As the East End of London goes through rapid redevelopment with a surge of chain stores, new coffee shops and luxury apartments, bar goers seek something a little edgier. With the recent popularity in speakeasies rising, East London has many to offer and their secret locations certainly give that edge. Step inside one of these low-lit bars and listen to chilled music, sip a smooth drink or lavish cocktail, and look to the ceiling knowing hundreds of Londoners walk the streets above, unbeknownst to thrills and revelry below.
With busy commuters rushing about outside, Lounge Bohemia is a hidden gem. It’s easy to walk straight past the bar as it’s wedged between a newsagent and a kebab shop. A single door marks the entrance. The bar sign is nothing more than a title placed on the window of the door. Stepping in and walk down a dark narrow corridor and a set of spiral stairs, you will be surprised by the transformation. A seventies Czech style bar furnished with sofas awaits, filled with the tranquil sounds easy listening music. The drinks menu is constantly changing, and is always unique. Try a crème brulee or lavender bubble bath martini.
‘The Mayor is in Town’ – remember this password, because it’s part of the fun. There’s a process just to get into this speakeasy. Enter a Breakfast Club first and everything seems normal. However, mention the password and be taken through a fridge. Like the cupboard in the Chronicles of Narnia, the fridge opens through to a flight of stairs and an underground bar. Low-lit and with wooden benches, there’s an atmosphere of camaraderie at The Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town, as all patrons feels part of the exclusive circle of the password-informed. It’s the epitome of a speakeasy. There is also table service and bar tabs are available. For drinks, try King Yellowman’s Answer – it’s the 2012 Rumfest winner.
Happiness Forgets is well-known for its authentic vibe | Courtesy Happiness Forgets Bar
With all the revelry of Hoxton Square above, the only thing to remember about Happiness Forgets is that its location is below another restaurant, its sign is painted on the wall outside. The intimate space is candle-lit and has a Middle-Eastern ambience. There are comfortable padded seats along the side of the bar and the exposed brickwork gives it rustic feel. The bar staff are cheerful and friendly. With only a small space, it’s advisable to book ahead.
Wedged between two cafes, a narrow wooden door with a bird engraved on a square of bronze is the entrance to The NightJar. That’s the only signage. Located on busy City Road, a patron could walk by this establishment and not realise it was there. Once found, however, this speakeasy oozes with glamour and sophistication. The plush red seating and wooden décor recreate the roaring 1920s. It’s not all about the drink either; regular shows take place on stage. So with a cocktail in hand, sit back and relax to live folk, jazz or blues.
Located on Rivington Street, Callooh Callay Bar is straightforward to find, with its charm coming in the form of its eclectic decoration. Split on two levels, the upstairs has brightly coloured chairs throughout, and with wooden tables and a gramophone nearby it’s a wonderful merger of the 1920s and 1970s. The bar also has palm trees that work as lamps to add a tropical touch. Food and drink are reasonably priced, and the sliders are especially delicious. The bar is open seven days a week from 6pm to 1am, so there will always be a place to visit on a Sunday evening.
As if Brick Lane could be more exciting, Danger of Death adds the thrill of a speakeasy to the street. A compact bar, it’s difficult to find as there is no signage on street level. Once inside however, there is charm and sophistication to the place. Low-lighting and jazz music, it’s the perfect to unwind and try a fancy cocktail. The menu is fanciful, laid out in the form of a survivors guide to nuclear melt-down. Don’t worry, the menu is only a guide to the hazards of the drinking experience.
Welcome to theatricallity at its best. Located on Cambridge Heath Road in Bethnal Green, The Dead Dolls Club would be the last place to expect a bar hosting jazz bands and glittering mirror balls, or candle lit dinners served along grand tables. Its charm comes from it eclectic style and an atmosphere which promises a good night of fun. It also has another branch, The Dolls House, in Islington. Cocktails are eight pounds, and the menu is modern and seasonal British cuisine, with nibbles available too. Bookings are made via the website.
Speakeasies aren’t always about the 1920s. Tucked away on Rivington Street is Portside Parlour, which is the perfect resting place after sailing the high seas. With the dark, wooden interior, and nautical themed décor, choose from a variety of rums and tropical cocktails. There are booths at the back of the bar for booking. There’s a feeling of secrecy to the bar, and while sipping plantation Rum, a pirate conversation may just be within earshot.
Concealed on Worship Street in Shoreditch, looking up to see a discrete vintage blue sign is the only way to find the venue, where you step through the wooden door into a world of Victorian charm. Filled with antique furniture, from old fashioned lamp posts, a piano, and Chesterfield sofas, Worship Street Whistling Shop demonstrates the Victorian era at its best. The cocktails have quirky names such as The Changeling and The Firebreather. With plenty of gin and meat pies, you will be transported back to 19th Century London.
A new arrival to Bethnal Green Road, Well & Bucket is a pub with all the charm and whimsy of a speakeasy. With chipped tiles and exposed brick work there is a run-down charm about the establishment. There’s an extensive selection of ales and beers, including Belgian. To wash down a pint, they have a vast range of oysters dishes, sliders and, unlike many bars, there’s an excellent variety of sea food dishes. Trying the crab fries with cheese and aioli is a must.