What started in the East End, as all these things do, has now swept across the city, with an ever-growing pool of speakeasy-style bars popping up behind nondescript doors, toilet walls, and decoy fridges everywhere. Suspend your disbelief, disarm yourself of scepticism, and get ready to relive the city’s prohibition
years (seriously, just go with it) in suitable style, with our guide to the best of London’s American
-inspired illicit drinking dens.
Bar, Cocktail Bar, American, $$$
A cool spot even by Shoreditch standards, Callooh Callay once won Best Cocktail Menu in the World at the Tales of the Cocktail awards. There are three separate bars inside this Lewis Carroll-inspired venue, kept under wraps of varying tightness; head to the back of the front bar and you’ll find a wardrobe straight out of Narnia; through there, and it’s into the Back Lounge; at the back of the Back Lounge, behind a curtain and up a flight of stairs you’ll find the Jubjub bar. However, to crack your way inside the last Russian Doll, you’ll need a four-digit door code, and a membership to boot. Even if you can’t penetrate your way through to this exclusive core, there’s plenty to satisfy in the other two rooms, which are filled with cutesy, colourful furniture, plenty of mood lighting, and an eclectic choice of killer cocktails.
65 Rivington Street, London EC2A 3AY, UK, +44 20 7739 4781
The Mickey Mouse wallpaper is the giveaway in this otherwise unassuming block of flats on Chelsea’s exclusive Sloane Avenue. This place really goes full pelt for the speakeasy vibe, with a sliding peephole, a treasure trove box full of fancy dress, and menus hidden inside of books, which are stacked away in a ‘secret’ bookcase. Housekeeping rules include ‘act like a leading lady, drink like a chorus girl’, ‘if the cops come, bootleg it’, and ‘if you let anyone in, you’re out’, but it’s best to take the exclusivity with a pinch of salt as Barts is really best suited to large groups. How else do you expect to take advantage of the humongous sharing cocktails served in gramophones and top hats and still have enough spring left in your step in case of raids?
Chelsea Cloisters, 87 Sloane Ave, London SW3 3DW, UK, +44 20 7581 3355
Image courtesy of Barts
Evans & Peel Detective Agency
A basement bar in Earl’s Court, Evans & Peel is accessed via a unique, if a little inscrutable, charade. Customers are greeted by an intercom system before a secret entrance opens up (if you have made an appointment), leading to the office of a detective who probes you on the nature of your ‘case’. If your interview is successful, out swings the bookcase and in you go. No doubt ‘Evans’ and ‘Peel’ knew this was more than enough quirk factor to draw crowds to their West End drinking den, and the charade ends abruptly. Once inside, Evans & Peel is a dark and sultry bar, crafted from old church pews, serving London Pale Ale through an antique radiator and bottles enclosed in brown paper bags. In case of cops, obviously.
310c Earls Court Road, London SW5 9BA, UK, +44 20 7373 3573
The Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town
The degree of secrecy at work in this kitschy cocktail club beneath the Shoreditch branch of The Breakfast Club is up for debate. Officially, the thinking goes that potential punters are required to announce to a member of staff that they would like to ‘see the mayor’, at which point you are ushered into the secret bar in the basement. However, it seems that on some nights the bar’s existence is advertised willy-nilly to passersby, somewhat defeating the purpose of the whole charade. The entrance, in any case, is disguised as a fridge, so you’re always guaranteed at least a taste of the speakeasy spirit. Inside, America-style diner food and fabulous cocktails are served in a snug, laid back, just-the-right-side-of-hipster space, packed with oddities such as mooseheads, mirrorballs, and ‘no heavy petting’ signs hung on bare wooden and brick walls.
12-16 Artillery Lane, London E1 7LS, UK, +44 20 7078 9639
Bar, BBQ, $$$
Bringing a touch of glam to the ‘illicit’ proceedings (inside at least, the entrance being hidden between a collection of very run of the mill offices), this Old Street speakeasy has enjoyed an incongruous degree of renown in its six year life (so much so that it has now resorted to taking online bookings and charging for no-shows). The surroundings are a New York breed of sophistication, with live jazz and blues music, but the stars of the show are 100 percent the bar staff, who dream up a ridiculously good mix of unique cocktails that are subdivided into historical eras, using some of the strangest ingredients we’re ever heard of, including tree bark, peanut butter ice cubes, sea plankton, mozzarella, and even creepy crawlies — yes, real ones. Seriously, their Instagram page will knock your socks off.
129 City Road, London EC1V 1JB, UK, +44 20 7253 4101
Monday's #drinkoftheday is our sharing cocktail Forest Floor. A leftfield favourite, this boozy, herbal, fresh concoction includes Hennessy Fine de Cognac, Glenfiddich 12, Pine liqueur, Neige Apple Ice Wine, clementine juice, our homemade 'holy' spiced syrup, all topped off with a mushroom and birch bark soda. If you like the smell of the forest on a wet day (and who doesn't?), you will love this cocktail. Photography @addiechinn #cocktailoftheday #nightjar #proudaspunch #drinkporn #cocktailporn #hennessy #glenfiddich
The Chelsea Prayer Room
Bar, Pub, Restaurant, American, Italian, $$$
The Chelsea Prayer Room
Just off the King’s Road, the home of the Made in Chelsea crowd, one can find Goat, an upscale American Italian restaurant and bar inside what was a 350-year-old pub — but it’s what’s upstairs that interests us. Tell whoever greets you at Goat that you’ve been bad and want to repent for your sins (try not to feel too much of a festishistic creep in the process), and cross your fingers that they’ll see fit to lead you to the hidden bar — either that or you can sign up for a membership and get a little key fob or door code. The cocktail list inside the Chelsea Prayer Room is basically the same as Goat’s bar (with gimmicky names that include ‘The Goatfather’, ‘Huckleberry Gin’, ‘Paddington Pear’ and ‘Jamaican Me Crazy’) but with unbranded bottles in keeping with the speakeasy theme. The décor inside this tiny drinking den is smolderingly cool, a homage to George Moorland, former Goat & Boots regular and famed painter of rustic scenes — comfy Chesterfields are crammed into the dimly lit space, one wall of which is taken up by a Moorland-esque mural. Pick your poison from a hymn book-menu and hunker down with the rest of the congregation in what must be one of God’s best gifts to faux speakeasy culture.
333 Fulham Road, London SW10 9QL, UK, +44 20 7352 1384
Image courtesy of Chelsea Prayer Room | Image courtesy of Chelsea Prayer Room
Experimental Cocktail Club
An unusual find in Chinatown, the Experimental Cocktail Club is the offshoot of the Parisian original, and has translated the vibe well across the Channel, with some French staff to boot. Set in a three storey townhouse, the ECC is a hard one to find, hidden behind a nondescript, shabby chic door — black, scruffed up with a splash of red. Inside, it’s easy to see how the clandestine atmosphere has charmed the Soho crowd— romantic lighting, snug booths, plush furnishings, exposed brickwork, attractive decorative pieces, and a small piano tucked away in the upstairs bar. The cocktails regularly get rave responses, and there are even some super pricey vintage drinks on offer, using a selection of spirits from the ’40s and ’50s. The bar is not endeared for its door staff, who seem to stomp on quite a few toes in pursuit of the exclusive speakeasy attitude, but perhaps that’s just all part of the fun.
13a Gerrard Street, Chinatown, London W1D 5PS, UK