- I’m a Canadian who has lived in London for nearly six years, and I’ve spent most of that time eating and drinking.
- “Best bar” lists and awards will often lead you to places that are packed with tourists or simply aren’t worth the money.
- To find something memorable, you need personal recommendations.
- From a speakeasy hidden in an apartment building to a dingy candle-lit locals pub, here are the 50 places where you should actually drink.
- Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more stories.
London is known for its drinking culture.
Whether you’ve been here so long you think nothing of it or you’re new to the city and it continues to shock you, there’s no denying that you’ll find people spilling out of pubs swilling pints at almost any time of day, every day of the week.
However, while there are certainly some fantastic places to drink in the city, there are also some pretty terrible ones.
I’m a Canadian who has lived in London for nearly six years, and when not working or sleeping, I’ve spent most of that time eating and drinking (usually with a born-and-bred Londoner by my side).
After struggling last year to pick the 50 places in the capital where you should actually eat, I realised the London bar and pub scene can be just as complicated.
London bars and pubs often feature among the best in the world, and don’t get me wrong, plenty of these are great – but sometimes these places can feel overrated or simply leave you feeling broke.
The places you’ll actually remember are the cosy neighbourhood pubs with open fires, the hidden wine bars where you discover a new grape, and the cocktail bars with drinks so good you’ll remember the chatty bartender for a lifetime.
In no particular order, here are the 50 places you should actually drink at, and what to order when you get there.
Little Bat, Highbury
One of my favourite cocktail bars in the city is this Islington gem, tucked slightly off the busy Upper Street and named after the Lewis Carroll poem “Twinkle Twinkle Little Bat.” The bartenders at Little Bat, which is the sister to the Shoreditch hotspot Callooh Callay, are consistently friendly, but always talented. It’s never too packed, but retains a good vibe – whether it’s for a buzzy brunch on a weekend day, or candlelit tipples in the evening. The soundtrack is also a highlight.
Must order: Try something from their “Alice in Wonderland”-inspired cocktail menu (from £9.50) or order a classic – their Pisco Sour is to die for.
Bar Termini, Soho or Marylebone
Probably my favourite bar of them all, Bar Termini has everything a good bar needs. It’s unpretentious, yet the cocktails are to die for. The Soho location has always been my go-to thanks to its tiny, intimate vibe, and despite being named the 6th best bar in the world last year, it’s even possible to get a walk-in table from time to time – though I recommend booking to be safe.
Must order: My go-to is the “Death in Venice” (£11.50), simply made with Campari, grapefruit bitters, and Prosecco.
The Blue Posts, Chinatown
I discovered The Blue Posts while walking through Chinatown on a sunny Sunday afternoon after watching the London marathon, and it’s now one of my favourite pubs in the city. We could hear some lively jazz music coming from somewhere and followed our ears – and if you visit on a Sunday, a live band and a happy crowd are exactly what you’ll find, too. If you’re hoping for something more chilled, there’s also The Mulwray upstairs, serving wine and cocktails.
Must order: A cider, to drink outside on the cobblestoned alleyway while you take in the sound of the live music.
Mr Fogg’s Residence, Mayfair
All Mr Fogg’s location are a bit of an attack on the senses, but in a good way. Claiming to be “the Mayfair home of the famed adventurer, Phileas J. Fogg, Esq.,” this truly feels like stepping into someone’s eccentric and luxurious living room, complete with wood-panelled walls, random artefacts, and plenty of antiques from journeys around the world.
Must order: A signature cocktail, each of which tells the story of an adventure, like “The £20,000 Wager,” £14 – made with hibiscus-infused gin, Sipsmith Sloe gin, homemade raspberry leaves syrup, lemon juice, egg white, and rhubarb bitters.
Doodle Bar, Bermondsey
What could be better than a bar where you’re allowed – and actually, encouraged – to write on the walls? This airy bar and event space is situated in a railway arch, and includes chalkboard walls, ping pong, and street food. Definitely worth a stop.
Must order: You’re in Bermondsey Beer Mile area, but there are also 20 gins going if that’s more your style.
Bar Américain, Piccadilly
Situated below the always great Brasserie Zedel, Bar Américain is a sophisticated art deco-style spot with very traditional cocktails. This is the place when you’re in the mood for a bit of glamour in central London – and the free popcorn doesn’t suck, either.
Must order: A Champagne Cocktail, £11.50, made with Pommery Champagne, Cognac, Angostura Bitters, and sugar.
Four Sisters Bar, Islington
This intimate cocktail bar looks pretty unassuming from outside, but the vintage leather sofas, wood-panelled walls, friendly staff, and dim lighting make it the perfect spot for a late night drink. The bar claims to have been name-checked by George Orwell, and the last time I was there, “Divergent” star Theo James was having a quiet drink.
Must order: Any of the cocktails are worth a go, but I’d currently go for the “Mezz Around,” £12, made with Patron, mezcal, Aperol, sherry, and lime, or one of the many gin and tonics on offer – especially during the two for £12 Happy Hour, 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. from Monday to Saturday.
Love a secret bar but feel like you’ve seen them all? Enter Cahoots, the 1940s-themed bar set up like a vintage London Underground train carriage. You’ll need to book and ask to see the captain upon arrival, at which point you’ll be taken underground via a wooden escalator to the conductor before being led to your table. The cocktail menu comes in the form of an old newspaper, and classic cocktails as well as “black market liquor and post-war favourites” are all on offer. Expect jazz and swing to play while you drink from old mugs, hip flasks, milk bottles, and tins – and the tipples are all truly tasty.
Must order: The bar’s most popular drink, the “Vera Lynn,” which for £13 will deliver a long cocktail of gin, cloudy apple juice, pear purée, ginger, elderflower, lime, and black pepper.
The Holly Bush, Hampstead
Truly the best spot for a cosy Sunday drink after a walk on Hampstead Heath, The Holly Bush is a centuries-old pub in a Grade II-listed building hidden in the winding cobblestone streets. Complete with fireplaces and corners to curl up in, it’s also packed with locals, so it’s also a great place to simply pull up a chair at the bar.
Must order: A pint of ale or a glass of red (from £6) from the decent wine menu on a cosy evening, or dip into the whiskey selection at the bar.
Gordon’s Wine Bar, Charing Cross
Established in 1890, Gordon’s is London’s oldest wine bar – and it couldn’t be more apparent when you step inside. Step down onto Watergate Walk off Villiers Street to find outdoor tables with umbrellas and a BBQ in the summer and heaters in the winter, or head down the stairs into the wine bar itself, where the walls are covered with old newspaper cuttings and everything smells musty (in a charming way). The highlight is the candlelit, vaulted cellars you’ll find at the back – you’ll be lucky to immediately find a place to sit on evenings and weekends, but if you hang around long enough, it will be worth it.
Must order: Wine, obviously. Grab a bottle (or a half bottle, which is available for some wines) of Pinot Noir (£23.50) and cosy up in the caved cellars or opt for a Côtes de Provence rosé and head outside to people-watch in the sun.
The Bermondsey Arts Club, Bermondsey
Because you need to visit a bar located inside an oil toilet at least once in your life, and that’s exactly what this is. A tiny, art deco themed spot ideal for an after-dinner drink, the prices are a bit steep, but well worth it if you can catch some live jazz.
Must order: Try something summery like the “Rio Bravo,” £9.50 (Havana rum infused with pineapple coconut, served with lime and sugar syrup), or try the indulgent “Waffle Fashioned,” £10, consisting of waffle-infused rye, sugar, and chocolate bitters.
Earl of Essex, Angel
A true beer-lovers’ pub hidden on a leafy residential street in Angel, those who don’t appreciate a pint will still love the sunny garden at the Earl of Essex (though it’s small and can get busy, so get there quick).
Must order: One of the many beers from the wall menu.
Vinoteca, Various Locations
Though each one is a bit different, each Vinoteca location (the City, King’s Cross, Marylebone, Farringdon, or Chiswick) is a wine and cheese lover’s dream while still remaining super casual and unpretentious. Order a glass (or bottle) and a few cheeses and settle in.
Must order: Wine on tap, which starts at £4.30 a glass, because why not?
The Wheatsheaf, London Bridge
Though not at all under-the-radar, this Borough Market Young’s pub is a reliable classic, and it was recently refurbished with more outdoor space. Take a break from sampling market food to stop off for a pint in the terrace area, or cosy up inside in colder months.
Must order: One of Young’s own beers, if you’re a real ale fan.
Mr Fogg’s Tavern, Covent Garden
Still eccentric and packed with plenty of memorabilia, of course, this Victorian tavern is a much more casual spot for a drink than the Mayfair residence – and good pubs that aren’t completely packed with tourists are few and far between in Covent Garden. Not many people know that the pub has an upstairs tea room too: it’s decorated like your granny’s living room and serves gin-themed afternoon teas.
Must order: A pint of Mr Fogg’s own ale.
Savage Garden, Tower of London
One of the more under-the-radar rooftop spots in London, Savage Garden sits on top of the DoubleTree by Hilton – Tower of London hotel, and certainly offers some impressive views. There’s plenty of outdoor and indoor space surrounded by glass, and the drinks are super tasty – though they don’t come cheap. The ideal place for an after-work Friday treat.
Must order: A Seedlip cocktail if you’re not one for alcohol, or one of the Signatures – like the “Savage Spritz,” £17, complete with Plymouth Sloe Gin, Chartreuse, and Champagne.
Call Me Mr Lucky, London Bridge
The perfect “proper night out” location, this isn’t the most obvious bar out there. First, arrive at The Breakfast Club in London Bridge, and let the door man know: “I’m here to get lucky.” You’ll then be led through the restaurant’s kitchen – no joke – into a dark and colourfully lit tiki-style spot that’s always full of fun. There’s a happy hour with two for one cocktails and beer deals every night from 5 to 7 p.m., too.
Must order: Leave it in someone else’s hands by spinning the arrow on the wall to find out what you’ll be drinking – though it may involve shots.
Après London, Flat Iron Square, London Bridge
There’s something appealing about a ski-themed bar, and this pop-up chalet at popular Flat Iron Square is no exception. The wooden lodge is cosy and home to big tables for groups and even a dance floor.
Must order: A beer – whatever’s on tap.
69 Colebrooke Row, Angel
Also called “The Bar With No Name,” 69 Colebrooke Row is a speakeasy-style neighbourhood favourite, though it’s easy not to notice it from the outside. Cosy and intimate inside, this is the ideal date night or after dinner drink spot that will remind you of more of a French café than an Islington side street bar.
Must order: The Prairie Oyster (£7), just to say you tried it – it looks like an egg inside an oyster shell, and is taken in one shot like an oyster, but it’s actually made of tomato yolk, horseradish vodka, sherry, shallots, pepper sauce, celery salt, and oyster leaf.
Ned’s Club Upstairs, The Ned, Bank
Though only accessible for members of The Ned or hotel guests staying in at least a Large Room, if you can find a way in, it’s well worth a visit to the rooftop bar, restaurant, and pool at Ned’s Club. There are plenty of places to pull up a chair or a lounger on a sunny day and take in views of the City with a chilled glass of rosé in hand.
Must order: A glass of Lady A Provence rosé, from £10.
You’ll think you’re in the wrong place when you arrive at the apartment building that’s home to Barts, a speakeasy-style cocktail bar in Chelsea. The 1920s theme comes along with some great music, but you’ll need to find the black door and know the password to enter.
Must order: Something from the comic book-inspired cocktail menu.
The Vault at Milroy’s, Soho
The best bars can be found behind bookcases these days. Milroy’s whisky bar is impressive in and of itself, but make your way down the secret door to the downstairs Vault and you’ll discover an even cosier, dark spot to have a late-night drink.
Must order: Whisky or a whisky cocktail, of course.
Flight Club, Bloomsbury, Shoreditch & Victoria
This is not your typical bar, but it’s one you should certainly visit. Flight Club has digitised darts, transforming the game you probably know from dingy pubs into a social event for a group of friends. You can book an ochre by the hour and have drinks – and food – brought straight to you for a night out with a twist.
Must order: The “Champions Cup” sharing cocktail, £40, made with tequila, ginger, maple, orange, lemon, Angostura bitters, and ginger ale, and big enough to keep your whole group happy.
Tap & Bottle at Flat Iron Square, London Bridge
Flat Iron Square is normally pretty packed, but somehow, this gem of a wine bar upstairs never is. Situated over a few floors in a Grade II-listed building, head up a narrow staircase to discover the 10 regularly rotating wine taps behind the bar, which sits inside what feels more like someone’s home than anything. Inside, you’ll find a fireplace and some antique furniture perfect for winter, but there’s an outdoor terrace with plenty of shady spots as well.
Must order: Whatever wine is on tap.
The Dolphin, Hackney
Before you judge me, one complete dive has to make the list – and The Dolphin is the most fun of them all. This isn’t the place to start your night, but thanks to its sticky floor, throwback playlist, and busy garden, it’s the best place to end it.
Must order: A round, because you should only be here if you’re with a group of fun (rowdy) mates.
Beaufort Bar at The Savoy, The Strand
Considering you’ll find it at the back of The Savoy, Beaufort Bar is surprisingly unpretentious – though its art deco design is super-luxe. There’s a chatty vibe about it and people seem to really settle in for a few hours rather than your typical hotel cocktail bar. The new menu is influenced by “Music, Magic, and Drama,” and its three sections of cocktails are themed accordingly. Plus, if you’re lucky, you’ll hear some live music playing from other parts of the hotel.
Must order: Pick from a wide selection of Champagnes and wines in “Music,” a cocktail from “Magic” for something unique and “mystifying,” or “Drama” for something a bit darker and smokier.
68 & Boston, Soho
There’s something for everyone at 68 & Boston. At the ground floor wine bar, 68, you’ll find a list of 20 solid wines for £20 a bottle, as well as a range by the glass, and some pretty tasty charcuterie. If you’re up for something a bit more lively, head upstairs to Boston, the cocktail bar which can get pretty rowdy late-night.
Must order: One of the £20 bottles of wine at 68 – you can’t go wrong.
Old Street Records, Shoreditch
This is a place that drastically changes depending on when you go. Spread over two floors, you’ll find live music and a busy bar upstairs, and full club vibes downstairs. It gets pretty crowded late-night, but it’s certainly full of fun.
Must order: 2-4-1 cocktails from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. every day.
Whether you love or hate that someone created a prison-themed cocktail bar, there is absolutely no denying that Alcotraz is a lot of fun for a night out with a difference (and the actors are actually quite good). Enter (with your own liquor to smuggle in) and be given an orange jumpsuit and a box containing a toothbrush and a few other essentials. You’ll then be taken to your cell where you’ll hang out with a few other “inmates” and be visited – and shouted at- by the warden from time to time. Don’t fear, though – one talented “inmate,” or actor, has managed to smuggle syrups, juices, and bitters in, and he’ll mix you drinks whenever he’s able to sneak away.
Must order: Tell him what you like and he’ll make you something using what you’ve got. It’s a bit luck-of-the-draw, which is part of the fun.
Aqua Shard, London Bridge
It’s unlikely this will become your regular drinks spot, but if you have an occasion to celebrate – or just want to treat yourself, because you deserve it – Aqua Shard is certainly worth the splurge thanks to its incredible views and creative cocktails. Make sure you check out the view from the toilets, too.
Must order: Champagne, of course -a glass of Veuve Cliquot will set you back £18, or you can opt for the Marga-tini cocktail (tequila, Cointreau, lime, agave orange flower water, and baby peach), for £17.
Swingers, The City or West End
You may say, “This is a mini golf place, not a bar,” but in fact, it’s both. Open for those 18+ only, you can play a round of mini golf at Swingers while waiters bring you drinks on the course, and you can visit one of its bars after, including “The Clubhouse,” for a well-earned tipple.
Must order: If you’ve worked up a sweat, you can opt for a Frosé (£10 with frozen Belsazar Rosé vermouth, rosé wine, strawberry purée, and agave syrup), or go for something more classic like a Moscow Mule (£11).
Prospect of Whitby, Wapping
Don’t ignore the north side of the river, because there are some beautiful pubs and restaurants scattered along it. The historic Prospect of Whitby is probably the best one – the nautical tavern on its site dates back to 1520, and there’s a pretty big terrace which is great for riverside summer chilling.
Must order: A pint – the drinks are standard, but nothing to write home about.
Duck and Waffle, Heron Tower, Liverpool Street
40 floors up at the summit of Heron Tower, Duck & Waffle is known for its midnight food menu – but the bar is also worth a visit. If you don’t go for the curiously creative cocktails, make the trip for the view alone.
Must order: Ask for a recommendation based on what you like and you’re sure to hit a winner.
Joe’s, Chalk Farm
Joe’s is the anecdote to “nobody can agree on where to go” nights. Open until 3 a.m. with banging music the entire time – think blues, R&B, and jazz that you can dance to – this tiny spot is the type where you come away knowing the whole bar.
Must order: Cheap cocktails or ale during 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Happy Hour.
Knight’s Bar, Simpson’s, The Strand
Most people know about the old school restaurant Simpson’s in the Strand, but it’s the upstairs art deco Knight’s Bar that’s actually worth a visit in and of itself. Sit at the counter and chat to knowledgeable head bartender Harry Bereton or cosy up in a sofa before you dig into a selection of gins and cocktails. A true hidden gem.
Must order: The exclusive Simpson’s London Dry gin with tonic. Perfect.
The Blacksmiths Arms, Rotherhithe
A true locals’ pub, it’s good enough that it’s worth a visit even if you don’t live in the area. You’ll usually spot a dog – they encourage it, – the staff are friendly, and the throwback music is perfect for a chilled Sunday afternoon session. Be sure to order some nibbles or food, too – the gastro-pub style menu is always a hit.
Must order: The Passion Fruit Martini (£9) is their current claim to fame, though a pint of Seafarers (£4.50) can’t go amiss.
Bloomsbury Club Bar, The Bloomsbury Hotel
I’m constantly surprised by how few people know this bar, which lies beneath The Bloomsbury Hotel, exists, considering how stunning it is. Inspired by The Bloomsbury Set, “a circle of friends” made up of local artists, writers, intellectuals, and nobility “scandalised by Edwardian society with a carousel of lovers, affairs and illegitimate children,” the bar is as dark and mysterious as those who inspired it and its cocktail menu.
Must order: Try the “John Maynard Keynes,” made with Amaro Di Angostura, Smith & Cross Rum, Mozart Dark Chocolate, and Orange Bitters for £12.
The Botanical Bar, HMS Belfast, Southbank
Formerly Tom’s Kitchen, the upstairs Botanical Bar at HMS Belfast is reopening for spring 2019 with some pretty amazing views over the Thames, the Tower of London, and the city skyline. The menu remains to be seen, but it’s sure to deliver all of the classics.
Must order: Something cold.
I’ve been to MASH Steakhouse a number of times without going anywhere near any food, so the drinks must be good. Enter and be sent down a pretty grand staircase which leads you to the luxurious red-and-gold accented bar, home to an impressively talented bar team. This is a great date spot.
Must order: Anything that requires the use of the giant block of ice. (All cocktails are £13).
The Mayflower, Rotherhithe
Claiming to be the oldest pub on the Thames – it was apparently the mooring point for the The Mayflower ship in 1620 – this is a truly English spot nestled among cobblestone streets, situated right on the river with an outside deck where you’re sure to get splashed. Inside is a cosy pub with open fires and plenty of history. One warning: being very small, it also gets very busy. Go mid-week if you have a day off (or a job that isn’t a 9-to-5).
Must order: A pint of something super British, like Betty Stogs (£4.40), with fruit, malt, roast grain, and caramel flavours.
Southwark Tavern, London Bridge
It might not look like anything special upstairs, but head downstairs and you’ll be shocked to find you can sit and drink in booths which used to be old cells inside a debtors’ prison. Dating back to the 1800s, don’t let the crowds outside the Borough Market watering hole put you off from venturing in to take in some slightly creepy history.
Must order: A pint from the seasonally-rotated WIGIG speciality kegs – “When It’s Gone, It’s Gone!”
LIDO at The Curtain, Shoreditch
Another members-only rooftop spot (unless you’re staying at the hotel), if you know someone who can get you in, this is the place to be on a hot day – though the retractable glass roof means it’s comfortable year-round. Its name delivers with a small pool, so you can take a dip while you sip.
Must order: Try a Lido Spritzer (£8) or head here post gym and opt for a protein smoothie.
It might sound a little bougie to go buy your wine and cheese from a place called “Lechevalier,” but once you do it, there’s no going back. This neighbourhood wine bar and shop has plenty of wine, cheese, bread, and charcuterie to take home, but pull up a seat at the counter to eat, drink, and chat to owner Christophe Lechevalier, who sold wine at Borough Market for more than 15 years.
Must order: A biodynamic and natural orange wine.
Myki Archer Bar, Soho
The downstairs bar at Archer Street is a class book-it-for-your-birthday venue. The theme changes regularly – it was the Piste Winter Bar over the past season, but this summer, you can expect to find the “Myki Beach Bar.” This is the place for good drinks, good music, and a generally fun time for a night out with friends.
Must order: The menu isn’t online yet, but no doubt you’ll find something fruity and delicious to get you going.
Waxy O’Connors, Chinatown
Yes, this place is a tourist trap, but it’s also one that’s worth a visit at least once. “London’s biggest and best Irish bar” is truly both of those things – and it’s also a maze. You’ll find four unique bars across six levels, with live music four nights a week and a consistent busy, fun atmosphere.
Must order: Order “Beer and a Shot” – an American craft beer with a shot of Irish whiskey – from £6.50.
Bottles and Battles, Mercato Metropolitano, Elephant & Castle
Another must-visit street food and drink spot is Elephant and Castle’s Mercato Metropolitano. While any of the vendors are worth a look, I’m a big fan of the wine cave hidden in the back. Bottles and Battles is a place you can spend a few hours in – cosying up with a blanket, sipping on wine, and even ordering plates of pasta.
Must order: A rich glass of red.
Hawker House, Canada Water
If you just can’t decide what you want – or have an indecisive group of friends – Hawker House is an easy choice. This giant SE16 warehouse has been turned into an indoor/outdoor street food and bar heaven. There are six watering holes to choose from, including a Gin Kitchen, a vermouth and aperitivo bar, rum and tequila spot, a wine bar, a rotating beer can selection, Whiskey Roulette and pool tables.
Must order: Whatever your heart desires – there’s plenty of choice.
Simon the Tanner, Bermondsey
Yes, there’s another dog-friendly pub on this list – but Simon the Tanner is an always-friendly, always-comfortable spot for a reasonably priced drink in an otherwise expensive and jam-packed area.
Must order: A bottle of red with a Sunday roast, or pick from a good selection of draft beer, ale, and cider.
Leadbelly’s Bar & Kitchen, Canada Water
Leadbelly’s is a little bit of everything – including a quirky brunch spot and ideal place for a Sunday roast – but the colourfully-lit bar and perfect summer patio make it a top choice for drinks.
Must order: Visit on a weekday for 2-4-1 cocktails from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., or opt for a glass of the Mas Fleurey Côtes de Provence rosé in the sunshine.
The Lamb, Highbury
This is the perfect dingy locals pub, the type of place that looks charming when candle-lit in the evening but you probably wouldn’t want to see in the daytime.
The vibe is warm and cosy, the staff friendly, and the drinks completely unpretentious – The Lamb specialises in local beers from the likes of Five Points and Hammerton Brewery. There are Irish trad sessions each week, and you’ll often see groups of people rock up with instruments and start playing. Just don’t visit on an Emirates match day – it’s a home pub for Arsenal.
Must order: A pint of one of the guest cask ales from a local brewery.
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