1. Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town, Spitalfields
Set in the Spitalfields outpost of the ridiculously-popular Breakfast Club, the Mayor of Scardey Cat Town is entered via a flight of stairs hidden behind a Smeg fridge door. With loos wallpapered with 80s Smash Hits back issues and a portrait of the queen in gold sunglasses next to the bar, it’s heavy on the quirk-factor but brought down to earth by friendly service, candles and a diner-style menu serving chilli fries.
What to Drink: Cutely-named cocktails like Rosie & Gin.
12-16 Artillery Lane E1 7LS
2. Bourne & Hollingsworth, Fitzrovia
A case of hiding in plain sight, this one –the name splashed across the storefront above looks more like street art than signage, leading many to stroll past this cute basement speakeasy none-the-wiser. Not too many though – past 6pm on any week night, Bourne & Hollingsworth is rammo. Granny-chic rules, with floral wallpaper, cocktails in teacups and DJ turntables in an old-fashioned porcelain sink wheeled out for special-occasion boogying.
What to Drink: B&H’s own Chimp’s Tea (Monkey Shoulder whisky, peach liqueur, lemon juice and Earl Grey syrup); Dark & Stormies in jam jars.
28 Rathbone Place, W1T 1JF
3. New Evaristo Club (Trisha’s), Soho
Its unmarked entrance on Greek Street – appearing for all the world to be the lobby for a block of flats – will make you question your directions (“this is it? Really?”), but harden your resolve, descend the flight of stairs and you’ll discover the den of iniquity that is the New Evaristo Club (or Trisha’s, as everyone calls it). There’s an Al Capone portrait, impromptu poker games, a sometime DJ spinning “45s from a suitcase turntable and a wee atrium for smokers – inside’s dingy enough without the cigarettes.
What to Drink: Red wine by the bottle.
57 Greek St, W1D 3DX
4. Freud, Covent Garden
Down a perilous iron staircase off Shaftsbury Avenue, Freud is a corner of Covent Garden claimed back from the tourists with a nearly all-local clientele. Squint a bit and you’re in Havana: it’s hot and noisy, with smoke-stain effect walls, vintage ceiling fans and a graciously cheap cocktail list chalked up behind the bar. Drinks come in big tumblers, and when tables fill up, groups sprawl across the steps at the end of the room. The bar’s a stylish sister to the design shop above, but most upstairs customers will never find out it’s here…
What to Drink: Moscow Mules for under £6.
98 Shaftesbury Avenue, WC2H 8JL
5. The Bathhouse, Bishopsgate
Occupying the subterranean steam rooms of a Victorian hammam, The Bathhouse is a beautiful collision of oddities. Plonked in St Botolph’s churchyard, the Ottoman-style building is itself sandwiched incongrously between two office blocks, so you’re confronted with a visual clash from the outset – the place looks more kooky stage set than bar entrance. Venture downstairs for a lavish surprise: two bars are Tardis-large and stuffed with velvet, gilt and Doric columns, plus there’s a birdcage to house DJs on weekends.
What to Drink: Retro sparklers like Gin Fizz.
8 Bishopsgate Churchyard, EC2M 3TJ
Update: the Bathouse is now closed.
Sampling London’s secret drinking dens and need a bed for the night? Check out our range of cheap London hotels. Alternately, if you’re in town for the Games this summer, see all our London hotels near Olympic venues
Words: Isabel Clift
Got your own favourite secret London bar? Let us know in the comments…