About Time You Tried: London’s Most Covert CocktailsBy Liam Barker
From Campari bars in car parks to cocktail bars in old public toilets, the London bar scene gets quirkier by the day – and our city is brimming with secret spots, if you know where to look. To be honest, writing this guide alone, I’ve walked through wardrobes, mirrors and bookcases for a tipple. Here are 5 of the best hidden bars off the beaten track – don’t forget, after you’ve taken your friends and they say, ‘HOW do you know about that place’, just look fly and brush it off.
Tucked down a side street in Spitalfields is The Breakfast Club – ask to see ‘The Mayor’ and they’ll escort you through the Smeg fridge downstairs to the wooden clad basement cocktail bar. The Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town is always buzzing and their version of the Bloody Mary the ‘Mezcallywag’ makes it perfectly OK to drink Mezcal in the early afternoon. Trust us, it’s worth coming for more that just their epic pancakes.
12-16 Artillery Lane, London E1 7LS
Have you ever noticed there’s a random old neon cinema sign at the end of Kingsland Road? Well head down the rickety stairs and you’ll find no, not secret cinema, but Ruby’s – one of London’s finest cocktail bars. In fact, the words ‘drinking den’ have never been more apt. Housed in an old Chinese takeaway Ruby’s is the definition of stripped back. The cocktails are a mix of classics and seasonal offerings made from house infused spirits and come served up in 1940s milk bottles and tin cups. Warning: the Blackberry Mojito is highly addictive.
76 Stoke Newington Road, London N16 7XB
You can find 214 Bermondsey concealed below the brilliant Italian restaurant Antico. Enter the restaurant and head down the stairs on your left to enter this dimly lit speakeasy. Forget about Gin Palace, 214 Bermondsey is a Ginstitution – they have over 50 different varieties of the stuff. They take Gin so seriously here, they even make their own tonic, which is a little less carbonated allowing the Gin to shine through. Try one of their gin flights, you’re served 3 mini G&Ts with a wax sealed envelope, taste them then it’s your job to guess which is which!
214 Bermondsey Street, London SE1 3TJ
Exmouth market has some great restaurants, but cocktail bars? Well head over to the Exmouth Arms. Once inside, head straight past the bar and in the far corner you’ll find a non-descript staircase. Ascend the stairs and along the corridor and you’ll find 5CC. An intimate, low lit speakeasy, with dark wood, brass tabletops and an apothecary cabinet full of aged spirits. Make sure you book, especially on weekends – ending up in the Exmouth Arms may leave slightly less of an impression.
Exmouth Arms, 23 Exmouth Market, London EC1R 4QB
So you’ve just taken in some classic Katharine Hepburn at the BFI Southbank, so do you join the masses at the bar afterwards? Nope, you walk straight past them and behind that random bookcase next to the stairs. There you can find the decadent Drawing Room with plush leather armchairs, antique luggage chests and classic Jazz setting the tone. There’s a cocktail menu divided into flutes, Martinis, slings and rocks, so something to suit all tastes. They do some great modern twists on classic cocktails too using fresh herbs and artisan jams. Fig jam in your Old Fashioned, anyone?
BFI Southbank, Waterloo, London SE1 8XT