Life

London's best hidden and secret bars

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While London might not be the most populated city on the planet (that accolade goes to Shanghai with over 24 million people), there are times when we want to hide away from the hustle of London's busy streets.

So where do you go when you think you already know the capital well? You've already sussed out the no-go, touristy areas. You've even managed to find a decent local near your flat. But what about when you want to go somewhere a bit special or exclusive for a must-have cocktail?

Luckily, we've done some difficult work (it was very hard), discovering all the secret and hidden dens and dives to ensure you can get a superb cocktail with an intimate setting. These places are perfect for catching up with an old friend, a date or just the chance to show off to out-of-towners.

If you think we've missed off your favourite, we'd love to know your secret bar recommendation. Tell us in the comments below, or tweet us @StylistMagazine.

(Main image: Rex Features)

  • Experimental Cocktail Club, Chinatown

    13A Gerrard Street, Chinatown, London

    About: This above-ground speakeasy is easily missed but look for a brown door wedged between two Chinese restaurants. The cocktails might take a while, but they're definitely worth it.

    Booking: It's not compulsory to make a reservation, but from our own experience, it's probably best to do so as it gets pretty crowded in there.

    Opening times: Mon-Friday 6pm-3am, Sun 6pm-12am.

    chinatownecc.com

  • 69 Colebrooke Row, Islington

    69 Colebrooke Row, Islington, N1 8AA

    About: Identifiable by a lantern and burgundy awnings, once inside, the interior "blends 1950s Italian café style with a film noir feel". Head here for experimental cocktails.

    Booking: You should book but bear in mind a table is only available for an hour and a half for a maximum of six people. (They're not being mean, it's just that it's a small venue).

    Opening times: Sun-Wed 5pm-12am, Thurs 5pm-1am, Fri-Sat 5pm-2am.

    69colebrookerow.com

  • Bunga Bunga, Covent Garden

    167 Drury Lane, WC2B 5PG

    About: Located in the far corner of BungaTINI is a secret door to the meat locker. Those brave enough to venture beyond the meat locker will find themselves in Bunga Bunga where an underworld brimming with old school Italian glamour awaits. 

    Booking: It's definitely recommended to book, for larger parties we’d suggest booking The Emperor’s Box or The Martini Room. 

    Opening times: Thurs – Sat open til 2am

    bungabunga-london.com

  • Bourne and Hollingsworth, Fitzrovia

    28 Rathbone Place, W1T 1JF

    About: The best way to find Bourne and Hollingsworth is to look for the 1920s corner shop, which is located not far from Tottenham Court Road. This small and perfectly formed bar boasts retro styling, and a laid-back, intimate parlour feel.

    Booking: It's not essential to book.

    Opening times: Mon-Tues 5pm-1am, Weds-Sat 5pn-2am, Sunday closed.

    bourneandhollingsworth.com

  • Cellar Door, Aldwych

    Zero Aldwych, WC2E 7DN

    About: Music lovers will enjoy the fact they have live acts every night, and you can text in your song requests to the jukebox. Not only that they say they've got the sexiest lavatories in the UK. We're intrigued.

    Booking: You can make reservations during the week and guarantee admission at the weekend if you pay a £10 fee per person.

    Opening times: 4pn- 1am every day.

    cellardoor.biz

  • Evans and Peel Detective Agency, Earls Court

    310 Earls Court Road, Sw5 9ba

    About: If you look at their website, you'd be forgiven for wondering if this really is an actual real-life detective agency. Fear not, you can get booze here. Their food menu looks very tasty too.

    Booking: Best to email ideally a week in advance. According to their site: "we do leave a few desks open every evening for those ‘drop-in’ appointments. Every new case will be handled with utmost confidentiality."

    Opening times: Closed on Mondays, Tues-Sun 5pm-12am.

    evansandpeel.com

  • Danger of Death, Brick Lane

    202 Brick Lane

    About: Brought to you by the same people who created Milk&Honey, this bar offers many cocktails - 20 to be exact. In fact, if you get through them all, they'll stamp your book (yes, they offer you a book), and give you a £50 bar tab.

    Booking: Best to make a reservation as it's a first come, first served system.

    Opening times: Wed-Sat 6pm to 1am, Sun-Tues closed.

    dangerlondon.com

  • The Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town, East London

    12-16 Artillery Lane, E1 7LS

    About: Located in The Breakfast Club, you have to walk through a Smeg fridge (we promise, we're not making this up), to get to the bar. Once there, settle in and enjoy the intimate atmosphere.

    Booking: You can't make reservations here so it's advised to avoid the super busy times (i.e. the weekend) if you're coming with a group of more than six people.

    Opening times: Mon- Thurs 5pm-12am, Fri 3pm-12am, Sat 12pm-12am, Sun 12pm-10.30pm.

    themayorofscaredycattown.com

  • Happiness Forgets, Hoxton

    8-9 Hoxton Square, London, N1 6NU

    About: Their own description really sells this place to us: "Great cocktails, no wallies."

    Booking: They regularly get fully booked for the weekend evenings but send an email to reservations@happinessforgets.com to make a reservation for parties of up to six people.

    Opening times: 5.30pm till 11pm every night, but open at 6pm on Sunday.

    happinessforgets.com

  • Purl, Marylebone

    50-54 Blandford St, London W1U 7HX

    About: The password to get in is 'hair of the dog'. Other things you need to know is that this place prides itself on giving you an experience with its cocktails, which they say satisfy on a multi-sensory level, using aroma, fogs, airs, foams, food, bespoke serviceware and liquid nitrogen. There's also live jazz two times per week.

    Booking: It's advised to book few days in advance to get a table at the weekend, and they're also usually full booked during the week, just make sure you have a reservation to avoid being disappointed.

    Opening times: Mon-Fri 5pm-11.30pm, Sat 5pm-12am.

    purl-london.com

  • Barts, Knightsbridge

    87 Sloane Ave, SW3 3DW

    About: Set in the 1920s prohibition era, this place is run by Chicago gangsters who have set up in London (not really, don't worry). Uncle Barts’ gangsters are operating their bootlegging activities from this hidden bar within one of the many apartments located on Sloane Avenue.

    Booking: It's advised to book although it's not mandatory.

    'Opening times:'' Open from 6pm ’til late every day.

    barts-london.com

  • Knowhere Special, Kentish Town

    The basement, 296 Kentish Town Road, NW5

    About: Next to the Mamma Mia caff on Kentish Town Road, this place has a Chinese laundry-inspired corridor, graffitied by local artist Jeba, and is also lined with washing hanging from the ceiling. Apparently, the space belongs to a former Victoria police station, so you'll be sipping cocktails in cells.

    Bookings: N/A.

    Opening times: Thurs-Sun 5pm-late.

    (Image: Rex Features)

  • The Discount Suit Company, East London

    29a Wentworth Street, E1 7TB

    About: Not far from Liverpool Street, this bar is located in the basement of an old suit tailor's stock room. So far, so horror story creepy. But don't let that put you off, they have brilliant cocktails, Neal's Yard cheese platters and background music in the form of Northern Soul.

    Booking: You can either walk in or make a reservation.

    Opening times: Mon-Tue 5pm-11pm, Wed-Thurs 5pm-12am, Fri-Sat 2pm-1am.

    discountsuitcompany.co.uk

  • Nightjar, Old Street

    129 City Rd, EC1V 1JB

    About: One again, this speakeasy-style bar means that you could walk straight passed without realising - just make sure you look out for the little bird on the door. Budding historians will also enjoy that they've divided the cocktail list into historical eras.

    Booking: It's advised to make a booking on their website (they don't take calls for reservations), also tell them if you're running late - they'll only hold your table for 15 minutes.

    Opening times: Fri-Sat 6pm-3am, Thurs 6pm-2am, Sun-Weds 6pm-1am

    discountsuitcompany.co.uk

  • BYOC at The Juice People, Covent Garden

    28 Bedfordbury, WC2N 4BJ

    About: This is a different type of bar, in that you have to bring your own booze (no, that's not a joke). But that's OK, as expert mixologists are there to help turn your bottle of spirits (best to go with a group who bring different types) into a range of wonderful concoctions. Just make sure you know to walk through the shut juice bar to get there.

    Booking: Important to book as this is a very, very, intimate setting. You might also only want to bring people you know very well as you'll be sitting close to them.

    Opening Hours: 6pm-11pm every night.

    byoc.co.uk

  • NOLA, Shoreditch

    1st floor, 68 Rivington Street, EC2A 3AY

    About: Creole flavours and the sound of jazz and blues makes NOLA East London's answer to New Orleans.

    Bookings: Always best to book here.

    Opening times: Tues-Thurs 6pm-1am, Fri-Sat 6pm-3am, Sunday closed.

    nola-london.com

  • The New Evaristo Club (AKA Trisha's), Soho

    57 Greek St, W1D 3DX

    About: Behind a blue door, you'll find The New Evaristo Club in Soho, better known as Trish's after it's charming owner. Your best bet is to wander in all confidently, and pretend like you know what you're doing. One of Soho's most vibrant after hours spots, you are guaranteed to meet a fascinating local in the tiny smoking area or have a singalong with a neighbouring table.

    Booking: Don't book, just walk in (see above). Entry fee might be £2. Depends on if you look like you belong there.

    Opening times: Mon-Sat 5pm-1am, Sun 6.20pm - 12.3-am.

  • Lounge Bohemia, East London

    1e Great Eastern Street, EC2A 3EJ

    About: Through an open doorway between a kebab shop and a newsagents, you walk along the Czech newspaper lined corridor and down the stairs into the basement. There, you'll find cocktails made with imagination, creativity and a little bit of science, and each one comes with a canape to match the cocktail's flavour. Note: they have a no suits policy.

    Booking: Their total capacity is 32 and the biggest table they seat is eight people, so because Lounge Bohemia is so small and a non-standing bar with table service, they're exclusively by appointment and you need to book ahead by calling 07720707000.

    Opening times: Mon-Sat 6pm - 12am, Sunday 6pm - 11pm.

    loungebohemia.com

  • The Liquor Cabinet, Hackney

    184 Hackney Road, E2 7QL

    About: You’ll find the entrance to the Liquor Cabinet behind the Golden Grill.

    Bookings: There are no reservations here.

    Opening times: Tue - Wed 5pm-12am, Thurs-Sat 5pm-12.30am

    liquorcabinet.co.uk

  • The Blind Pig at the Social Eating House, Soho

    58 Poland Street, W1F 7NR

    About: Social Eating House is one of renowned chef Jason Atherton's restaurants, but if you head to the door on the right and take the stairs you'll find the Blind Pig bar.

    Booking: You can call to make a reservation for the bar.

    Opening Hours: Mon-Sat 12pm -12am.

    socialeatinghouse.com

  • Rev JW Simpson, Fitzrovia

    32 Goodge Street , W1T 2QJ

    About: Halfway down Goodge street you will see a blue plaque bearing Rev JW Simpson's name and how long he lived there. Also two candles on the ground on either side of the door helps you find your way. Then walk downstairs into a bar that looks like the reverend's old flat.

    Booking: Recommended booking for Rev JW Simpson as it is mostly table service.

    Opening Hours: Tues - Sat 5pm-11.30pm.

    revjwsimpson.com

  • Ruby's, Dalston

    76 Stoke Newington Rd, N16 7XB

    About: Set underneath the cinema sign at 76 Stoke Newington Road, Ruby’s is an intimate subterranean drinking den serving expertly mixed cocktails and quality alternatives in a unique and atmospheric setting. Set up by Tom Gibson in the former kitchen of Chinese takeaway Ruby House 3, the room was stripped back and adorned with a Mayfair bar and some delicate interior alterations.

    Booking: You can book but they only accept them until 8pm and they can't accommodate more than eight people on a Friday/Saturday night. To book a table email your name, time and number to hello@rubysdalston.com.

    Opening times: Tues-Thurs 6.30pm-12am, Fri-Sat 6.30pm-2am.

    rubysdalston.com

  • The King of Ladies Man, Clapham

    5-9 Battersea Rise, SW11 1HG

    About: Enter The King through a secret sliding wall in the Breakfast Club’s launderette, to find a 1970s-style pad.

    Booking: You can book into The King Of Ladies Man only Mon-Wed (up to 25 guests) by emailing wink@thekingofladiesman.com or by calling 020 7078 9630. On all other nights you just need to ask if you can go through.

    Opening times: Mon closed, Tues-Thurs 5pm-12am, Fri 5pm-1am, Sat 12pm-1am, Sun 12pm-10.30pm.

    thekingofladiesman.com

  • Gerry's Club, Soho

    52 Dean Street, W1D 5BJ

    About: OK, we'll admit it. We don't know that much about Gerry's Club other than we know it's legendary. But from what we gather it's a fairly selective club. Apparently, you have to ring the door bell and say you want to have a drink. But they have a camera attached to the door in order to see what you look like. Glad rags on then.

    Bookings: Not likely.

    Opening times: Difficult to say.

    (Image: Rex Features)

  • Worship Street Whistling Stop, East London

    63 Worship St, EC2A 2DU

    About: As well as incredible cocktails, these guys have a great selection of food by the Ginger Pig (pork pies, pate, meat platters).

    Bookings: Mon-Thurs 5pm-12am, Fri-Sat 5pm-2am.

    Opening times: Monday to Saturday from 5pm and shuts at 12 am Monday and Tuesday, 1am wed and thur and 2am fri and sat.

    whistlingshop.com

  • Mizuwari, Soho

    16 Old Compton St

    About: Situated below the Bincho grill restaurant, this bar is solely dedicated to Japanese whisky.

    Bookings: No reservations.

    Opening times: Closed on Sunday nights, Mon-Sat 5pm-12am.

    bincho.co.uk/whisky-joint