Nothing beats a neighbourhood boozer, and the people of Hackney have a fair few to choose from. Mile End-ers are lucky that The Kenton manages east London cool while bypassing the pretension that often comes along with it. Mixing antiques with modern curiosities, the Norwegian-run pub offers what you’d expect from a local watering hole, along with a couple of surprises along the way. American pale ales are, obviously, on the menu – Dogfish Head DNA most notably – as is Jeremiah Weed and a crowd-pleasing roster of cocktails … Viking Blood, anyone?
Lancashire-based Northern Soul Food provide the grub. Burgers start at £6.50 – amazing – and range from classic cheeseburgers to the likes of The Bambino, containing 100% wild venison with spiced red cabbage, Dijon mustard and cheese. Sunday roasts are provided in-house, too. Well, it wouldn’t be a neighbourhood pub if they didn’t.
The huge range of extra-curricular (the curricular being drinking) activities is impressive. Pop along for a film night, take part in quizzes or try your hand at the Rock N Roll bingo. You can even take advantage of the beer garden which, in the colder months, has blankets to keep punters cosy.
Best Bars tip: Go midweek for Wine Wednesdays, or get out of work quick on Fridays to take part in Rock, Paper, Scissors against the barmen. If you beat them, your drink is half-price. Winner.
— Millie Milliken, @milliemilliken
From the team behind Seven at Brixton comes a sibling that’s got potential to establish itself as one of Brixton’s greats. Three Eight Four has that “south of the River” cool minimalism, from the industrial-looking shop front through to the simple small plates and cocktail menu. It just hits the spot.
Try and grab a seat at the bar so you can stare at the shelves of spirits to give you ordering inspiration. You’ll also have front row on the spectacle if you order a Mr Flambtastic, which involves flambéed peaches that’ll cause flames almost hitting the roof in front of your eyes. The Bombay Kitchen is refreshing with a welcome kick of spice, and comes with a side of mini poppadoms to get your appetite going. The food menu’s not to be missed: the nduja with ricotta on bread is so moreish we’d recommend ordering two portions, but there’s also plenty of veggie options. Hello arancinis!
Start the day there with a stack of pancakes or come at night when it gets pleasantly buzzing – with a dimmed atmosphere that’s as good for dates as it is for imbibed catch-ups with friends.
Best Bars tip: If you’re feeling traditional drinks-wise, ask to see their classic cocktails album – it’s impressive and beautiful, and will help you get to know all the drinks you should.
— Gaëlle Laforest, @gaellelaforest
Set 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
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
*This bar is now closed.*
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.
— Gaëlle Laforest, @gaellelaforest
Bond 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
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.
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