends a more restaurant feel is there with patrons enjoying top notch grub served by candlelight. Check their social media too as they’ll often have local DJ talent playing later in the evenings at the weekends.

Best Bars tip: The gantry holding all the spirits at Bond is one of the biggest and most diverse in Edinburgh. This means that they can rustle up not just the drinks from the award winning menu but pretty much anything your heart desires – Pisco Sour anyone?

— Martin Duffy, @DuffyDrinks

Bond No 9 Edinburgh brunch

Black Swan

Black Swan Leeds interiorThe masterminds behind Sandinista and Smokestack take on Call Lane with the elegant new opening, Black Swan. Moving away from the themed stylings of its infamous Latino and Prohibition-inspired sister bars, Black Swan is Yorkshire-bred through and through. It’s the perfect spot for laid-back drinking and despite being a 450-capacity, spacious two-floor venue — the bar maintains the intimate feel of a local pub with excellent service and incredible attention to detail.

The drinks menu not only boasts over 52 craft beers, six rotating draught ales, an on-site microbrewery and accessible two-page wine list, its cocktails also showcase the unquestionable talents of owner Si Ord’s bar team. Based on twists of classic serves, each cocktail recipe is credited to individual bartenders working for the group — from the sweet and moreish Mai Tai by Loren Holmes (Sandinista) to Niall McGloin’s (Smokestack) bitter kick Amaretto Sour. You’ll even find Mr Ord putting his own specs forward for an Espresso Martini pick-me-up. Catering for afternoon to late night boozing, you’ll find an upstairs restaurant serving up delicious, best of British cuisine — including kids menus and sharing platters — while the downstairs pizza kitchen cooks up light bites.

The bar’s exposed brick walls are decorated with varying designs — from Si’s antique suitcases and metal liquor ad signs to intricate hand-painted artwork by local artists. There are unique features wherever you look — such as the upstairs restored wood bar, array of vintage-style tables and chairs, projector beaming out old classic films and a roaring fireplace found in the Black Swan’s intimate side room. True to the venue’s heart, chilled out indie tunes play out in the day and turn into pumped up indie anthems, both old and new, as the night goes on.

Best Bars Tip: As tempting as it is to stay at the bar working your way through the drinks menu, the Pizza Kitchen cannot be missed. Its copper furnace serves up sourdough deliciousness until 10pm every night and the Yorkshire chorizo is one of our favourite Leeds’ bar bites to date.

— Mieke-Kyra Smith, @mieke_chu

Black Swan Leeds fireplace

The Prince George

The Prince George Brighton barPopular with the post-work crowd, neighbourhood boozer The Prince George — located on bustling Trafalgar Street — is a mix of both traditional pub and boutique bar. Case in point: there are lots of cosy nooks and crannies (surrounded by the type of framed posters and paintings you’d expect to find in an old timer) merged with pendant lamps and exposed brick walls alongside fancy wallpaper. It’s this, plus the lovely little garden – replete with plenty of plants, plus heaters and big brollies in the evenings – which brings the crowds.

Its main draw, however, is its restaurant Veggie-Veggie. As its name suggests, the entire menu is dedicated to herbivores, and it’s been voted as one of PETA’s top 10 veggie restaurants in the UK. With the likes of ginger beer-battered halloumi with chips and mushy peas as well as chestnut mushroom ravioli with blue cheese sauce on head chef Malcolm Ingram’s menu, we’re not surprised.

If you’re just after a bevvie, then the selection of local ales here is almost second-to-none. There’s a range on offer from the 1648 Brewing Co, Dark Star, Langham, Kissingate and Hepworth & Co. We make ours a pint of Dark Star IPA every time.

Best Bars tip: For the serious vegetarians, there’s a meat-free wine and beer list. Very virtuous.

— Heather Steele, @steeleheather

The Prince George Brighton fireplace

The 7 Best Alternative Christmas Events in London 2014

Grotto Outre Christmas pop up

1. Grotto Outré

This is a wholly different kind of Christmas pop-up. Enter through an icy kingdom where the stairway to Outré awaits. All week long Grotto Outré is giving you something special: kicking off with Festive Film Nights on Mondays, Bingo Bonanza on Tuesdays, Quizmas Wednesdays and on Throwback Thursdays the reigns are handed over to you to control the playlist, find the magical track and banish Scrooges ghost’s forever to win an Outré prize. On Fridays and Saturdays expect outrageous club nights with UK DJs including Grotto resident Mrs Claws, and when the jingle bells chime, be ready to Swap-a-HoHo – stay close to that festive washing line as an item of clothing must be exchanged. On Sundays, recharge with Smokin’ Bloody Marys and live acoustic tunes. If you’re good, then you get Christmassy cocktails like Mince Pie Martinis — made with mince mix, toffee vodka, plum, apricot, lemon and a touch of sugar. Or get a bit vegetal with The Fairy’s Kiss — a mix of gin, petit pois, lemon, sugar, cranberry sauce, cranberry and apple.  And if you want to go “Off Your Sled”, you can throw back a shot of tequila, cinnamon and a slice of orange.
Tickets range from £10 to £35.
28 November-21 December. Red Gallery, 1-3 Rivington Street, EC2A 3DT.

Hot Tub Cinema crowd2. Ho-Ho-Hot Tub Christmas

Hot tubs. Cinema. Music. Dancing. This is Christmas on another level. Grab a few mates and book a whole tubs (or risk it for a biscuit and make some new friends). If you like a bit more adventure and debauchery for your movie night out, then this is it. From screenings of Elf to Gremlins to Die Hard to Love Actually, there’s a taste of something for everyone. And if you love some karaoke, then book in for 14 December and sing your heart out with lucky voice. There’s plenty to drink and nibbles to eat, plus the end of the night usually results in an impromptu hot tub dance party. Never been to one? Well now’s your chance.
Individual tickets are £35.
2-18 December. Former Shoreditch Underground station, E1 5ER.

the little match girl passion and karolaoke3. the little match girl passion + Karolaoke

This ain’t your average Christmas concert, Opera Erratica and The Coveryard are putting on an all-interactive music theatre EXTRAVAGANZA. Staging an all-night transition from winter cold and isolation to warmth and festive cheer. Expect plenty of sing-a-long pop and classical crossover covers as well as carol arrangements.
Tickets are £15 (£18 on the door).
11-12 December, 7.30pm. Shapes, 117 Wallis Road, E9 5LN.

Nordic Yulefest pop up4. Nordic Yulefest

Things have gone a bit Scandi in London this Christmas season, and this one in particular is going all out. Expect a birch tree-filled fairyland with sheepskin-laden nooks, marzipan pigs and the charismatic Tomte (or Santa Claus as some may call him) leading the festivities. Your ticket will include a Christmas cocktail, four courses of Nordic feasting, games, dancing and plenty of unbridled tomfoolery. And if you just want the frolicking, then book yourself a “Late Night Frolic” ticket for £20 — lets you in after the eating and lets you stay for all the partying.
Brunch is £55 a head. Dinner is £75 a head. 
6-21 December. Every Saturday and Sunday for brunch and dinner. 1 Kingsland Road, E2 8AA.

Palace of the Snow Queen Christmas Cabaret5. Palace of the Snow Queen

It’s a Cabaret-cum-circus in a secret Shoreditch location. From wintery themed décor to gourmet winter fare to theatrical circus and cabaret performances, this is a one-stop shop.
Standard ticket is £79. Show and after-party only is £25.
4-19 December. 6pm-2am. Secret location.

Pop Up Screens6. Pop-Up Screens

An inside-out cinema, where the wardrobe is outside (aka the entryway) and the snow is IN. Screening films like National Lampoons: Chrismas Vacation to the Muppets Christmas Carol to Trading Places — you can go family-friendly or a bit edgy. There will be typical cinema treats like popcorn and bags of sweets. And also, there will be snow. Inside. Snow inside.
Tickets are £20.
12-23 December. 1pm and 8:30pm screenings. 20th Century Theatre, 291 Westbourne Grove, W11 2QA.

Somerset House Skate7. Skate At Somerset House

Now this might seem more classical than alternative, but with club nights, an après-skate lounge and Glad Tidings Tuesdays — you’ll do a bit more than just glide around in circles. Oh, and did we mention this is probably the most beautiful ice rink in London? Well now we did.
Tickets from £7.50.
11 November-11 January. Somerset House, The Strand, WC2R 1LA.

— Sasha Filimonov, @SashaSips

Barsmith

Bar Smith FarringdonThere’s a new kid in Farringdon and it’s one that’s a bit cool but with a secret obsession for sciency things. Meet Barsmith, where the young professional crowd sips on cocktails made with house-infused spirits – mustard vodka anyone?

Cocktails aren’t all that extreme though – there’s a lot of more typical flavour associations like passionfruit-infused vodka, or rum infused with ginger and honey. The latter is used in the bar’s self-titled serve, an easy drinking spicy fizz with added lychee, lime, mint and ginger beer. For some real heat though, it’s Hot Stuff Baby: citrus-infused vodka with carrot juice and egg white, plus plenty of stem ginger and chilli. If you’re more into beer or wine, both sections of the menu include really useful charts, with bitterness and flavour scales. Stand at the bar for a while to see the pizzaiolos at work; we’re sure you won’t be able to resist long before ordering a ‘nduja pizza – they can even be made gluten free. There’s some cheese and cured meats too if you just want to nibble, and sweet stuff courtesy of Crosstown Doughnuts.

Not convinced yet? You should – the place is relaxed, helped by the large space that makes for easy casual conversation during the week, and makes way for DJ-led nights on the weekend. The perfect place to get a party started …

Best Bars tip: Barsmith’s happy hour is sort of unbelievable, with two-for-one cocktails between 8pm and 10pm on weekdays, and all day Saturday. Yes, all day.

– Gaëlle Laforest, @gaellelaforest

Bar Smith Farringdon

Freemasons Tavern

Freemasons Tavern Brighton HoveLocated in a corner of Brunswick, this Hove establishment stands out from the crowd of high street chains and local shops with its striking Grade-II listed exterior. Trust us, Freemasons Tavern is stunning: picture a tiled mosaic front and two storeys of art deco windows and imposing glass doors. 1930s heaven.

Inside, this splendor isn’t quite echoed, except for the bar, which has a gold tiled ceiling. Instead you’re greeted with the kind of interior that wouldn’t look out of place in a more modern joint: exposed brick walls, tables and benches made of reclaimed wood and a variety of art – mostly of pop culture icons – all feature here.

The bar’s biggest draw is its affordability: a bottle of house wine costs under £12, while a classic cocktail is £6.50. In terms of food, expect to find pub grub staples such as burgers, fish & chips and roast dinners on a Sunday.

Best Bars tip: This laid-back spot is the perfect place for hanging out with friends away from much busier, louder establishments. It also stays open until 1am on a week night and 2am on Fridays and Saturdays. That’s a lot of time for catching up.

— Heather Steele, @steeleheather

Freemasons Tavern Brighton Hove