The theme bar has had something of a bad rep in the past, London high streets have been filled with “authentic” Irish pubs and dubious, tacky “real” American bars. Thankfully, the concept has been reclaimed and there are lots of interesting places to go for an escapist tipple. From taking a sip that takes you back in time, to movie boozers and underground cabaret to give you something a little more than just another night at the pub.

For a taste of vintage London Underground, try Cahoots | Photo by Alexander Baxevanis used under CC

Yes, some of them look rather fancy, but it’s always happy hour somewhere if you know where (or rather, when) to look.

Cafe Cairo

What’s the theme?

A small, neighbourhood Bedouin-style bar in Clapham North. There are lots of interesting events on, including free film screenings on Sundays and gypsy jazz music gigs. They call themselves a “fantasy home from home” which sums it up perfectly, it’s escapist and homely all at once.

Wander through different areas including the Travellers Lounge with a cosy fire books and board games. The magic tent (the cushion-covered Bedouin loft) wind your way downstairs and you’ll fine The Electric Basement.

There is outdoor space too, in the form of the Shisha Garden, like a mini festival under one roof! Aside from an unusual and fun atmosphere, there is (crucially) a well-stocked bar.

Cost of food and drink?

Cocktails are around the £6.00£8.00 mark with a 2-4-1 happy hour on Thursdays. They also serve lots of nice teas and little snacks, so it’s a great spot for non-drinkers, daytime hangouts and dates. It’s a cheapo winner on the food front too—you can make toast for free with wheat or wheat free, locally sourced bread. They also allow outside food.


What’s the theme?

Vintage London Underground, 1940s era bedecked with metro tiles and old memorabilia. It’s apparently a big hit with tourists and right in the heart of town. You’ll need to book a two-hour slot to visit, so treat it like a night out in a museum! Be prepared for a little hammy British acting as a ‘train guard’ ushers you to your seat  but for those enjoy kitchsy silliness,  it’s a daft alternative to a normal bar.

Cost of food and drink?

Cocktails are about average for London, around £10.00£11.00 and arrive in tea cups. Food wise, it’s probably best to have a cheap meal nearby (lots of options in and around Soho) and retire to this place for a nightcap—one for a novelty travel stop, while you make your way round the city’s watering holes.

The Alma

What’s the theme?

At this bar, the walls are covered in cinematic paraphenalia. There’s also a pub dog (all the best pubs do) called Buster. It’s cosy, local pub in Newington Green with board games, a quiz on Sundays (£50.00 bar tab for the winners) and musos can bring their own instruments for an open jam on Thursday evening. There is a function room which is free to hire—a definite bonus if you’re looking to host a gathering, especially at weekends.

Link: The Alma website

Cost of food and drinks?

The regular menu is a little on the pricey gastro pub end of things. However, they do 2-4-1 pizza Monday–Thursdays, but standard-ish prices for drinks—so not mega cheap but worth a visit for a lazy sunday, a pizza deal or a weekday folk jam.


What’s the theme?

Well, the clue is kind of in the name. It’s easy to overlook an outlandishly attired venue on the streets of Shoreditch, but it’s as bright, carefree and colourful as its name suggests. The walls are lined with colourful, geometric wallpaper and animal masks, and there is free comedy every Tuesday, including Edinburgh previews in the summer.

Link: The Cirque website

Cost of food and drinks?

A pretty decent deal with happy hour(s) from 4 pm to 8 pm on weeknights with four beers or two cocktails for £0.00 making it reasonably to get a round in. Menu details are not available online, but it looks to be more light bites and snacks rather than main meals.

Looking for more cheap, quirky venue suggestions? Read our guide to cheap music venues.

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