“I feel sorry for people who don’t drink. When they wake up in the morning, that’s the best they’ll feel all day.” Anywhere that quotes Old Blue Eyes on its cocktail menus has us sold. Housed on the ground floor of growing foodie square Kingly Court, Wright Brothers’ Soho Oyster House gives bivalve mollusc lovers what they want in unpretentious environs. Marble-top poser tables and stools make the bar area of the group’s Soho outpost possibly more suited than others to casual meets than sit-down dinners (although we wouldn’t be adverse to the latter).
The wine list would please any fisherman after a long day at sea, but it’s the herb- and fruit-heavy cocktail list that catches the eye. For long libation lovers, the Manda’s Elixir ticks the boxes with Portobello Road gin, peach, passionfruit, apple and lemon juice. But if it’s a short, sharp hit you’re after, the Mellow Barrel with Four Roses bourbon, Portal LBV port and egg white will take the edge off a long working day. Damage control comes in the form of small and large plates — we’re salivating over the likes of Alaskan king crab and wagyu beef. But it is, of course, the oysters we’re here for. Majestic platters served on stands make for, perhaps, the most extravagant of table centres. Get them dressed with kizami wasabi, chilli jam and cucumber sorbet, or have them naked, just as nature intended them to be.
You’ll be just as likely to see suited co-workers chatting shop as a couple of friends catching up after a long day in their respective offices. A dedicated bar entrance also means you don’t get the thoroughfare of restaurant and private dining guests disturbing you. Nobody wants to be watched as they slurp, do they?
Best Bars tip: This place fills up at about 7pm, so get down early for pre-dinner oysters or post-work cocktails with a couple of mates. Make sure to check out the cool caged private dining area, too. Guys looking to impress a date would do well to book in at the window. Well, you know what they say about oysters, don’t you?
A huge outdoor seating area makes suburban Brighton pub, The Park View, a great place for post-park drinks and long summer Sundays.
Beer is well-kept with a strong roster of lagers, often including Budvar and Brooklyn lager. Local ales populate the hand pumps and the spirits selection goes way beyond the usual pub suspects. Pub food is slightly above average with dishes like salt and pepper squid and proper sausage and mash setting the tone.
Set back from the main drag between London and Brighton, The Park View tends to attract a local crowd, from 20-somethings who don’t want to head into town to families and the post-work crowd on their way home from nearby Preston Park station.
Best Bars tip: If you’re looking for a party venue, try downstairs; it’s a fair size and it comes with a separate entrance.
Exmouth Market’s been London’s up-and-coming idyllic village for a while – maybe came-and-coming would be more accurate. Yet it’s not been taken over just by newbies; quite the contrary in the case of Medcalf Traiteur, the offspring of its decade-old original, Medcalf. Here the theme is quite French picnic, so pop by when you’re feeling chilled and chatty.
While the Traiteur’s quite popular at lunch times for its hearty specials, at night the place turns wine bar, with a selection of quirky Old World wines served by the glass, and plenty more bottles if you’re very thirsty. It’s all very convivial and informal, so get chatting to the waiter about what you like – or not – and they’ll be happy to get you tasting. The wines available change as often as weekly so we’d recommend small measures to try them all, and to keep coming back. Food wise it’s all charcuterie platters, cheese and salads, but some is available from the main restaurant next door too if you’re feeling like “proper” plates. We loved the potato gnocchi and could not get enough of the desserts.
Looking around, things are pretty simple: wooden décor, plain hanging lights, brick walls painted white and a display of meats and cheese by the window. This isn’t a place trying to be more than it is – you, small groups of friends, passers-by and eager guzzlers alike will feel welcome. It feels like an extension of your own living room, and that’s what matters most.
Best Bars tip: Bring your old vinyls and ask if you can contribute to the night’s playlist … the DJ’s the record player here.
Leeds’ north quarter channels east London vibes with this trendy, bustling venue. Across Belgrave Music Hall’s three floors you’ll find food, live music, an art market, film screenings, a token french bulldog or two (of course) and the city’s most impressive roof terrace.
Serving a wide selection of cask ales, premium lagers and craft brews (including the venue’s own craft beer made with Northern Monk Brew Company), this is the ideal drinking spot for beer lovers. If you’re not into hops you can choose from straight up mixers, no-fuss slushy cocktails, a short wine list or get a caffeine fix with fresh coffee courtesy of Laynes Espresso. Canteen-style street food is served up by Dough Boys, the in-house “pizza pilgrims” who deliver a constantly changing menu of locally sourced products and vegan and gluten-free options. If you’re a foodie, you’ll love Belgrave Feast which takes over the venue every second Saturday of the month to showcase independent food vendors from all around the country.
It’s easy to see Belgrave Music Hall as one of the most exciting spaces on the Leeds scene. Its east London-inspired décor with industrial touches and minimalist bold designs make the perfect backdrop for the eclectic roster of music, arts and film performances. The large roof terrace itself is enough to draw a crowd, decked out with fake grass, quirky heated huts, deck chairs and its own mini bar. Whether you’re up for food, booze or art, this is the ultimate year-round hangout for any culture vultures, foodies and beer enthusiasts.
Best Bars tip: Love dough? Pizza slices are half price until 7pm, Sunday – Thursday and 5pm Friday and Saturday.
The 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.
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The 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.
*This bar is now closed, but keep an eye out … they may be cropping up at another locale soon.*
Come hell or High Water, Dalston has a new chilled out cocktail haven. This treasure of a bar is the product of one seriously talented team: Bobby Hiddleston of New York’s Dead Rabbit, Durham Atkinson of Hops & Glory, Mia Johansson of Milk & Honey and Barbarossa Inan of Hawksmoor. Are these capable hands? Why yes they are.
Whatever your tipple of choice, it will be perfectly executed and utterly delicious. Classics are bang on, and so are all their twists. For a fresh and zesty choice, order the Rolling Tackle made with rosemary tequila, Aperol, carrot and mandarin sherbet. Or for a sweeter, fuller drink then try the Foo Foo Band Night with peanut butter rum, lime and banana. Yummers. For the beer drinkers, there are enough hand-picked choices to keep you happy. And for a bit of both, get a “mini” cocktail chased by a bottle of beer (for less than a tenner). One of our favourites is The Admiral, a crazy twist on the Julep, with rye, cacao, falernum, absinthe and mint.
The exposed brick walls and wood beams instantly create a cosy inviting atmosphere — the kind of place you’d be happy to prop up at the bar any time of the week. Hospitality is king here and the staff are immensely friendly and welcoming, so we reckon your best bet is to grab a couple of stools at the bar and get chatting away to these lovely folks. Or if you want a place to catch up with mates, then this is a perfect choice.
Best Bars tip: We have a sneaky suspicion that this will quickly rise to the top of your favourite bars list. Get in.