The Essential Dive Bars of London
Let's get one thing out of the way: dive bars in London are nothing like the ones in New York, Chicago, or pretty much anywhere in the US. But the spirit of loud tunes, hard booze, and a complete lack of effort while still managing to be totally awesome is alive and kicking. Grab a leather jacket, a glass of bourbon, and we’ll see you at the bar.
Probably the most legit dive bar in London, ditch any of your daintier clothing and be ready to drink all the booze in sight. The floors are sticky, walls are covered in posters and graffiti, and the clientele is distinctly leather clad with a number of motorcycles parked out front; it’s pretty much metal territory here, but everyone is friendlier than they look. Take a spin on their jukebox, find some space in their tiny back room (good luck), and work your way through their bourbon selection. They charge two quid to get in after 11, but it’s totally worth it.
When being overrun by the insanity of Oxford St, it’s easy to miss this tiny oasis of fast drinking, cool talking, and complete lack of BS. There’s the classic bit upstairs, where you can swill sangria and geek out to their vinyl spinning jukebox, or stick it out and head downstairs where old school rock & roll and mod are still having their day and drinks are served in plastic cups with zero fanfare.
Tucked between the nail salons, poundshops, and all the other classiest of establishments, this ‘90s den is open late and loaded with the cool kids of East London. The booze is ridiculously cheap, so get stuck in among the plastic boxes they call chairs and be ready to shake it to everything from Nirvana to dubstep -- but brace yourself for a queue on the weekends and exchanging sweat with everyone they manage to cram inside.
These guys get right to the point here with Booze. Rock. Pizza. as their motto, and trust us, this ain’t no gimmick. Dark and woody, with low lights and neon signs, Aces & Eights is the spot where you want to make friends with the bartenders, who can bang out a whiskey sour just as easily as a boilermaker, and where you should inhale the wood oven pizza, which is seriously good (not to mention much needed after a few rounds). Hijack their free jukebox or catch live bands and challenge your mates to pinball ‘til they chuck you out at 3am.
Get ready to brush up on your pool skills, especially after a few beers in. While it might look pretty unassuming from the outside, step up the steep stairs and find a plethora of tables, the most random music, and copious drinks. It’s generally cash only, so ditch the plastic or any thoughts of having a cocktail. Can’t snag a table? There’s also foosball, table tennis, and a boxing machine. If you’re feeling peckish, they do let you bring in kebabs from next door if you ask nicely.
Get ready to be up close and personal with strangers: this basement number is smaller than you would think possible for a bar, with a sound-system so loud your drink will be rippling to the bass. And at prices like £2.50 a beer all night long, you’ll be wondering what’s actually in those bottles.
With a strict No Suits policy, the owners knew exactly what they were going for when they opened the doors. Get ready for all the bourbon, beers, and bras you could ask for. Take a peak above your head where hundreds of lacy bits are hanging from the ceiling. Ladies, they believe in booze for boobs so toss yours over for free drinks. This is a purpose built dive, so, while it’s got all the right vibes, it also has some of the nicer things in life, like toilet doors.
Your shoebox of a flat is probably bigger than this micro bar. With a huge base of regulars, it’s a bit like an agave fueled Cheers where everyone is friends (tequila does that) and the bartenders are having as good a time as the guests. The music is loud (expect singsongs -- again, tequila does that), the drinks strong, and everyone gets very up close and personal.
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Haley Forest is now a Food & Drinks writer, but once upon a time slung cocktails at a dive called Annie's Social Club (RIP) in San Francisco. Her drink making skills have thankfully improved since.