The Most Remarkable Speakeasies in London
Speakeasies date back to the 1920s, the days of Prohibition in the US... when drinking was still totally legal in the UK, and a hidden bar would have made no sense whatsoever. Nowadays, the terms "Prohibition-era bar," and "speakeasy" generally indicate specific cultural markers, such as “this space is probably decorated with exposed Edison light bulbs,” “the bar staff is definitely tattooed and almost certainly intricately mustachioed,” and “these guys totally have a thing for classic cocktails.” In our case, we’ve decided to go for those bars that make you work for it -- places that play the game with you, and are completely hidden -- or at least very hard to find.
<h2>Jub Jub at <a href="https://www.thrillist.com/venues/callooh-callay" target="_blank">Callooh Callay</a></h2>
As if Callooh Callay wasn't cool enough (it was the winner of the World's Best Cocktail Menu at Tales of the Cocktail in '12, after all!), if you head through the wardrobe in the back, you'll find yourself in a hidden bar. Now head to the back of <em>that</em> hidden bar, wander up a staircase, and you’ll come upon <em>another</em> hidden bar. This is Jub Jub, where the bartenders can really dive in, play, and make their own menu... which changes every couple weeks, so be sure to chat them up and find out what house-made shrub/infusion/delightful concoction they’ve thought up this time.
Examine the perfectly ordinary-looking block of flats in the Chelsea Cloisters until you spot the Mickey Mouse wallpaper, then ring the bell, and hope the bartenders like the look of you through the peephole. Inside, find an odd mix of fantastical/absurd car-boot-purchased decor, strong/fanciful drinks with a huge sharing menu (served in teapots, naturally), and plenty of eye-catching clientele. Gather a gang and try the Sloane Ranger, a delightful combination of green-tea-infused Tanqueray London Dry gin, apple, Miclo Liqueur de Violette, honey, and peach.
From the outside, it looks like an antique shop, and from the inside, it seems like a cafe. But down below, by the toilets, through a door with a warning sign of death, you can find your way into a swanky micro-bar. Part of the Rushmore Group (Milk & Honey and Street Feast), it has a beyond-solid cocktail menu organized by lethality, and if you manage to work your way through all 20 drinks (on repeated visits, of course), you'll even be rewarded with a £50 bar tab. Start with the Dirty Bomb Cobbler (level one severity), which is comprised of Havana Especial, amontillado sherry, apricot, maraschino, and seasonal fruit... then keep your eye on the long game.
This spot is presented as an actual '30s-style detective agency, where you have to come armed with an interesting case for the folks here to solve. If they accept your case, they'll pull just the right book on the shelf, which opens a hidden door to the slick cocktail joint behind. Wine and beer is kept on the DL in brown paper bags, while cocktails are ordered with a nudge and a whisper, like the Salty Can’t Dance with Ardbeg whisky, Angostura bitters, orgeat syrup, lime, and salt.
These guys take the idea of a speakeasy and make it a little less subtle. If you find yourself in a pub -- say Harrild & Sons in Farringdon, the Electricity Showrooms in Shoreditch, or Exmouth Arms in Exmouth Market, to name a few -- and you see a big neon sign that says 5CC, do yourself a favour and follow on to find a hidden(ish) land of cocktails and fun-times. It's all strictly seated only -- no riffraff here, thanks -- and the menus lean towards the classic, with a special range of house-aged cocktails at a few of the sites.
Upon telling the helpful staff at The Breakfast Club that you are there "to see the Mayor,” you may then climb through a Smeg fridge and down some stairs into a brick-walled haven of booze. Keep an eye out for the Irish Garden, a blend of Ban Poitin, yellow & green Chartreuse, mint, cucumber, apple juice, celery bitters, and lemon juice. Remember when you leave to try and keep a straight face -- despite the fact that the exit takes you through the My Little Pony toilets.
The Breakfast Club sure likes its secret bars -- this time south of the river. Head to the back to use the launderette (as is customary in cafes across the capital), and you'll find the wall sliding back to reveal a ’70s-era bachelor pad-esque bar, ready to rock 'n' roll you with a very retro cocktail list filled with libations, such as the Pisco Inferno with Macchu Pisco, pineapple & passionfruit shrub, fresh lemon, and egg white.
Another Breakfast Club production, this time with a distinct love of tequila. Tell the cafe staff you "want to get lucky," and follow them down stairs, through the kitchen, and into a dark, secluded bar with a ceiling covered in multicoloured, mini chinese lanterns. There’s a bit of a culinary bent to the menu, with drinks like the "Tian Green Margarita," which features Tapatio Blanco tequila infused with kaffir lime leaf and red chili, lime coconut milk, and lemongrass-infused agave -- a recipe that basically constitutes a boozy tom kha soup. There’s also the Mexican Brew, which mixes up the unlikely combination of Ocho Reposado tequila, Yorkshire tea, rosemary syrup, lemon, habanero shrub, and chocolate bitters, and topped with brown ale, all of which come together to form a cocktail as richly complex as it sounds. If you’re feeling especially lucky, be sure to check out the wheel of fortune, and score a chance to win some free booze.
Fight your way past the terrible-yet-compelling house music of Bedroom Bar, and up the unsigned and inconspicuous staircase at the back. Take a left at the coat check, and be welcomed by the heavy-handed barkeeps who will mix up some of that classic Southern hospitality, like the Sazerac. It’s literally one of the best in the world, and was awarded "best sazerac outside of North America" by the New Orleans Culinary and Cultural Preservation Society!
Step into the very healthy-looking Juice Club in Covent Garden and hand over a £20. Suddenly, you're invited behind the bar, through the secret door, and down a tiny staircase into a '20s-style candle-lit cavern. Or, if you find yourself by Mornington Crescent tube, look for the unassuming door that leads to a 1920’s style casino. Oh, and be sure to bring a bottle of booze. They don't have a license, so instead, you bring the bottle of your choice with you, and they'll make it into a bespoke cocktail on the spot with their array of "syrups, fruit juices, spices, herbs, salts, and homemade cordials."
<h2>The Chelsea Prayer Room at <a href="https://www.thrillist.com/venues/goat" target="_blank">GOAT</a></h2>
There’s an ever-changing code on the door here, so you’ll have to play nice to get in. Tell the keepers of the GOAT that you are there to "repent for your sins.” They'll direct you to a door with a keypad lock, and a passcode that brings you into a small, cozy space that will make you want to sin all over again. Menus are presented in prayer books, the booze is all vintage, and the barkeeps certainly know what they're doing.
A dark mirror to the Bourne & Hollingsworth Buildings upstairs, this basement number is everything B&H isn’t -- small, dark, and decidedly sultry, with tapestries covering the walls and insane floor-to-ceiling light panels that come out to play as the night wears on. Taking a tongue-in-cheek approach to clublife and bottle service, bar manager Jim Wrigley has put together a menu of bottled cocktails and high-end mixers for your partying pleasure, while you dance the night away into the wee hours.
Deep in the old part of The City, down one of the smaller, less exciting-looking pedestrian alleys, is a small booze shop and pantry that’s armed with a vast collection of vintage and contemporary spirits, all lining the walls like pieces of art. While this veritable treasury is something to stare at in contemplation, it’s nothing compared to what’s below. Head down a slightly obscured staircase, and you’ll find yourself in one of the largest collections of gin and rum in town. They stockpile around 300 different types of each. Kick back in one of their seriously plush chairs, and let the expert bartenders walk you through their brilliant selection.
If all doctors’ offices were this cool, covered in disco balls, velvet-covered chesterfields, and dark wood paneling, you’d be looking for any excuse to visit. Hidden under the Canary Wharf branch of The Breakfast Club, this joint feels like an old-school members club with a disco edge. Grab one of their pre-bottled "Good Time Tonics" -- the #1 A Jolly Good Time comes loaded with Dolin, Campari, Cointreau, bourbon, and tonic -- and raise a glass to your health.
Enter Four Quarters, but don’t get sucked into the lines of games just begging to be played (when was the last time you kicked ass at Street Fighter II!). Instead, head down the stairs, which lead to a concrete-lined basement dive where the whiskey flows like water, boilermakers are a way of life, and the Belgian beer list is completely on point, and filled to the brim with nearly 40 different options. Plus, the tables are made from old arcade games... so you can still embrace your inner geek while knocking back a couple cold ones.
<h2><a href="https://www.thrillist.com/venues/drink/london/bars/the-cocktail-trading…; target="_blank">The Cocktail Trading Co</a></h2>
This subterranean watering hole is filled with all the kitsch and banter we’ve come to expect from the CTC crew: drinks served in snow globes, wellington boots, and sunscreen bottles; a lighting system that adjusts to the music and mood of the bar... it’s safe to say that while these guys take their booze seriously, they don’t take themselves overly so. Although this joint (located beneath <a href="http://askforjanice.co.uk/" target="_blank">Ask for Janice</a>) is pretty dark and cosy, there’s plenty of space by the bar if you want to get involved and watch the show, but it’s also easy enough to find a secluded table to sit back. Order up an Instaspam, which is comprised of apple brandy, cherry & hazelnut liqueur, orange blossom, and lemon juice -- served in a Spam tin, of course -- and let the bar spin around you.
From the outside, this place looks exactly like what it says on the tin -- a decrepit tailor -- thanks to a sign that is holding on to the brick work for dear life. But take a chance and head down the dodgy-looking side door into a low-ceilinged, exposed-brickwork, raw-light-bulbed den. You’ll soon find yourself with a delicious adult beverage in your hand. Try out the “Juan For The Road,” which is made up of mezcal, Cocchi Americano, Suze, citric acid, and grapefruit bitters.
If walls could talk, this space, which once housed crazy late-night members’ bar Manero’s, could write a 10-volume series. While East London mourned the yellow doors’ final closing, its replacement is seemingly able to match it drink for drink. Decked out in tin-tiled ceilings, neon signs, exposed Edison lightbulbs, and brick walls, this joint also rocks a crazy cocktail menu, wicked DJs, and a solid tapas menu to keep you going all night long. The best part: it's open 'til 5am.
Sign up here for our daily London email and be the first to get all the food/drink/fun in the capital.