Don’t you love being in on a secret? From hidden doors and secret passwords to playing a wheel of fortune or playing dress-up, get into the spirit of more than just the cocktails on your next night out. Most of these bars have been around for a while – the late noughties were probably peak speakeasy for London – but watching mates or dates experience them for the first time never gets old.
Warning: this ENTIRE article contains spoilers.
The Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town
Queue up with all the other punters waiting patiently for a table for their Spitalfields Breakfast Club pancakes or chicken & waffles. When you get to the front, tell them ‘I’m here to see the Mayor’.
Your guide will open the door of a large SMEG fridge by the counter – yep, you read that right – to reveal a hidden staircase. Follow it down to a cosy underground cocktail bar; welcome to Scaredy Cat Town, the Mayor will see you now. It’s a very relaxed place that doesn’t take itself too seriously, which makes for a good night out. Oh, and a cheeky Cheapo tip; if your name happens to be Garfield and you have valid photo ID, you get a free drink.
To leave Scaredy Cat Town, exit through the door on the left at the top of the stairs, via the My Little Pony wallpapered toilets. The bar suggests that you maintain the illusion by leaving your fly undone or your skirt tucked in your knickers, but I leave that to your discretion.
Cocktail hero: Day of the Dead: Don Julio Blanco, Midori, lime, homemade pineapple, chilli & coriander shrub – £12.00
Call Me Mr Lucky
As before, queue up with the Breakfast Club regulars (this time in Borough) but when offered a table, tell your server, ‘I’m here to get lucky.’
Instead of getting slapped, you will (hopefully) be led downstairs, through the kitchen and into a dimly-lit, lantern-strewn underground dive bar with a tequila-heavy cocktail list and a wheel of fortune that – if you really are lucky – might win you some free drinks. Apparently it’s a favourite of Tom Daley, so bring your knitting.
Named in honour of park ranger Roy Sullivan who, between 1942 and 1977, was struck by lightning seven times and survived, setting a world record. Just call him Mr Lucky (although maybe not being struck at all would have been luckier?).
Cocktail hero: Get Lucky or Dice Trying: Ketel One Vodka, Chambord, crème de peche, orange juice & cranberry – £10.00
When you order this, you get to roll three lucky dice; roll 2 sixes and the drink is on the house, roll 3 sixes and it’s shots for everyone in the bar.
Evans & Peel Detective Agency
Set in 1930s prohibition, this has a real shadowy speakeasy vibe. Complete the online case file before your appointment with the private detective, interview for their help and maybe get shown through to the hidden bar. Have some fun with this: are you an heiress, suspicious that our husband is having an affair with a showgirl? Are you a titled gentleman, suspicious that your new wife has pawned the family jewels and replaced them with fakes?
Cocktails are divided into Moonshiners, Bootleggers Bandits and Special Cases; they are well-made and punchy. Oh, and there is a radiator that dispenses beer if you’re not a cocktail fan. Definitely one of the most quirky cocktail bars in London.
Cocktail hero: The World’s Best Old Fashioned: it’s off menu so you have to ask the bar staff. Yet more proof that you know ALL the secrets.
Behind a convincing fake bookcase at the back of renowned whisky emporium Milroy’s of Soho is a hidden door to The Vault, an award-winning underground cocktail bar. How much do you love a fake bookcase hidden door? From Batman to Scooby-Doo, it’s a classic. Channel your inner tortured billionaire or pesky kid and tick this off your bucket list.
Cocktail hero: Breakfast Highball: brandy, jasmine tea, peach bitters – £13.00
Voted one of the top 50 cocktail bars of 2022, Callooh Callay is named after a celebratory quote from the wonderful Lewis Carroll nonsense poem Jabberwocky: ‘O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!’. They have a wide range of quirky cocktails for every taste, all priced at £12.00 and mostly blending sweet and savoury food and flavours with alcohol; think the Tomayto Tomahto with tomato liqueur and lime, or the Casino Royale with dark chocolate and rosewater. A great option for cocktail enthusiasts.
At the back of the bar there is a wardrobe; climb in and in true Narnia-style you will find yourself in the secret back bar. (Having a private party? You can hire the iner sanctum: nip behind a curtain, up some stairs and into the hallowed JubJub bar.)
Cocktail hero: Movie Night: Jim Beam rye whiskey, Santa Teresa 1796 rum, Angostura bitters, salted caramel popcorn, demerera – £12.00
If you’re after a quirky cocktail bar in London then pay a visit to Uncle Barts. Uncle Barts’ apartment lies behind a black door on the ground floor of the Chelsea Cloisters apartment building on Sloane Avenue. There’s a shifty-looking sliding peephole and you will be asked for the password, which you will be given when you make your booking. Step over the threshold and you’re in 1929 and the Prohibition era.
Barts has bar food from the neighbouring Gaucho restaurant, a hidden Havana garden and a UV cocktail menu with secret rum cocktails this month, but to be honest they had me at ‘dressing-up box’.
Cocktail hero: Auld Alliance: Hennessy V.S cognac, Talisker 10yr Scotch whisky, apricot liqueur and chocolate-infused Discarded Cascara vermouth, topped with a tonka bean mist – £16.00