One of my favourite things to do in London is discover ‘secret’ and ‘hidden’ speakeasy bars that make the drinking experience thrilling. London, and especially East London, has many places that are designed to be ‘secret’ yet ‘not-so-secret’, judged by the queues outside the discreet doors, crazy long waiting lists and popularity for after-work Friday drinks. I have spent many evening and weekends in secret bars, and here are few of my favourite picks:
- Evans & Peel Detective Agency: this bar is by-far my favourite one for the entirely immersive experience it provides. You have to contact the bar to make a reservation in advance and book an ‘appointment’. You then receive a very formal email confirming your appointment at the Earl’s court office to ‘file your case’. Finding the bar is an exciting experience by itself as you walk through a residential area in Earl’s court with no telling signs, and then find door 310C which looks like a private office. You have to press the buzzer, after which you are asked for your name and appointment timing, and an official-looking person greets you at the door and leads you downstairs into an office. The office looks quite like that of Sherlock Holmes, dimly-lit with rustic furniture, a typewriter, magnifying glass, giant bookcase and fireplace. There is a detective seated at a desk who starts questioning you about your ‘case’and after a short and engaging role-play exercise, he nonchalantly opens the bookcase which turns out to be a secret door leading into a cool and buzzing bar. Once inside the bar, you can enjoy delicious cocktails and food served in chests. The entire experience is mysterious, exciting and unusual, and makes for a great night out.
- Mayor of Scaredy Cat: this is a bar I stumbled upon when my boyfriend and I went to the Breakfast Club in Spitalfields one Sunday. Whilst we were enjoying our eggs and pancakes, we noticed a few people coming in, having a word with the staff and then being led into a FRIDGE! after which they just disappeared. This seemed very strange and we enquired with our server, who was happy to take us behind the fridge door after our meal. After you get behind the vintage fridge and down the narrow staircase, you find yourself in a tiny candle-lit bar with just a few seats. When you’re ready to leave, you have to get out through the janitor’s closet! A very unique experience!
- Nightjar: this one is consistently rated one of the best bars in London. Just around the corner from Old Street station, this bar would be unrecognisable if not for the tiny bird on a plain wooden door opposite an off-license. The cocktails are spectacular! Original, inventive concoctions with a nice twist and gorgeous presentation.
- Experimental Cocktail Club Chinatown: as with many secret bars, the biggest thrill lies in actually finding this one. I walked past the shabby black door multiple times before finding it. Located in the middle of busy Gerrard Street, this bar is in the heart of Chinatown amongst numerous Asian restaurants and massage parlours. I tried to get in on 3 or 4 occasions without a booking, but failed as they were at full capacity. However, I managed to get in one time early on a Saturday and check out what was behind the elusive black door. The bar itself is nice and cozy and the cocktails are good too. But this one’s all about the experience!
- Opium: one of the many times I was turned away from ECC, whilst looking around for other bars in the area, I came across Opium just a couple of doors away. This one is intriguing in its own way.. again a simple jade door that looks like an entrance to someone’s house. When you’re in, you walk up a few floors to a small den. We were seated in a cramped booth in a room filled with Chinese pottery and art, seeming very oriental-exotic. The cocktails are delicious with unusual presentation.
- Callooh Callay: this one is a treat for Narnia lovers, as a part of the bar is located behind a heavy wooden wardrobe that you have to enter. The bar has eccentric menus, stylish decor, and the the toilets – adorned with cassettes on the walls – are hidden.
- Worship Street Whistling Shop: a speakeasy in the true sense, this bar in Old Street is dark and decadent. You walk down the stairs and enter an underground drinking den with exposed brick walls and leather couches. There are a few private areas, one with a bath tub as a table! The bar staff are very friendly and chat you through their impressive cocktail list, and the drinks are strong!
- Cahoots: this bar gets props for the most cheesy theme. For my love of all things vintage, Cahoots was on my ‘go-to’ list for a very long time. It is a retro London tube-themed bar in Carnaby Street’s Kingly court, with tube carriage-style seating and underground maps. We were seated in a nook that was basically a dark, cramped box, but added to the entire speakeasy experience. This is a great place to take anyone visiting for atypical London-themed experience.