London boasts an array of fantastic music arenas, but what about the variety of great bars hosting live music on a regular basis? Well here they are. Some are free entry, most of them are open long into the night and all of them offer pumping live performances and a buzzing atmosphere.
Occupying four storeys of a building just off Leicester Square, O’Neill’s Wardour Street has a lot going on. The top floor has nightclub vibes and there’s a rooftop smoking area – but the live acts can be found on the first floor, where the open plan has tunes booming down and around the ground floor too. This is a fairly typical Irish bar with a lively international crowd. Drinks will be spilled. But it’s totally worth it.
Once a pub, Hootananny Brixton has undergone some renovation to become another brilliant addition to the Brixton nightlife scene. It’s fairly affordable and weekends here see a heaving atmosphere as the urban vibe gets going. There’s street food available in the courtyard so don’t forget to bring some cash.
Okay, so we’re stretching the definition of the word ‘bar’ a little here, but trust us. Right at the top of Camden High Street, opposite Mornington Crescent tube station, KOKO can be found in a brilliant 19th-century building that formerly served as a theatre which saw stars like Ellen Terry and Charlie Chaplin grace the stage after its 1900 opening. The venue then had a brief stint as a cinema before it became a music venue in the 1970s. After that, the Sex Pistols, Eurythmics and Kasabian have been amongst the abundance of great acts to have raised its roof.
On Camden High Street, just one minute’s walk from Camden Town tube station, Camden Electric Ballroom has been hosting live acts since the 1930s. The venue is only open from around 10-10.30pm until 3am on Friday and Saturday evenings, but there are lots of great restaurants and street food stalls and plenty of pubs and bars to explore before heading to the ballroom.
Anyone looking for a more refined live experience should look towards the style and sophistication of Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club on Frith Street, Soho – right at the heart of London’s entertainment district. That means there is lots to do before heading to the club – catch a West End show or stop by any of the many great bars and restaurants the area has to offer.
Another great spot for jazz, the Jazz Café is eminently more rough and ready than the likes of Soho’s Ronnie Scott’s. Representing another dimension of Camden’s eclectic music scene, it regularly has reggae and soul on the bill. Stick around after Friday’s gig as the place hosts a club night until 3am.