The Vault

The Vault's Skandy Dandy

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 Vault Soho

The Drawing Room

The Drawing Room BFI SouthbankThe 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

The Drawing Room BFI Southbank

The Site Office

The Site Office pop up BirminghamBirmingham is harbouring a deliciously stylish password-only pop-up, The Site Office, in which exposed brickwork, candlelit cubby holes and Chesterfields are de rigueur.

With a spirit offering befitting of its industry-insider crowd, if you can get it, try the Black Cow — that’s vodka made from Cornish cows’ milk to you and me. Another Site Office must-try is sherry cask-aged dark rum in the form of the inimitable Dos Maderas, hidden in the defilade of a woodwork project, posing as a bar.

With guest DJs that will keep you vertical until past bedtime, make your arrival no earlier than 10pm and enthusiastically wave goodbye to that last train home.

Best Bars tip: Follow, like and generally stalk The Site Office on Facebook to find out about future events. Or if you are impatient like us, hire the whole thing and throw yourself a humdinger of a private party.

– Katy Drohan, ICHOOSEBirmingham.com

The Site Office pop up Birmingham

Prince of Wales

Prince of Wales Birmingham MoTiki 3An “old man’s pub” given a new lease of life, The Prince Of Wales’ clientele boasts a beautiful mix of traditional cask ale lovers and hip, young Moseleyites looking for cocktails and street food. More proof they can live in harmony! From the classic boozer to the Tiki bar to the shed du vin, there’s a bit of everything at this mish-mash venue.

The cocktail must-have is the Ocean Colour Scream named after local band of the Britpop era, Ocean Colour Scene. It includes their Mo-Tiki homemade grog, lime juice, blue curaçao, cranberry and guava juice.

Check out the incredible cigar shop and winery out back, both of which face into the colossal beer garden that houses the Mo-Tiki bar (and heaters!).

Best Bars tip: Gourmet hot dog specialists Chilli Dog Dog are on hand Thursday through to Saturday nights serving jaw-dropping dogs made with local award-winning “Lashford” snags. Get involved.

— Tom Cullen

Prince of Wales Birmingham pub fireplace

Call Me Mr Lucky

Call Me Mr Lucky Southwark
© Andy Barnham

Typical of the Breakfast Club not-so-secret secret bars, Call Me Mr Lucky is hidden away from London Bridge customers. You’ll have to be taken through the kitchens to get to this little happy place, where tequila flows and there’s plenty of luck to be had.

Mr Lucky loves a pun and the menu is filled with them. Elvis sure wouldn’t mind the Shrub Me Tender, with reposado tequila, kumquats, pineapple and a ginger shrub – tangy and tropical with a little spice. Want flavours you’ve never tasted together before? The Rocket-man mixes tequila, fresh rocket and mint, crème de cacao blanc and coconut water: it’s green, savoury, a little peppery and an almost healthy option – fit for the bar’s medicine bottles which they serve the cocktails in.

The space feels a little like an indoors beach hut with a little Spanish touch to it, with feria posters, colourful Chinese lanterns and customers’ writings adorning the ceiling. It’s a bar to be played with in all possible ways – and with some luck, you’ll win.

Best Bars tip: Spin the fortune wheel on the wall for chances to win shots by making origami or singing Britney – or even free shots for everyone.

— Gaëlle Laforest, @gaellelaforest

call me mr lucky Southwark
© Andy Barnham

Fumo

Fumo Birmingham barThe first thing that hits you at Fumo is the subdued lighting and curved sweeping bar. This place is elegant. This place is brilliant.

It serves sophisticated cicchetti – small dishes of freshly prepared Italian tapas. Try either the polpette (beef meatballs with tomato) or the achingly light crab salad. In terms of drinks, they make classic cocktails brilliantly, or plump from the wine list something red and Italian – the Barolo is our favourite. Without question this is home to Birmingham’s best Italian beer selection with Menabrea, La Mi Dona, La Gradisca and Peroni Gran Riserva joining the usual suspects.

Expect Birmingham’s bankers, big spenders and food buffs. It might not be cheap, but it’s oh so worth it.

Best Bars tip: The ‘Nduja Calabrian soft spicy sausage & buffalo mozzarella pizza is the city’s best slice.

— Tom Cullen

Fumo Birmingham seafood

The Blue Bar at The Berkeley

Blue Bar at The BerkeleyThe Blue Bar at The Berkeley is named after the bespoke shade (Lutyens Blue) that was created especially for the bar by its design guru, David Collins. It’s here that the famous five star formalities are tamed down a little, resulting in a homely, relaxed and stylishly informal environment with chilled out charm that’s impossible to resist.

The bar is essentially a gradual flow of three separate sections that are all cleverly set out to work to the mood of your meeting. If it’s more of a casual thing, hanging out in the open spaces either side of the main entrance to the bar is perfect. If it’s all about the drinks, then the main room is certainly the place. But if it’s privacy you want, the hidden promenade that runs along the left-hand side of the main bar area is perfect.

At The Blue Bar you are just as likely to get a Don the Beachcomber Zombie cocktail in a bespoke Tiki mug as you are a lip smacking champagne cocktail in a hand-cut crystal flute. There is an extreme amount of love and care that goes into both the drinks and the service and yet it never feels in any way pretentious. The understated elegance of this place creates an ambience that is completely individual within the world of London’s five-star hotel bars and cocktails are gangster. Try the Lemon Meringue for starters, made with Stolichnaya vanilla vodka, lemon curd, lemon juice, caramel syrup and Laurent Perrier Champagne or The Highlander featuring Dalmore 12 year, Pierre Ferrand orange curacao, homemade old fashioned syrup and orange bitters.

Best Bars tip: Pop in early afternoon to sip away on the super tasty drinks and bar snacks — plus you’ll get a good seat in the main bar area before the early evening crowds come in.

— Matthew Bray-Heather

Blue Bar at The Berkeley cocktail