Speakeasy bars first came about in 1920s America, when new laws meant alcohol was banned. But instead of its desired effect, prohibition resulted in the emerging of an illicit, underground drinking culture in the shape of secret bars requiring a password. A hundred years on they’re still around – but less for necessity, and more for fun. These days, speakeasies take on more of a sophisticated guise, with snazzy surroundings, jazz bands and well-crafted cocktails. London is filled with them, if you know where to look. Here’s our pick of the best, from the glamorous to the quirky.
Secret Bars In London
- Lost Property Office
- The Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town
- Happiness Forgets
- Below & Hidden
- Discount Suit Company
- 69 Colebrooke Row
Lost Property Office
Lost Property Office is a speakeasy cocktail bar launched by award-winning bartender Rich Woods, aka ‘The Cocktail Guy’ who has shaped the cocktail menus of numerous leading London bars and restaurants such as Gold in Notting Hill, SUSHISAMBA, and Duck and Waffle. The intimate space mixes comfort with classic styling and can only be accessed through a secret door within BrewDog Waterloo’s 27,500 sq ft venue. This hidden gem showcases classic cocktails, reimagined using modern culinary techniques. Creativity and unique flavour pairings underpin the menu, with the Martini Roulette serving as the bar’s signature experience. Exceptionally succinct with a well-appointed menu that features an intimate collection of cocktails, from a Full Flex (Manhattan) – Bourbon, Blended Sweet Vermouths, Cacao Butter, Ancho Chilli & Grapefruit Oils to a Lagerita (Reformed Margarita) – Hopped Tapatio Tequila, Clarified Lime, Blood Orange and Bergamot, topped with a Beer Cloud and seasonal micro flowers and leaves.
01 The Sidings, London SE1 7BH; waterloolostpropertyoffice.co.uk
When it opened in 2019, Amazónico London gained overnight fame, regularly having over a thousand people on the waiting list for weekend tables. But now, in-the-know visitors head to OCTO, the late-night bar downstairs. Travel down a golden-clad staircase to reach the speakeasy, which is inspired by South American cenotes (natural rockpools): think blue stucco walls, columns covered in sequins, and an opulent golden octopus hanging atop the DJ booth. Enjoy tropical cocktails like the Sea-Tron, a mix of Ciroc Vodka, Cointreau and Ruinart Blanc de Blanc, alongside small plates of tempura, nigiri and sashimi.
10 Berkeley Square, London W1J 6BR; amazonicorestuarant.com
To find Barts, look for the black door inside the lobby of Sloane Avenue’s Chelsea Cloisters apartment building. Ring the bell, and before you know it a barman’s eye will appear in the peephole to check you look the part and ask for the secret password. Once inside, head to the infamous fancy dress box and get into costume, before spending the night drinking tipples from teacups. Décor is eccentric and unusual – think random signs and taxidermic stag heads, with scarlet red walls, styled like the apartment of fictitious gangster, Uncle Barts.
Chelsea Cloisters, 87 Sloane Avenue, SW3 3DW; barts-london.com
The Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town
The Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town wins the award for London’s most interesting speakeasy entrance – you get in through a blue Smeg fridge. But it also wins the award for the most publicised so-called ‘speakeasy’ bar, with a blackboard directing you straight to it, somewhat defeating the purpose. Nevertheless, it’s a fun concept: head to the Spitalfields branch of The Breakfast Club and tell staff you’re ‘here to see the Mayor’ with a little wink. Before you know it, you’ll be sipping a Peat-Nut-Butter-Cup cocktail in the retro-style dimly-lit surroundings without a care in the world.
12-16 Artillery Ln, London E1 7LS; themayorofscaredycattown.com
Tucked away behind an unassuming door near Old Street, Nightjar is a speakeasy done right. Low-lit, slick and classy, the bar boasts an eclectic menu of well-crafted cocktails, ranging from the classic to the exotic, served in all sorts of fun creations – drinks here are as much art as they are beverages. There’s also live music every night, with a band playing swing and jazz, bringing a touch of New York glamour to London’s speakeasy scene. Be sure to book ahead, otherwise you’ll struggle to get a table.
129 City Rd, Hoxton, London EC1V 1JB; barnightjar.com
Hoxton haunt Happiness Forgets marks itself apart from the run of London speakeasies, but it definitely has that vibe – albeit without the gimmicks. A small, unpretentious bar inspired by Burt Bacharach’s song Dionne Warwick, Happiness Forgets is sophisticated, with a focus on exceptional cocktails created by top notch bartenders. It’s pretty hidden, but when you see a staircase and a sign saying Happiness, you know you’re on the money. It was named in the 2021 World’s 50 Best Bars List too.
8-9 Hoxton Square, London N1 6NU; happinessforgets.com
Below & Hidden
No bigger than your average living room, Below & Hidden is an afterparty-style drinking den, tucked away beneath Bourne & Hollingsworth’s chic restaurant. Unlike it’s bright and airy sister upstairs, the basement bar is dark and cosy, with plush seating and tapestry-covered walls which vanish to reveal LED lights that spring into action late at night, along with the DJ.
42 Northampton Rd, Clerkenwell, London EC1R 0HU; bandhbuildings.com
Discount Suit Company
Located in a former tailor’s workshop, Discount Suit Company is hidden down an unassuming staircase on Petticoat Lane. With red leather armchairs, candles and low tables, it nails the speakeasy vibe, with a suitably wacky cocktail menu to match. The bar has just launched its autumn/winter menu, which includes new cocktails such as the Wigan Casino, a gin-based drink made with passionfruit and sweet rambutan, and the Drugstore Cowboy: a blend of Mexica spirits and tangy yuzu Tapache. All tipples are developed in The Umbrella Workshop, a space which serves as a development and tasting room for Discount Suit Company and The Sun Tavern.
29A Wentworth St, Spitalfields, London E1 7TB; discountsuitcompany.co.uk
69 Colebrooke Row
A tiny cocktail bar self-styled as ‘the bar with no name’, this speakeasy is known by its backstreet Islington address. Being headed up by renowned cocktail wizard Tony Conigliaro, it’s no surprise drinks are exceptional. 69 Colebrooke Row is not the place for weird and wacky ingredients: here you’ll find original, classy cocktails using classic ingredients, mixed to perfection. There are only a few tables, giving it an intimate atmosphere, but also meaning you need to book well in advance.
69 Colebrooke Row, London N1 8AA; 69colebrookerow.com
Travel back in time to 1940s London at Cahoots, Carnaby’s worst-kept secret: an underground cocktail bar hidden beneath the streets of Soho. Once used as an air raid shelter, the venue has been transformed into a tube station, complete with vintage adverts, retro-style drinks and sandbags. There’s also a sister speakeasy, this one overground and framed as an old ticket hall – think period train schedules, phone booths and ticket machines. Those in the know will venture through here to The Signal Station, a hideout which will play host to live entertainment, immersive movie evenings and cocktail masterclasses.
13 Kingly Ct, Soho, London W1B 5PW; cahoots-london.com