1. Cahoots, Soho
Housed in a WWII air raid shelter, Cahoots is a subterranean drinking den in Soho that’s modeled on a 1940s tube carriage. The bar is kitted out with authentic memorabilia including original booth seating, station tiles and platform signs and the space is intimately lit with candles and retro ceiling lights. Pick a potent cocktail from a menu designed to look like a period newspaper. All drinks are served with free popcorn in a vintage tin.
2. Cellar Door, Aldwych
In a converted Victorian toilet between Covent Garden and the Strand, Cellar Door is a tiny bar with room for just 60 people. Take a seat in one of the intimate booths or on a plush bar stool and order a classic cocktail or a bespoke concoction. There’s nightly entertainment in the form of cabaret acts, burlesque performers and drag queens and there’s an SMS jukebox that lets you request songs from the DJ using your phone. Entrance is free but you can pay to reserve seats on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
3. Basement Sate, Soho
Pair cocktails and desserts at this sweet spot in Soho. The concept comes from Cathleen McGarry, who cut her teeth on the Paris bar scene, and the sweet treats are courtesy of top pastry chef, Dorian Picard, who has worked with Gordon Ramsay. The menu may be all sweetness and light, but the interiors are dark and brooding, with wood paneling, exposed brickwork and copper tables. It’s open until 1:30 a.m. most nights so it’s great for a late night sugar fix.
4. The Mayor of Scaredycat Town, Shoreditch
Inspired by New York’s original speakeasy-style bars, this quirky drinking den is hidden beneath the Breakfast Club restaurant in Shoreditch. Entry is through a Smeg fridge door but only when you utter the following password: “I’m here to see the mayor”. Once downstairs, you’ll find a small industrial-chic space that serves pun-tastic cocktails (My Sherry Amore, Aloe is it Me You’re Looking For) and sharing platters. Be prepared to wait in line as only a small number of seats can be reserved in advance.
5. By Appointment Only, City of London
Surrounded by sleek skyscrapers in the heart of the City, By Appointment Only is an opulent bar within a converted Victorian bath house behind Liverpool Street station. The sultry interiors feature Arabic tiles, marble floors and stained glass and the menu includes drinks made with innovative gin infusions like plum, lavender and even blue cheese.
6. Purl London, Marylebone
This decadent drinking den in Marylebone serves experimental cocktails from menus hidden in classic novels. The 1920s-style vaulted basement is full of nooks and crannies so it’s easy to find a secluded spot to try drinks made with unusual ingredients including black truffle and lemon meringue. There’s live jazz each week and if you fancy trying your hand at concocting similar cocktails, the bar runs a popular mixology masterclass.
7. Ruby’s Bar & Lounge, Dalston
In the basement of a five-story townhouse on Stoke Newington Road, Ruby’s is a hipster hideaway that serves cocktails in vintage milk bottles and old tin cups. The bar is named after the Chinese takeout restaurant that once occupied the space and the simple interiors feature scuffed furniture, white tiled walls and candlelit tables. Don’t miss the signature blackberry mojito paired with spicy Vietnamese bar snacks.
8. The Escapologist, Covent Garden
Designed to evoke a Victorian gentleman’s club, the Escapologist is a vast basement bar hidden behind a secret door in Covent Garden. It’s a tribute to Baron Von Took, a notorious crook whose final wish before being hung was to drink in one of Covent Garden’s alehouses. The signature Flaming Zombie cocktail is served in a ceramic skull and the quirky pizza menu features a couple of dessert options loaded with treats including chocolate and marshmallows.