Food & Drink

The Most Underrated Bars in London

Haley Forest Published On 10/20/2015 Published On 10/20/2015

London has some of the world’s best bars, at least according to pretty much everyone. While the spotlight giveth, and the spotlight taketh away, there are a bunch of innovative, excellent spots that’ve been robbed of their rightful share of that fickle glory. Well, we’re here to redress the balance. From hidden gin dens to California wine bars, these are London’s most underrated bars.

Merchant House

Merchant House

Deep within the depths of The City is one of the largest gin and rum collections you’ve probably ever seen. Unfortunately however, it seems they've gone to great lengths to hide the place; you must first venture down a small Dickensian alley, into an unassuming door, and down a winding set of stairs before this colonially styled basement bar makes itself known. Behind it, in the old cabinets at the back, they house booze rarities you might once thought of as myths, and for £25 you can get a flight of four of them (and that's not to mention the outstanding cocktails they mix them into).

Scarfes Bar

Scarfes Bar

Housed inside the Rosewood Hotel just around the corner from Holborn tube station, you’d never guess this grandiose-yet-ridiculously-cosy bar is hiding behind all that stone. Plush carpets, overstuffed sofas, roaring fireplaces, jazz Sundays... this place ticks all the boxes. And yet somehow there’s always room to find a nice nook to settle into and lose time, lulled into a state of relaxation by the expert service, great drinks, and delicious food.  

Mission E2

Mission

Known predominantly as a restaurant, the kitchen here often steals thunder from the equally incredible bar. Recently taken over by Marcis Dzelzainis (who earned his stripes at Dandelyon, Satan's Whiskers, and 69 Colebrooke Row), the cocktail menu is reasonably priced, and filled with surprises like the inventive Frozen Campari & Melon, and the outstanding Ambrette Sazerac. And being the sister venue to Sager+Wilde, the California-dominant wine list is understandably excellent, too.

Jason Allen/Thrillist

Sovereign Loss

Although mainly known for being one of the few 24-hour licensed spots in the city (they generally close between 5-6am), and therefore a one-stop nightcap shop before heading home, Sovereign really deserves to be the first stop of the night. The drinks here are always world class, thanks to a rotating cast of guest bartenders from establishments like Milk & Honey, Trailer Happiness, the London Cocktail Club, the Punch Room, etc., and the quality never dips, even as dawn is breaking.

The Shrub & Shutter

The Shrub & Shutter

Despite gaining a fair bit of attention when they first opened, S&S seems to have dropped off the radar recently... which is just plain stupid, because this place is still fantastic. The menu is loaded with imaginative drinks (like the Teriyaki Manhattan w/rum, bourbon, sweet vermouth, teriyaki dressing, and salmon), and the atmosphere is cozy, comfortable, and inviting. Also? They have a late licence!

Mr. Frogg's Residence

Mr Fogg’s

Inspired by a certain balloon-loving Victorian adventurer, this place is quirky, over the top, and pretty much overlooked by most of the glitz of Mayfair. If you can find it through (it’s on a back street, and you’ll need to press a buzzer on an unmarked door), you’ll wonder why. The furnishings are luxuriant, the service is outstanding, and the drinks are delicious, including such Verne-inspired ingredients as mushroom-infused gin and tea syrup.

El Nivel

El Nivel

If tequila and mezcal make your breath come quick, then a) you’re in the extreme London minority, and b) you need to climb the stairs to this hidden agaveria perched above La Perla on Maiden Lane for one of the in-depth selections in the nation. Headed up by Jesse Estes, son to tequila legend Tomas Estes, this is where to come for the best agave shots and cocktails you’ll find outside of Mexico. Be sure to grab some snacks as well -- being above a restaurant has its benefits.

Zetter Town House

Zetter Townhouse

Trust us, this is so much more than just another hotel bar. Feeling almost like someone’s living room, there are no parties or thumping music here -- just great service and near-perfect drinks, which, by the way, come from none other than Tony “the Heston Blumethal of cocktails” Conigliaro. Sadly overlooked thanks to the mass of Clerkenwell cocktail spots nearby, this one is worth going out of your way for.

The Black Heart

Our Black Heart

Down a side-street behind The World's End, this is the Camden bar you should have been coming to for years. Refreshingly clear of tourists, this is an easy going dive bar with a great music program (admire the lineup here), a kitchen for popups (including Mother Clucker, Tongue 'n Cheek, Smoke'n'Roll, etc.), and a fantastic selection of craft brews behind the bar.

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Haley Forest is a London writer who nobly and selflessly intends to give these bars her patronage. Follow her at @HCForest.

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1. Merchant House 13 Well Ct, London, EC4M 9DN (The City)

To find this generous den of one of the largest gin and rum collections you'll likely ever see, you must first venture down a small Dickensian alley, into an unassuming door, and down a winding set of stairs before this colonial-styled basement bar makes itself known. Once you're in, you can get a four-piece flight of rare booze for just £25 (and that's not to mention the outstanding cocktails they mix them into).

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2. Scarfes Bar 252 High Holborn, London, WC1V 7EN (Holborn)

With high ceilings, modern chandeliers, crazy artwork, overstuffed furniture and a drink list that would intimidate a lesser person, Scarfes Bar is the place to be. Get pulled into this massive, yet cozy room, claim a spot by the huge fireplace and feel like the royalty you obviously are. Insider’s tip: check out the insane back bar, a Sunday burlesque show, and the resident pup.

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3. Sager + Wilde (formerly Mission E2) Arch 250 Paradise Row, London, E2 9LE

Known predominantly as a restaurant, the bar is equally incredible and notable. The cocktail menu is reasonably priced, and filled with surprises like the inventive Frozen Campari & Melon, and the outstanding Ambrette Sazerac. And being the sister venue's California-dominant wine list, filled with red, sparkling, orange, and sweet treasures, is excellent as well.

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4. Sovereign Loss 467- 469 Brixton Rd, London, SW9 (Brixton)

Enter through the trade entrance via a buzzer and find yourself in a diamond in the Brixton rough. With the talents of Chris Dennis, who’s put in serious time at Trailer Happiness and the Zetter Townhouse, it’s a no brainer that the drinks are top notch and the dark wallpaper and little patio make you never want to leave.

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5. The Shrub & Shutter 336 Coldharbour Ln, London, SW9 8QH (Brixton)

The Shrub & Shutter is a mixology wonderland in which imaginative cocktails reign supreme. Consider, for example, the barbecue coconut old fashioned: a whimsical combination of Ron Millianaro 15-year, coconut water reduction, angostura, and barbecue fat smoke, artfully presented in a blowtorched coconut husk. The kitchen offers fresh interpretations on classic British fare and adamantly uses locally sourced, organic ingredients. The place has a laboratory vibe to it -- a mélange of white-tiled walls, recipes scribbled on chalkboards, and shelves laden with beakers, bottles, and curious fauna -- quite fitting, considering the experimental nature of the drink list.

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6. Mr Fogg's 15 Bruton Ln, Mayfair, London, W1J 6JD (Mayfair)

This Mayfair drinkery is one of London's best-kept secrets, with terrific cocktails made by experienced mixologists, an extensive liquor collection, and a wonderfully kitschy interior, Mr Fogg's is a solid choice for after-work drinks or a whole night out.

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7. Agaveria El Nivel 28 Alto Maiden Ln, London, WC2E 7JS (Covent Garden)

This classy Covent Garden 'tail spot specializes in agave spirits and antojitos (small plates), the former of which is represented by a large variety of rare and exclusive tequilas, mezcals, bacanoras, sotols, and raicillas.

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8. The Cocktail Bar At ZTH 49-50 St John, , London, EC1V 4JJ (The City)

Enjoying a cocktail at the posh cocktail bar/lounge lounge situated inside the Zetter Townhouse, even your conversation takes a weightier significance by proxy, between pauses of gleefully asking the bartender for another.

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9. The Black Heart 3 Greenland Place, London, NW1 0AP (Camden)

This South Korean bar and resto serves up an especially hearty version of fries with steak, sour cream, and kimchi, and they also pour a large variety of cold brews.

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