The South Bank is best known for its cultural institutions and tourist attractions, as well as its iconic additions to the London skyline, but the lively area is also home to a lot of excellent bars and pubs where you can cosy up for some refreshments after a day out or before the theatre. Combine culture and cocktails at the revamped BFI bars, enjoy a drink with a view at a fancy hotel or go for a pint in an old Waterloo fire station.
Relax with a cocktail on the BFI Bar & Kitchen’s river-view terrace
Bar, Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, $$$
For a cosy drink, check out the library-style Drawing Room bar. It’s part of the British Film Institute (BFI) Southbank and can be found behind a secret door, like a cocktail-bar version of Narnia. The Drawing Room is perfect for getting away from the hustle and bustle of the South Bank, and a good choice for a date. If you fancy a spot of people-watching, head to the regular BFI bar, which was redeveloped in 2018 and now features a terrace with a river view.
The Mulberry Bush is close to Gabriel’s Wharf | Courtesy of Young’s / Cynthia Rezende
The Mulberry Bush is slightly hidden away on the Upper Ground, but conveniently close to Gabriel’s Wharf and other South Bank attractions. It’s a comfy local pub with a vintage-style interior – complete with palm-print wallpaper and plush chesterfield sofas – and a lively weekend vibe. Visit on a Sunday, when the guests are a mix of families and groups of friends, to try its excellent roast paired with a craft beer or perhaps an espresso martini.
Indulge in after-work drinks at the Fountain & Ink
Pub, Italian, $$$
Another good pub in the area is the Fountain & Ink, which has a spacious interior with cool industrial decor. Despite its size, the bar doesn’t feel empty – on the contrary, it’s a busy space that’s popular for an after-work beer. A good selection of craft beers (16 to choose from on tap and many more in the fridge, including ones from breweries such as Sweden’s Omnipollo and London’s Beavertown), and a pizza menu that won a National Pizza Award in 2017 make it a perfect place for a chilled-out drink and some food. The generous space means it’s a good option for large groups, too.
Gin fanatics, head to the luxurious Gillray’s Steakhouse & Bar
Gin lovers will feel right at home at Gillray’s. Try to drink your way through their range of 100 different gins (perhaps not all on the same occasion), or just go to experience unusual specials, like the gin infused with rhubarb and ginger jam. Part of Gillray’s Steakhouse, the gin bar is in the London County Hall building, which used to be the headquarters of the capital’s local government. The view of Westminster across the water and the wood-panelled interior are enough to make anybody feel like a statesperson.
Sip a pint at The Fire Station as you wait for your train
Pub, European, $$$
This pub’s location isn’t exactly picturesque – it’s right next to Waterloo station on the busy Waterloo Road – but the floor-to-ceiling windows of the former fire station are a nice touch, letting you watch the world go by as you sip a beer. It’s the perfect location for an easy pint on your way to or from the station.
Take in thought-provoking art as you enjoy first-class food and wine at Topolski
Bar, Italian, $$$
Topolski embodies South Bank’s quirky, arty vibe | Courtesy of Topolski / Karoly Rucska
You can find bars in railway arches all over London, but Topolski on the South Bank is unusual. The bar is in the railway arches between Waterloo station and the Royal Festival Hall and used to be the studio of Feliks Topolski, a Polish Expressionist painter whose work still adorns its walls. Today it’s a bar, restaurant and event space that embodies South Bank’s quirky, arty vibe.