bootlegger

Cross non-descript thresholds, step through concealed wardrobes and call shady detectives to sneak you into an era draped in debauchery when hedonism went underground. As with all good prohibition bars, discretion is advised but rarely practiced – so here’s our not-so-secret round up of the best speakeasies in London.

Nightjar Shoreditch

When you’ve got friends visiting from out of town, this is the place to take them to show off. Regularly topping the list of the World’s 50 Best Bars, behind an unassuming black door near Old Street Roundabout you’ll find a low-lit lounge where cocktail making is considered an art form. Unlock liquid time capsules from an array of vintage spirits dating back to 1860, or leave your choice to Lady Luck and shuffle the cocktail menu deck of cards – perfect for those who struggle with decision making.

Purl Marylebone

A circus in bar form, with theatrics including exploding balloons, fire, nitrogen and a lot of dry ice. While it may sound gimmicky, drinks are top-notch and lapped up by a sophisticated crowd who complement the chic surrounds. Arrive inquisitive and up for anything as bartenders prod you to push your drinking limitations and try something new.

Barts Chelsea

Situated on Sloane Avenue in the heart of well-heeled Chelsea, Bart’s is kinky, kitsch and packed with curios. The notorious Chicago gangster Uncle Bart opens up his drinking den only to those who know the password; utter it to the eyes behind the wall for cocktails served in dinky tea cups and brown paper bags. Our favourite royal may be off the market, but rumour has it this is one of his favourite haunts.

  • 020 7581 3355
  • Go to Website
  • Chelsea Cloisters
    87 Sloane Avenue
    SW3 3DW

69 Colebrooke Row

Like a moth to a flame find the flickering lantern outside to enter the bar with no name. Intimately based in one room, the black and white checkered floors and red leather booths ooze a 1950’s Italian elegance. Unlike many of the capital’s novelty cocktail menus, bar master Tony Conigliaro’s menu is made up of carefully paired, classic flavourings. Try The Avignon that matches cognac with smoked frankincense and chamomile syrup or the delightfully spicy Bloody Mary with homemade pepper sauce and horseradish kick.

The Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town Spitalfields

A cheeky request to see “the Mayor” will see you ushered through the door of a Smeg fridge and descending a flight of stairs into a clandestine basement filled with vintage furniture, moose heads and a sign forewarning serial daters: “No Heavy Petting”. A large part of its allure is its lighthearted approach, with friendly staff and a cocktail menu that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Callooh Callay Shoreditch

Take a first date here to almost guarantee a second – if you manage to gain access to the secret saloon, that is. Through a Narnia-style wardrobe you’ll find the 25-seater JubJub bar; membership cannot be begged, stolen or bought and is personally granted only to cocktail connoisseurs of the highest order. If you don’t quite make the cut, lick your wounds in the retro-inspired lounge which is equally as delightful and everyone is welcome. The collectable cocktail sticker book is a sophisticated alternative to other drinking games, although a costly one.

Trisha's Soho

To those in the know it’s Trisha’s; for those who have to Google Map their way there it’s The New Evaristo Club. In true speakeasy form, the entrance is scruffy, easily overlooked and makes you question if you’re in the right place. Somewhat of a Soho institution, walls are adorned with vintage Italian football paraphernalia and you’ll often find the owner’s bulldog often hovering around for bar snacks. It’s the kind of place where you’ll know nobody at the start of evening and everybody by the end.

  • 020 7437 9536
  • 3dx 57 Greek Street
    W1D 3DX

Experimental Cocktail Club Soho

An unremarkable door plastered in fading gig posters is no suggestion of the opulent drinking den which lurks beyond it. Tempting well-dressed urbanites to Chinatown, the bar buzzes with lively chatter, encouraged by seductive surroundings of ever-so-slightly shabby velvet curtains and plush banquettes reminiscent of Paris. Cocktails are served in cut-glass tumblers and champagne arrives in exquisite, antique ice buckets, creating an overall air of unrivalled hedonism.

Milk & Honey Soho

Our 15-year love affair with Milk & Honey earns it the overused accolade of “institution”. Attracting sophisticated patrons with stellar drinks and intimate booths, non-members can make reservations until 11PM and after that they’re escorted out in favour of members that trawl between the three floors – each providing a vibrant 1930s swing and jazz soundtrack.

Ruby's Stoke Newington

Occupying a former Chinese takeaway joint of the same name, descend the rickety stairs under the enticing “nothing to see here” illuminated cinema sign into a jumble of antiques and retro knick-knacks. Naughty Londoners may have pocketed all of the original 1940s milk bottles that once held their infamous blackberry mojitos, but pop down on a Tuesday when negronis, rhubarb sours, and manhattans are a steal at £5.

Worship Street Whistling Shop Shoreditch

Worship Street Whistling Shop combines two of our favourite pastimes; globetrotting and a good drink. With a menu that is based on an exploration of the globe, settle in to the bare-brick cellar bar, map your route on the vintage atlas (which doubles up as a bar menu) and go around the world in cocktails. Beware of ending up in the Bermuda Triangle – otherwise, bon voyage.

Discount Suit Company

Concealed between fabric stores beneath a dilapidated sign on Petticoat Lane lies this secluded bar that measures up to expectations. Housed in a tailor’s former stockroom, peel back the black curtain to reveal a swinging mix of Motown and soul tunes, knowledgable bartenders serving forgotten classics laced with an unmistakeable sense of mischief.

Evans and Peel Detective Agency West Kensington

After an interrogation over the intercom, you’ll find yourself in a sparse office with just a desk, dusty bookshelf and an unsmiling detective. State your case, and if approved you’ll be discreetly led behind the bookshelf. Playing the pantomime part of speakeasy with cracked tiles and bourbon-based cocktails served in brown paper bags, it’s case closed as to this being one of the best in town.

  • 020 7373 3573
  • Go to Website
  • 310c Earl's Court Road
    Earl's Court
    SW5 9BA

Opium Chinatown

A Shanghai-inspired parlour hidden behind an elusive jade door only signified by a glowing orange orb. Follow the red stairs to the Chinatown tree house for three floors of dim sum and smoking tea-infused cocktails. We recommend the fire-cracker cocktails to start your night with a bang – with any luck, you’ll finish with one too.

  • 020 7734 7276
  • Go to Website
  • The Jade Door
    15-16 Gerrard Street
    W1D 6JE

The Bootlegger City

The last time you had a hip flask it was probably used to sneak something into a festival as an impoverished student short on liquor funds. Not here. In-keeping with the illicit feel of a 1920s bar, cocktails are nicknamed “emergency water” and served in flasks hidden in books and chipped teacups. Knowledgeable bartenders in bow ties serve Lucky Luciano’s and Giggle Juice to the dapper drinkers of the city.

Happiness Forgets Hoxton

Head down an iron staircase in East London where the drinks are good and happiness awaits. A bartenders’ bar (always the best kind) which has nailed the balance between a boozy base layered with sweet, sour and a hefty side serving of fun, you’ll find “no wallies” here (their website specifies this thus) which is probably why it’s always rammed. It’s no standing so book ahead.

Nightjar

Purl

Barts

69 Colebrooke Row

The Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town

Callooh Callay

Trisha's

Experimental Cocktail Club

Milk & Honey

Ruby's

Worship Street Whistling Shop

Discount Suit Company

Evans & Peel Detective Agency

Opium

The Bootlegger

Happiness Forgets

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