Fodor's London (2015)
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Pubs by Neighborhood
Nightlife by Neighborhood
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Updated by Jo Caird
There isn’t a London nightlife scene—there are lots of them. As long as there are crowds for obscure teenage rock bands, Dickensian-style pubs, comedy cabarets, and “bodysonic” dance nights, someone will create clubs and venues for them in London. The result? London has become a veritable utopia for excitement junkies, culture fiends, and those who—simply put—like to party.
Nearly everyone who visits London these days will be mesmerized by the city’s energy, which reveals itself in layers. Whether you prefer rhythm and blues with fine French food, the gritty guitar-riff music of Camden Town, the boutique beers of East London, a pint and gourmet pizza at a local gastropub, or swanky cocktails and sushi at London’s sexiest lair, London is sure to feed your fancy.
If you’re out late, the best way to get home is by taxi (the Tube stops running around 12:30 am Monday-Saturday and midnight on Sunday), though the city’s night buses are largely safe and reliable. The best place to hail a taxi is at the front door of one of the major hotels; you can also have the staff at your last stop of the evening call one for you. Avoid unlicensed taxis that tout for business around closing time.
LIQUOR AND SMOKING LAWS
Laws now allow London drinking establishments to extend their opening hours beyond the traditional 11 pm closing, and smoking is banned. Most pubs and bars still close by midnight or a few short hours later, and, in general, you’ll find yourself drinking in environs that are healthier and more pleasant than was the case in the past.
CAN I TAKE MY KIDS TO THE PUB?
As pubs increasingly emphasize what’s coming out of the kitchen alongside what’s flowing from the tap, bringing the kids is more of an option. The law dictates that children 14 to 17 may enter a pub but are not permitted to purchase or drink alcohol, and children under 14 are not permitted in the bar area of a pub unless the pub has a “Children’s Certificate” and the kids are accompanied by an adult. Some pubs have a section set aside for families, especially during the day, but many don’t allow children in the evening.
WHAT TO WEAR
As a general rule, you won’t see too many people in the upscale London nightspots wearing jeans and sneakers. People are more likely to dress down than up for an evening in the pub.
FIND OUT WHAT’S PLAYING WHERE
Because today’s cool spot is often tomorrow’s forgotten or closed venue, check out the weekly listings in the Evening Standard (www.standard.co.uk) and, especially, Time Out (www.timeout.com/london). Other websites to consult are www.londontown.com, www.allinlondon.co.uk, and www.viewlondon.co.uk. Although many clubs are for under-thirties, there are plenty of others that are popular with patrons of all ages and types. A particularly useful website for clubs and club nights is www.residentadvisor.net.
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Mayfair | Soho and Covent Garden | Bloomsbury, Holborn, and Fitzrovia | Clerkenwell and The City | East London | South of the Thames | Chelsea and Belgravia | Notting Hill | Regent’s Park and Hampstead | The Thames Upstream
Pubs are where Londoners go to hang out, see and be seen, act out the drama of life, and, for some, occasionally drink themselves into varying degrees of oblivion. The pub is still a vital part of London life, though many of the traditions of the pub experience are evolving. There are few better places to meet Londoners in their local habitat. There are somewhere around 4,000 pubs in London—some are dark and woody, others plain and functional, a few still have original Victorian etched glass, Edwardian panels, and art nouveau carvings.
Not long ago, before the smoking ban, pubs tended to be smoky, male-dominated places with a couple of ubiquitous beers on tap and the only available food a packet of salt-and-vinegar-flavor crisps (potato chips). All that has changed. Gastropub fever swept through London around the turn of the 21st century and at many places, char-grills are installed in the kitchen and inventive pub grub is on the menu. A new wave of enthusiasm for craft beers is now having a similar effect on pubs’ liquid sustenance.
The big decision is what to drink. The beer of choice among Britons is “bitter,” lightly fermented with an amber color that gets its bitterness from hops. It’s usually served at cellar temperature (that is, cooler than room temperature but neither chilled, nor, as common misconception would have it, warm). Real ales, served from wooden kegs and made without chilling, filtering, or pasteurization, are flatter than other bitters and are enjoying a renaissance. Many small London breweries have sprung up in recent years, and bottled designer and American beers can be found in most bars across London. Stouts, like Guinness, are a meal in themselves and something of an acquired taste—they have a dark, caramel-infused flavor and look like thickened flat Coke with a frothy top. Chilled lagers, most familiar to American drinkers, are light in color and carbonated.TIP What Americans call beer, the British call lager, the most commonly served of which are from continental Europe.
Many English pubs are owned by chains such as Mitchells and Butlers, Punch Taverns, or Samuel Smith, and are tenanted. Most are not obviously branded and retain at least some independence. Independently owned pubs, sometimes called “free houses,” tend to offer a more extensive selection of beer. Other potations available include apple-based ciders, ranging from sweet to dry and from alcoholic to very alcoholic (Irish cider, served over ice, is now also ubiquitous), and shandies, a mix of beer and lemonade. Friendly pubs will usually be happy to give you a taste of the brew of your choice before you order.
The list below offers a few pubs selected for interesting beer, historical interest, a pleasant garden, music, or good food, but you might just as happily adopt your own temporary “local.”
The pubs in this central London neighborhood tend to be as smart as the people that frequent them, but you’ll find plenty of characterful, informal establishments, too.
Big, smart, old-school, and a little on the brash side, the Audley makes up in friendly atmosphere what it lacks in charm. There’s a good selection of beer on tap, and it’s far enough away from the tourist hot spots that, on the right day, it can feel like a village pub. | 41-43 Mount St., Mayfair | 020/7499-1843 | www.taylor-walker.co.uk | Station: Bond St., Green Park.
Fodor’s Choice | Punch Bowl.
In a quiet corner of Mayfair, the cozy little Punch Bowl has a worn wood floor and well-spoken staff dressed in pale checked shirts. The pub dates from 1750 and the interior remains steadfastly old-fashioned, with a painting of Churchill, candles, polished dark wood, and engraved windows. Try the place’s eponymous ale, made specially in Scotland by Caledonian. A special dining area at the rear buzzes at lunchtime with locals who come for the upscale English pub grub. | 41 Farm St., Mayfair | 020/7493-6841 | www.punchbowllondon.com | Station: Green Park, Bond St.
SOHO AND COVENT GARDEN
Traditional British “boozers” stand side-by-side with informal continental-style drinking dens in this buzzing central neighborhood. Drop by for a late drink and you may find yourself rubbing shoulders with musicians and actors from the West End’s many theaters.
Crown And Two Chairmen.
Fine English beer from the likes of Purity and Sharps and a friendly, relaxed atmosphere make this an excellent option in the heart of Soho. The traditional pub grub is also good. The window seats are great spots from which to watch the world go by. | 31-32 Dean St., Soho | 020/7437-8192 | www.thecrownandtwochairmenw1.co.uk | Station: Tottenham Court Rd.
In the pub where the French Resistance convened during World War II, Soho hipsters and eccentrics rub shoulders now with theater people and the literati—more than shoulders, actually, because this tiny, tricolor-waving, photograph-lined pub is almost always packed. Note that in French style, beer is served in half-pints only. If you’re around on July 14, come and join in the rapturous Bastille Day celebrations. | 49 Dean St., Soho | 020/7437-2477 | www.frenchhousesoho.com | Station: Tottenham Court Rd.
This is the sort of friendly little local you might find on some out-of-the-way backstreet, except that it’s right in the middle of town, between Trafalgar Square and Covent Garden. As a result, the Harp can get crowded, especially since it was named British pub of the year by the Campaign for Real Ale, but the squeeze is worth it for the excellent beer (there are usually eight carefully chosen ales, often including a London micro-brewery) and a no-frills menu of high-quality British sausages, cooked behind the bar. | 47 Chandos Pl., Covent Garden | 020/7836-0291 | www.harpcoventgarden.com | Station: Charing Cross.
Lamb & Flag.
This refreshingly un-gentrified 17th-century pub was once known as the Bucket of Blood because the upstairs room was used as a ring for bare-knuckle boxing. Now it’s a friendly—and bloodless—place, serving food and real ale. It’s on the edge of Covent Garden, up a hidden alley off Garrick Street. | 33 Rose St., Covent Garden | 020/7497-9504 | www.lambandflagcoventgarden.co.uk | Station: Covent Garden.
Claiming to be the oldest licensed pub in London, this friendly, family-owned place on Drury Lane had already been here for more than 500 years when it served highwayman Dick Turpin in 1739, just before he was hanged. Nowadays it is one of the best places to mix with cast and crew of the stage, thanks to close relationships with West End theaters. A female-friendly environment, a bright skylight above the lounge area, and house-made pub fare make the White Hart a particularly sociable spot. | 191 Drury La., Covent Garden | 020/7242-2317 | www.whitehartdrurylane.co.uk | Station: Holborn, Covent Garden, Tottenham Court Rd.
BLOOMSBURY, HOLBORN, AND FITZROVIA
The gorgeous historic pubs in this literary neighborhood attract tourists in the daytime and huge crowds of after-work drinkers in the early evening. They tend to quiet down as the night advances, making this area a great spot for a relaxing evening out.
Charles Dickens and his contemporaries drank here, but today’s enthusiastic clientele make sure this intimate and eternally popular pub avoids the pitfalls of feeling too old-fashioned. For private chats at the bar, you can close a delicate etched-glass “snob screen” to the bar staff, opening it only when you fancy another pint. | 94 Lamb’s Conduit St., Bloomsbury | 020/7405-0713 | www.youngs.co.uk | Station: Russell Sq.
Across the street from the British Museum, this friendly and classy Victorian pub makes an ideal resting place after the rigors of the culture trail. Karl Marx unwound here after a hard day in the Library. He could have spent his Kapital on any of 15 well-kept beers available on tap. | 49 Great Russell St., Bloomsbury | 020/7242-8987 | www.taylor-walker.co.uk | Station: Tottenham Court Rd., Holborn.
The Queen’s Larder.
The royal associated with this tiny pub is Queen Charlotte, who is said to have stored food here for her “mad” husband, George III, when he was being treated nearby. The interior preserves its antique feel, with dark wood and old posters, and in the evenings fills up quickly with office workers and students. In good weather, you might prefer to grab one of the seats outdoors. | 1 Queen’s Sq., Bloomsbury | 020/7837-5627 | www.queenslarder.co.uk | Station: Russell Sq.
An impressive number of craft beers are served from unmarked taps set into a brick column behind the bar in this new-breed London pub. Names of the brews are all chalked onto boards, while empty barrels outside testify to the popularity of the best; lunch and supper are served every day. It’s popular, especially when nearby offices empty out in early evening, but you can sit outside under umbrellas (with heaters in winter) on small, ornate, pedestrian-only Sicilian Avenue. Inside, it’s a deliberately plain affair, with little to detract from the liquid experience. | Sicilian Ave.,Holborn | 020/3137-9937 | holbornwhippet.com | Station: Holborn.
This fine, popular pub is an exquisite museum piece of a Victorian interior, with glazed tiles and intricately engraved glass screens that divide the bar area into cozy little annexes. It’s not all show, either: There’s a good selection of excellent-value Yorkshire real ales from the Samuel Smith’s brewery. | 208 High Holborn, Holborn | 020/7405-8816 | Station: Holborn.
Fodor’s Choice | Draft House Charlotte.
The tiniest of a microchain of craft-beer pubs, Draft House Charlotte is well placed for a quick pint of delicious beer (there are dozens of varieties available, both on tap and bottled) en route between the retail juggernaut of Oxford Street and the high culture of Bloomsbury. The food is good, too, with top-notch burgers the specialty, and staff ready to advise on the best beverage to pair with your meal. There’s not much space here, though, so you may have to perch on a tiny wooden stool between the young, fashionable people who hang out here. | 43 Goodge St., Fitzrovia | 020/7323-9361 | www.drafthouse.co.uk | Station: Goodge St.
Pictorial signs traditionally helped illiterate customers identify establishments; these popular names have an interesting historical element behind them.
The many terms related to the coat of arms reflect the fundamental role of heraldry in England’s past. Other pub names highlight the importance of specific events (the Trafalgar), and others still reflect myths and legends (Robin Hood). Royal names are ubiquitous, such as the Crown—supposedly the most common pub name in England, with more than 700 establishments—which became popular after the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660.
CLERKENWELL AND THE CITY
Workers from The City’s many finance firms pour into the neighborhood’s pubs at the end of the day, but by 8 pm the party is pretty much over and you’ll have no trouble finding a place to sit. It’s always worth ducking down a side street as this is where some of the area’s most charming establishments can be found.
Fodor’s Choice | The Blackfriar.
A step from Blackfriars Tube station, this spectacular pub has an Arts and Crafts interior that is entertainingly, satirically ecclesiastical, with inlaid mother-of-pearl, wood carvings, stained glass, and marble pillars all over the place. In spite of the finely lettered temperance tracts on view just below the reliefs of monks, fairies, and friars, there is a nice group of ales on tap from independent brewers. The 20th-century poet Sir John Betjeman once led a successful campaign to save the pub from demolition. | 174 Queen Victoria St., The City | 020/7236-5474 | www.nicholsonspubs.co.uk/theblackfriarblackfriarslondon | Station: Blackfriars.
Fodor’s Choice | Craft Beer Company.
With 37 beers on tap and 300 more in bottles (some brewed exclusively for the Craft Beer Company), the main problem here is knowing where to start. Luckily, friendly and knowledgeable staff are happy to advise or give tasters—or why not sign up for a guided tasting session? A huge chandelier and a mirrored ceiling lend antique charm to the interior, and a smattering of tourists and beer pilgrims break up the crowds of Leather Lane workers and locals. | 82 Leather La., Clerkenwell | thecraftbeerco.com | Station: Chancery La.
Fodor’s Choice | Jerusalem Tavern.
Owned by the well-respected St. Peter’s Brewery from Suffolk, the Jerusalem Tavern is one-of-a-kind: small, and endearingly eccentric. Ancient Delft-style tiles meld with wood and concrete in a converted watchmaker and jeweler’s shop dating back to the 18th century. The beer, both bottled and on tap, is some of the best available anywhere in London. It’s loved by Londoners and is often busy, especially after work. | 55 Britton St., Clerkenwell | 020/7490-4281 | www.stpetersbrewery.co.uk/london-pub | Station: Farringdon.
Queen Victoria opened the nearby Holborn Viaduct in 1869, and this eponymous pub honored the road bridge by serving its first pint the same year. Much of the Victorian decoration is still extant, with gilded mirrors, carved wood, and engraved glass. The tavern’s haunted reputation stems from its proximity to the former Newgate Prison, site of London’s gallows in the 19th century, which once stood on the site. Ex-prison cells in the basement can be seen with a free tour before or after the lunchtime rush and before 5 pm. There are usually three or four ales on tap; lunch is also served. | 126 Newgate St., The City | 020/7600-1863 | viaducttavern.co.uk | Closed weekends | Station: St. Paul’s.
Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese.
Yes, this extremely historic pub (it dates from 1667, the year after the Great Fire of London) is full of tourists, but it deserves a visit for its sawdust-covered floors, low wood-beam ceilings, and the 14th-century crypt of Whitefriars’ monastery under the cellar bar. This was the most regular of Dr. Johnson’s and Dickens’s many locals. Food is served. | 145 Fleet St., The City | 020/7353-6170 | Closed Sun. | Station: Blackfriars.
Ye Olde Mitre.
Hidden off the side of 8 Hatton Gardens, this cozy pub’s roots go back to 1546, though it was rebuilt around 1782. Originally built for the staff of the Bishop of Ely, whose London residence was next door, it remained officially part of Cambridgeshire until the 20th century. It’s a friendly little labyrinth-like place, with a fireplace, well-kept ales, wooden beams, and traditional bar snacks. | 1 Ely Ct., The City | 020/7405-4751 | yeoldemitreholburn.co.uk | Closed weekends | Station: Chancery La.
Ye Olde Watling.
This busy corner pub has been rebuilt at least three times since 1666. One of its incarnations was as the drawing office for Christopher Wren while nearby St. Paul’s was being built. The ground floor is a laid-back pub, while upstairs houses an atmospheric restaurant, complete with wooden beams and trestle tables, with a basic English pub menu. | 29 Watling St., The City | 020/7248-8935 | www.nicholsonspubs.co.uk/yeoldewatlingwatlingstreetlondon | Station: Mansion House.
East London is better known these days for its bars and clubs than for its pubs, but in historic neighborhoods such as Spitalfields and Wapping there’s a cozy old drinking den around practically every corner.
Prospect of Whitby.
Named after a ship, this is London’s oldest riverside pub, dating from around 1520. Once upon a time it was called the Devil’s Tavern because of the lowlife criminals—thieves and smugglers—who congregated here. Ornamented with pewter ware and nautical objects, this much-loved “boozer” has a terrace with views of the Thames, from where boat trips often point it out. | 57 Wapping Wall,East End | 020/7481-1095 | www.taylor-walker.co.uk | Station: Wapping; DLR: Shadwell.
SOUTH OF THE THAMES
Head to the area around Borough Market—one of London’s oldest neighborhoods—for lively historic pubs where locals and tourists jostle for craft ales and gourmet snacks.
Fodor’s Choice | Anchor & Hope.
One of London’s most popular gastropubs, the Anchor & Hope doesn’t take reservations (except for the three-course set Sunday lunch which begins at 2 pm). Would-be diners snake around the red-walled, wooden-floored pub, kept happy by some good real ales and a fine wine list as they wait for at least 45 minutes for a table. The excellent, meaty food is old-fashioned English—think salt cod, tripe, and chips (fries)—with a few modern twists. | 36 The Cut, South Bank | 020/7928-9898 | www.charleswells.co.uk | Station: Southwark.
The George Inn.
Shakespeare drank in this Southwark pub, Dickens featured the place in his writing, and it’s the last galleried inn in London. Now owned by the National Trust, the George has a cobblestone courtyard, which can be a great place for a drink when the weather’s good. Inside, several small, low-ceilinged rooms lead to a middling restaurant; the best way to soak up the atmosphere is with a pint at the bar. | 77 Borough High St., South Bank | 020/7407-2056 | www.nationaltrust.org.uk/george-inn | Station: London Bridge.
Opposite the foodie treasures of Borough Market, this atmospheric pub opens at 6 am (weekdays) for the stallholders, and always seems busy. Remarkably, the place manages to remain relaxed, with helpful staff and happy customers spilling out onto the road right through the year. The wide selection of real ales is lovingly tended. The pub was used as a set for one of the Harry Potter movies. | 9 Stoney St., Borough | 020/7407-2495 | www.markettaverns.co.uk | Station: London Bridge.
An atmospheric 17th-century riverside inn (rebuilt in the following century) with exposed beams and a terrace near the onetime berth of the famous ship on which the Pilgrims sailed to what became the American colonies. The pub has a heated jetty where customers can sit outside; alternatively, opt to enjoy the wood-beamed interiors, although this can get quite packed with sightseers. | 117 Rotherhithe St., South Bank | 020/7237-4088 | themayflowerrotherhithe.com | Station: Rotherhithe.
CHELSEA AND BELGRAVIA
Pubs in this upmarket central west neighborhood range from classy modern affairs with impressive wine lists and sharing platters to tiny local institutions guaranteed to make you feel like you’ve stepped back in time.
Named after a hero of the Napoleonic Wars, this smart pub is a popular meeting place for the upwardly mobile of Sloane Square (Lady Diana Spencer is said to have been a regular in her teaching days). The “Admiral Cod,” as it’s known, houses a modern restaurant where excellent English fare is served at lunch and dinnertime (treat yourself to the flourless chocolate tart to finish). Activity at the island bar centers on the wine list; well-off Chelsea residents pack the bare wood interior on weekend evenings. | 17 Mossop St., Chelsea | 020/7581-0005 | www.theadmiralcodrington.co.uk | Station: South Kensington.
Just around the corner from chic Sloane Square is the perfect spot to grab an unpretentious pint. Wood paneling and comfy seating create a snug environment, and there’s a fancier dining room upstairs. | 22 Eaton Terr., Chelsea | 020/7824-8512 | www.antelope-eaton-terrace.co.uk | Station: Sloane Sq.
The Nag’s Head.
The landlord of this idiosyncratic little mews pub in Belgravia runs a tight ship, and no cell phones are allowed. If that sounds like misery, the lovingly collected artifacts (including antique penny arcade games) that decorate every inch of the place, high-quality beer, and old-fashioned pub grub should make up for it. | 53 Kinnerton St., Belgravia | 020/7235-1135 | Station: Knightsbridge, Hyde Park Corner.
The line between pub and bar is frequently blurred in this trendy area on the west side of the capital, with the emphasis on good—often haute—food, sleek style, and extensive wine lists.
Crowds head to this chic mix of fun, haute food, and friendly, retro style for Guinness and oysters, either enjoying them in the unpretentious downstairs bar or the upstairs more formal restaurant. The food is excellent, if pricey for pub grub, with lots of seafood and steaks (and sometimes a mix, as in the smoked eel with mash and bacon). The atmosphere? Always warm, welcoming, and buzzing. | 89 Westbourne Park Rd., Notting Hill | 020/7221-0021 | www.thecowlondon.co.uk | Station: Royal Oak, Westbourne Park.
REGENT’S PARK AND HAMPSTEAD
London’s village-like northern neighborhoods—Hampstead, Highgate, and Primrose Hill, to name a few—all boast fantastic local boozers where you can easily while away an afternoon. Camden Town has more of a buzz to it and attracts a younger crowd.
The Holly Bush.
A short walk up the hill from Hampstead Tube station, the friendly Holly Bush was a country pub before London spread this far north. It retains something of a rural feel, with stripped wooden floors and an open fire, and is an intimate place to enjoy great ales and organic and free-range pub food. Try the homemade pork scratchings and pickled eggs. | 22 Holly Mount, Hampstead | 020/7435-2892 | www.hollybushhampstead.co.uk | Station: Hampstead.
Now a sedate gastropub located on the edge of Hampstead Heath with chesterfield sofas, fireplace, and small, shady garden, the Magdala has a racier past. In 1955, nightclub hostess Ruth Ellis shot her lover just outside the pub. She turned herself in and was subsequently (and controversially) executed, becoming the last woman in Britain to be hanged. The bullet holes are still there next to pub’s entrance, along with an explanatory plaque. | 2A South Hill Park, Hampstead | 020/7435-2503 | www.the-magdala.com | Station: Overground: Hampstead Heath.
Ideal as a refueling point when you’re on a hike in Hampstead Heath, this historic, country-style, oak-beam pub has a gorgeous garden—the scene of the tea party in Dickens’s Pickwick Papers. Dick Turpin, the highwayman, frequented the inn before Dickens’s time, and Shelley, Keats, and Byron hung out here as well. The place is extremely popular, especially on Sunday, when Londoners roll in. It’s canine friendly, too—there’s even a dog wash in the garden. | Spaniards Rd., Hampstead | 020/8731-8406 | www.thespaniardshampstead.co.uk | Station: Hampstead.
Although originally built to offer “facilities for the celebration of unpremeditated and clandestine marriages,” today this pub is the epitome of Hampstead gentility. It’s in a handsome Georgian building, with working fireplace, leather sofas, backgammon (as opposed to darts), and as much emphasis on wine as beer. The upstairs dining room serves good modern British dishes, like grilled scallops with bacon or sea bass with fennel. | 30 Well Walk, Hampstead | 020/7794-3785 | www.thewellshampstead.co.uk | Station: Hampstead.
THE THAMES UPSTREAM
A pint in a riverside pub is a London must, and the capital’s western reaches offer some truly picturesque drinking opportunities. Pick a traditional establishment and you’ll feel like you’ve ventured far from the Big Smoke.
Perched on top of Richmond Hill, the Roebuck has perhaps the best view of any pub in London. The most sought-after seats are the benches found directly across the road, which look out over the Thames as it winds its way into the countryside below. Friendly and surprisingly unpretentious, given its lofty surrounds, it is well worth the long climb up the hill from the center of Richmond. | 130 Richmond Hill, Richmond | 020/8948-2329 | www.taylor-walker.co.uk | Station: Richmond. National Rail: Richmond.
Fodor’s Choice | Blue Anchor.
This unaltered Georgian pub has been seen in the movie Sliding Doors and was the site where The Planets composer Gustav Holst wrote his Hammersmith Suite. Sit out by the river, or shelter inside with a good ale. | 13 Lower Mall, Hammersmith | 020/8748-5774 | www.blueanchorlondon.com | Station: Hammersmith.
Read the list of famous ex-regulars, from Charles II and Nell Gwyn to Ernest Hemingway, as you wait for a beer at this smart, comely, and popular 16th-century riverside pub. An Irish folk band plays on Monday nights, squeezing into the miniature front bar. If (as is often the case) the Dove is too full, stroll upstream along the bank to the Old Ship or the Blue Anchor. | 19 Upper Mall,Hammersmith | 020/8748-9474 | www.dovehammersmith.co.uk | Station: Hammersmith.
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Westminster, St. James’s, and Royal London | Mayfair | Soho and Covent Garden | Bloomsbury, Fitzrovia, and Islington | The City | East London | South of the Thames | Chelsea and Knightsbridge | Notting Hill | Regent’s Park and Hampstead
As is true of nearly all cosmopolitan centers, the pace with which bars and clubs go in and out of fashion in London is mind-boggling. New trends, likewise, emerge all time. In one recent development, the dreaded velvet rope has been usurped by the doorbell-ringing mystique of members-only drinking clubs. Some of the city’s most talked-about nightlife spots these days are those attached to some of the best restaurants and hotels—no wonder, when you consider the increased popularity of London cuisine in international circles. Moreover, the gay scene in London continues to flourish. One constant on the nightlife scene is variety. The understated glamour of north London’s Primrose Hill, which makes movie stars feel so at ease, might be considered dull by the übertrendy club goers of London’s East End. Likewise, the price of a pint in Chelsea would be dubbed blasphemous by the musicians and poets of multicultural Peckham.
Whatever your pleasure, however your whim turns come evening, chances are you’ll find what you’re looking for in London’s ever-changing arena of activity and invention.
The Gay Scene
The U.K. capital’s gay and lesbian culture is as thriving as it is in New York or Los Angeles, with Soho serving as the traditional hub, though “Voho,” previously unfashionable Vauxhall, south of the river, is the new upstart area of gay London.
Clubs in London cater to almost every desire, whether that be the suited-up Tommy Hilfiger-look-alike scene, cruisers taking on dingy dives, flamboyant drag shows, lesbian tea dances, or themed fetish nights.
There’s also a cornucopia of queer theater and performance art that runs throughout the year. Whatever your tastes, you’ll be able to satisfy them with a night on the town in London.
Choices are admittedly much better for males than females here; although many of the gay clubs are female-friendly, those catering strictly to lesbians are in the minority.
The British Film Institute puts on the BFI London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival (www.bfi.org.uk/flare) in late March and early April every year.
Pride London in June (an annual event that was originally largely political but these days encompasses a parade, sports, art, comedy, theater, music, cabaret, and dance) welcomes anyone and everyone, and claimed a million participants in 2010. This extravagant pageant spirals its way through London’s streets, with major events taking place in Trafalgar Square and Leicester Square, then culminates in Victoria Embankment with ticketed parties continuing on afterward. See prideinlondon.org for details.
For up-to-date listings, consult Time Out (www.timeout.com/london/lgbt), Boyz (www.boyz.co.uk), Gay Times (www.gaytimes.co.uk), Attitude (www.attitude.co.uk), or the lesbian monthly Diva (www.divamag.co.uk).
Bars, Cafés, and Pubs
Most bars in London are gay-friendly, though there are a number of cafés and pubs that are known as gay hangouts after hours. The latest serve drinks until 3 am (11 pm on Sunday).
Many of London’s best gay dance clubs are in mixed clubs like Fabric on theme nights designated for gay clubbers.
Almost all dance clubs in London are gay-friendly, but if you want to cruise or mingle only with other gay people, it’s best to call ahead or check website listings.
WESTMINSTER, ST. JAMES’S, AND ROYAL LONDON
Elegant drinking holes catering to London’s political and social elites abound in these central neighborhoods. Streets that are thronged with tourists and workers by day quiet down by the evening, leaving the area to its few residents and a handful of sophisticated drinker and diners.
Bedford and Strand.
The wine bar enjoyed something of a renaissance in the first decade of the 21st century in London, and this is one of the best of a new generation. It’s sunk atmospherically down below the streets of Covent Garden, with dark wood and hanging shades; the wine list is short but well chosen, the service is faultless, and the bistro food is created with plenty of care. | 1A Bedford St., Charing Cross | 020/7836-3033 | www.bedford-strand.com | Weekdays noon-midnight, Sat. 5 pm-midnight | Station: Charing Cross.
In the basement of what was once Old Westminster Library, the Club Bar of this contemporary Indian restaurant (treat yourself to a superb curry) has Bollywood scenes projected onto the glass back wall, Asian-theme cocktails (mango mojitos, Delhi mules), delicious bar snacks, and a clientele that includes fashionable young politicos. Upstairs, the Library Bar also serves cocktails through the day. | The Old Westminster Library, Great Smith St., Westminster | 020/7222-2555 | www.cinnamonclub.com | Mon.-Sat. 4 pm-midnight | Station: Westminster.
Fodor’s Choice | Gordon’s Wine Bar.
Nab a rickety table in the atmospheric, vaulted interior of what claims to be the oldest wine bar in London, or fight for standing room in the long pedestrianized alleyway that runs alongside it. Either way, the mood is always cheery as a diverse crowd sips on more than 60 different wines, ports, and sherries. Tempting cheese and meat plates are great for sharing. | 47 Villiers St.,Westminster | 020/7930-1408 | www.gordonswinebar.com | Mon.-Sat. 11 am-11 pm; Sun. 12 pm-10 pm | Station: Charing Cross, Embankment.
The Mint Leaf Bar.
The renowned long bar is stocked with more than 500 spirits and serves more than 1,000 well-prepared cocktails. Nibbles and light snacks with an Indian twist are available, and if you’re up for some more substantial spicy food, treat yourself to a meal at the restaurant. DJs play nightly from Wednesday to Saturday. There is a sister bar and restaurant in Angel Court in The City. | Suffolk Pl., Haymarket | 020/7930-9020 | www.mintleafrestaurant.com | Mon.-Wed. noon-midnight, Thurs. and Fri. noon-1 am, Sat. 5 pm-1 am, Sun. 5 pm-midnight | Station: Piccadilly Circus.
Fodor’s Choice | American Bar.
Festooned with a chin-dropping array of club ties, signed celebrity photographs, sporting mementos, and baseball caps, this sensational hotel cocktail bar has superb martinis. The name dates from the 1930s, when hotel bars in London started to cater to growing numbers of Americans crossing the Atlantic in ocean liners, but it wasn’t until the 1970s, when a customer left a small carved wooden eagle, that the collection of paraphernalia was started. | Stafford Hotel, 16-18 St. James’s Pl., St. James’s | 020/7493-0111 | www.thestaffordhotel.co.uk | Daily 11:30 am-11 pm | Station:Green Park.
Bars in this upmarket central neighborhood—many of which can be found within luxury hotels—attract a polished crowd. Cocktails, fine wines, and rare aged spirits are the tipples of choice.
This elegant Mayfair meeting place remains unpretentious even when it brims with beautiful people. The bar has an art deco heritage made hip by the sophisticated touch of designer David Collins. A library of rare champagnes and brandies as well as a delicious choice of traditional and exotic cocktails—try the Flapper or the Black Pearl—will occupy your taste buds. Request a glass of vintage Cristal in the darkly moody Fumoir. | 55 Brook St., Mayfair | 020/7629-8860 | www.claridges.co.uk | Mon.-Sat. noon-1 am, Sun. noon-midnight | Station: Bond St.
SOHO AND COVENT GARDEN
The center of town is famous for its vibrant gay scene, atmospheric music and cabaret venues, and acclaimed comedy clubs. A spate of recent bar openings is bringing a new buzz to Covent Garden’s nightlife scene.
Around 60 lovingly selected French wines are available here, and you can snack on olives, charcuterie, and homemade croque monsieur (grilled ham and cheese) sandwiches while snug and warm under the bottle-laden ceiling as a funky blues sound track plays. The romantic, shabby-around-the-edges feel and authentic French insouciance may come as a surprise in the heart of tourist-centric London. | 25 Litchfield St., Soho | 020/7836-2955 | Closed Sun. | Station: Leicester Sq.
Le Salon Bar.
Renowned chef Joël Robuchon’s intimate, relaxed, and elegant bar with red undertones is in the same premises as his L’Atelier and La Cuisine restaurants. New cocktails await you, as the drink menu changes every six months, with new flavors and textures sure to entice your taste buds. | 13-15 West St., Soho | 020/7010-8600 | www.joel-robuchon.com/bar | Mon.-Sat. noon-2 am, Sun. noon-10:30 pm | Station: Leicester Sq.
With shooters called “Husky Poo” and “Danish Bacon Surprise” and crayfish tails and meatballs on the smorgasbord menu, Nordic takes its Scandinavian feel the whole way. This secluded, shabby-chic bar serves many couples cozied up among travel brochures promoting the Viking lands. If you can’t decide what to drink, the shot roulette wheel on the wall may help. | 25 Newman St., Soho | 020/7631-3174 | www.nordicbar.com | Mon.-Wed. 5 pm-midnight, Thurs.-Fri. noon-2am, Sat. 5 pm-2 am | Station: Tottenham Court Rd.
Opium Cocktail and Dim Sum Parlour.
London’s passion for speakeasy-style bars shows no sign of flagging and this opium den-themed nightspot in the heart of Chinatown is a particularly fun example of the genre. An innovative cocktail list draws on unusual Eastern ingredients—sweet red bean puree in The Long March, for instance—and tasty dim sum is served until late. Interiors evoke colonial-era China, with plenty of secret cubbies for moody tête-à-têtes. | The Jade Door, 15-16 Gerrard St., Soho | 020/7734-7276 | www.opiumchinatown.com | Closed Sun. | Station: Leicester Sq.
Fodor’s Choice | Sketch.
One seat never looks like the next at this downright extraordinary collection of esoteric living-room bars. The exclusive Parlour, a patisserie during the day, exudes plenty of rarefied charm; the intimate East Bar at the back is reminiscent of a sci-fi film set; and in the Glade it’s permanently sunset in a forest. The restrooms are surely London’s quirkiest. | 9 Conduit St., Soho | 020/7659-4500 | www.sketch.uk.com | Parlour weekdays 8 am-2 am, Sat. 10 am-2 am, Sun. 10 am-midnight; The Glade Mon.-Thurs. 1 pm-2 am, Fri. and Sat. noon-2 am, Sun. noon-midnight; East Bar daily 6:30 pm-2 am | Station: Oxford Circus.
At the end of an unlikely looking alley in the Newburgh Quarter is the entrance to Disco, one of central London’s most fun new clubs. The dance floor is the focus at this unpretentious basement joint, where staff dressed as airline stewards invite you to “check-in” your coat. Technically it’s members only, so email ahead to get your name on the list. You must be over 21 to enter. | 13 Kingly Court, Soho | 020/7299-1222 | www.disco-london.com | £20 | Wed.-Sat. 11 pm-3:30 am | Station: Piccadilly Circus, Oxford Circus.
Comedy and Cabaret
This Soho basement/retro nightclub is often considered the best place to see breaking talent as well as household names doing “secret” shows. Ricky Gervais, Eddie Izzard, and Russell Brand are among those who have graced the stage, and every summer a handful of the Edinburgh Fringe comedians preview here. The bar is open late (and serves food), and there’s a DJ and dancing after the show. Tickets are often discounted with a printout from their website, and shows are mainly on Saturday. | Moonlighting, 17 Greek St., Soho | 020/7287-3727 | www.amusedmoose.com | £9 and up | Doors open at 7:30 pm | Station: Tottenham Court Rd.
Known as the birthplace of alternative comedy, this is where the United Kingdom’s funniest stand-ups have cut their teeth before being launched onto prime-time TV. Comedy Store Players, a team with six comedians doing improvisation with audience suggestions, entertain on Wednesday and Sunday; the Cutting Edge steps in every Tuesday. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday have the best stand-up acts. There’s also a bar with food. Note that children under 18 are not admitted to this venue. | 1A Oxendon St., Soho | 0844/871-7699 ticket and booking line | www.thecomedystore.co.uk | £14-£28 | Shows daily 7:30 or 8 pm, with extra shows Fri. and Sat. at 11 pm | Station: Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Sq.
Since this small club opened in 1942, many of the greats have played here, from Glenn Miller and Louis Armstrong to The Who and the Sex Pistols. Saved from closure in 2010 by a campaign led by Sir Paul McCartney, the space now reverberates to jazz, ’60s R&B, and northern soul. | 100 Oxford St., Soho | 020/7636-0933 | www.the100club.co.uk | £7-£15 | Fri.-Sun. 7:30 pm-late; weekdays vary, depending on gigs | Station: Oxford Circus, Tottenham Court Rd.
12 Bar Club.
This small and rough-and-ready acoustic club hosts notable singer-songwriters. Four different acts of new folk, contemporary country, blues, and even ska and punk perform each night in the intimate venue. There’s a good selection of bottled beer and gastropub food here. | 26 Denmark St., Soho | 020/7240-2622 tickets, 020/7240-2120 | www.12barclub.com | £5-£10 | Mon.-Sat. 7 pm-3 am, Sun. 7 pm-12:30 am | Station: Tottenham Court Rd.
Jazz and Blues
Ain’t Nothin’ but … The Blues Bar.
This sweaty, fun place does exactly what its name suggests. Local musicians, as well as some notable names, squeeze onto the tiny stage and there’s good bar food of the chili-and-gumbo variety. Most weekday nights there’s no cover. | 20 Kingly St., Soho | 020/7287-0514 | www.aintnothinbut.co.uk | £5 Fri. and Sat. after 8:30 pm, otherwise free | Mon.-Thurs. 5 pm-1 am, Fri. 5 pm-2:30 am, Sat. 3 pm-2:30 am, Sun. 3 pm-midnight | Station: Oxford Circus.
Fodor’s Choice | Pizza Express Jazz Club Soho.
One of the United Kingdom’s most ubiquitous pizza chains also runs a great Soho jazz venue. The dimly lighted restaurant hosts top-quality international jazz acts every night. The Italian-style thin-crust pizzas are good, too, though on the small side. | 10 Dean St., Soho | 0845/602-7017 club, 020/7437-9595 restaurant | www.pizzaexpresslive.com | £10-£25 | Daily 11:30 am-midnight for food; music after 7:30 pm (times vary) | Station: Tottenham Court Rd.
This legendary jazz club has attracted big names since the 1960s. It’s usually crowded and hot, but the food and service are much better than they used to be. The mood can’t be beat, even since the sad departure of the eponymous founder and saxophonist. Reservations are recommended. | 47 Frith St., Soho | 020/7439-0747 | www.ronniescotts.co.uk | £25-£40 nonmembers, 20% off for members (members plus up to 3 guests free after 11 pm weekdays). Annual membership £195 | Mon.-Sat. 6 pm-3 am, Sun. noon-4 pm and 6:30 pm-midnight | Station: Leicester Sq.
The Gay Scene
Fodor’s Choice | Friendly Society.
An unremarkable-looking door in a Soho alleyway leads down some dingy steps into one of the most fun joints in the neighborhood. Hopping with activity almost any night of the week, the place is known for being gay yet female-friendly. The decor alone—including garden gnome stools and a ceiling covered in Barbie dolls and disco balls—is enough to lift the spirits. | 79 Wardour St., Soho | Mon.-Thurs. 4 pm-11:30 pm, Fri. and Sat. 4 pm-midnight, Sun. 4 pm-10:30 pm | Station: Leicester Sq.
A deliciously camp vibe, toned bar staff, and a friendly atmosphere make this one of Soho’s most popular gay bars. The crowd is mostly male, but women are very welcome. Head to the quieter upstairs lounge bar for a more laid-back mood, or dance the night away at Ku Klub in the basement. There’s a second branch around the corner on Frith Street. | 30 Lisle St., Soho | 020/7437-4303 | www.ku-bar.co.uk | Mon.-Sat. noon-3 am, Sun. noon-midnight | Station: Leicester Sq.
The Shadow Lounge.
This fabulous little lounge and dance club glitters with faux jewels and twinkling fiber-optic lights over its sunken dance floor, which comes complete with pole for those inclined to do their thing around it. It has a serious A-list celebrity factor, with the glamorous London glitterati camping out in the VIP booth. Members are given entrance priority when the place gets full, especially on weekends, so show up early, book onto the guest list online, or prepare to wait in line. | 5-7 Brewer St., Soho | 020/7317-9270 | www.theshadowlounge.co.uk | Mon. free, Tues.-Thurs. £5, Fri. and Sat. £10 | Mon.-Sat. 10 pm-3 am | Station: Leicester Sq.
A corridor of kitsch leads to a surprisingly laid-back bar and spacious terrace at The Yard. This oasis of calm in the middle of Soho attracts a mixed, friendly crowd. | 57 Rupert St., Soho | 020/7437-2652 | www.yardbar.co.uk | Mon.-Wed. 4 pm-11:30 pm, Thurs. 3 pm-11:30 pm, Fri. and Sat. 2 pm-midnight, Sun. 2 pm-10:30 pm | Station: Piccadilly Circus.
Earlham Street Clubhouse.
Reasonably priced cocktails and super-thin-crust pizzas are the order of the day at this new basement bar in Covent Garden. A fun atmosphere reigns in the main bar area, where the decor is “college kids do speakeasy,” according to the manager. There are plenty of cozy nooks and crannies for those more in the mood for a quiet drink. | 35 Earlham St., Covent Garden | 020/7240-5142 | www.esclubhouse.com | Daily noon-midnight | Station: Covent Garden.
Specializing in “natural wines” (organic and sustainably produced with minimal added ingredients), Terroirs has an unusually careful selection of 200 wines from artisan French and Italian winemakers. These are served, along with delicious, relatively simple dishes: charcuterie, tapas, and more substantial French-inspired dishes, at a bar and tables in white-washed, wooden-floored environs. | 5 William St., Covent Garden | 020/7036-0660 | www.terroirswinebar.com | Mon.-Sat. noon-11 pm (bar menu only 3 pm-5:30 pm) | Station: Charing Cross.
The Gay Scene
Fodor’s Choice | Heaven.
With the best light show on any London dance floor, Heaven is unpretentious, loud, and huge, with a labyrinth of rooms, bars, and live-music parlors. Friday and Saturday nights there’s a gay comedy night (£13 in advance, 7-10 pm). Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday often have live performances. If you go to just one gay club in London, Heaven should be it. | The Arches, Villiers St.,Covent Garden | 020/7930-2020 | www.heavennightclub-london.com | £4-£12 | Mon. 11 pm-5:30 am, Tues.-Fri. 11 pm-4 am, Sat. 10:30 pm-5 am | Station: Charing Cross, Embankment.
BLOOMSBURY, FITZROVIA, AND ISLINGTON
The ongoing redevelopment of the area around King’s Cross St. Pancras station has invigorated Bloomsbury’s nightlife scene and a host of new bars has recently opened. Fitzrovia, meanwhile, manages to blend sophistication, informality, and a certain edginess that’s not found elsewhere in the center of town.
Taking full advantage of the soaring Victorian redbrick vaults and arches of the restored St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel, Booking Office is closer in feel to a cathedral than a traditional station bar. Seasonal cocktails using traditional English ingredients are high on flavor and low on mixers and there’s also a restaurant and live music Thursday through Saturday evenings. | St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel, Euston Rd., King’s Cross | 020/7841-3566 | www.bookingofficerestaurant.com | Mon.-Wed. 6:30 am-1 am, Thurs. and Fri. 6:30 am-3 am, Sat. 7 am-3 am, Sun. 7 am-midnight | Station: Kings Cross St. Pancras.
This high-spirited pub hosted Bob Dylan on his 1963 tour, as well as the first Oasis gig. Alt-country, hip-hop, and indie guitar bands thrash it out most nights of the week. | 328 Gray’s Inn Rd.,Bloomsbury | 020/7837-7269 | www.water-rats.com | £6 and up | Mon.-Thurs. 8:30 am-midnight, Fri.-Sat. 8:30 am-1 am, Sun. 4 pm-11 pm | Station: King’s Cross.
This sexy basement bar with cowhide stools and croc-skin tables feels like Casablanca in Fitzrovia. As you enter Crazy Bear, a spiral staircase leads to a mirrored parlor over which presides a 1947 Murano chandelier. But don’t let the opulence fool you: Waitstaff here are warm and welcoming to an all-ages international crowd abuzz with chatter. The menu advertises high-quality Thai, Chinese, and Japanese food alongside the drinks. There’s another Crazy Bear in nearby Covent Garden. | 26-28 Whitfield St., Fitzrovia | 020/7631-0088 | www.crazybeargroup.co.uk | Mon.-Wed. noon-midnight, Thurs.-Sat. noon-1 am | Station: Goodge St.
The London Edition.
Visitors to the new London Edition hotel are spoiled for choice when it comes to bars. High ceilings, eclectic artwork, and innovative cocktails can be found at the all-day Berners Tavern and Lobby Bar, which opens in the evening. You’ll need a reservation to get into the cozy Punch Room, but the bar’s reinventions of traditional (and communal) punches and the exemplary service are worth the extra effort. At the weekend there’s dancing until late in the more informal Basement (guest list only; visit | www.basementldn.com for current lineup and contact). | 10 Berners St., Fitzrovia | 020/7908-7979 | www.edition-hotels.marriott.com/london | Berners Tavern daily 7 am-midnight; Lobby Bar daily 9 am-1 am; Punch Room daily 5 pm-1 am | Station: Tottenham Court Rd., Oxford Circus.
Long Bar at Sanderson Hotel.
The 80-foot-long shimmering white onyx bar in the Philippe Starck-designed Sanderson Hotel attracts a trendy crowd, while the large but welcoming outdoor area exudes a relaxing, Zen-like feel, with soothing running water, dim lighting, and decorative vegetation. The hotel’s Purple Bar provides a more intimate and romantic setting and serves excellent chocolate martinis. | 50 Berners St., Fitzrovia | 020/7300-5588 | www.sandersonlondon.com | Mon.-Thurs. and Sat. 11 am-2 am, Fri. 11 am-3 am, Sun. noon-midnight | Station: Oxford Circus.
Exmouth Market and Upper Street are the main nightlife hot spots in this neighborhood just north and east of central London. A fun, informal vibe makes Islington a reliable going-out option.
This homey continental-style café-bar is open all day for meals, snacks, coffee, and cocktails. It’s famous for its foosball tables, which give the place a fun, informal environment. Reductions are available on “cocktails of the month” and house beers during happy hour (4 pm-7 pm). You can reserve foosball tables in advance. There’s another branch in Shoreditch. | 43 Exmouth Market,Islington | 020/7837-8077 | www.cafekick.co.uk | Mon.-Thurs 11-11, Fri. and Sat. 11 am-midnight, Sun. noon-10:30 pm | Station: Angel.
The beauty of this sublime old chapel and its impressive multicultural programming make this spot one of London’s best musical venues, especially for acoustic shows. Performers have included Björk, Beck, and Goldfrapp, though now you’re more likely to hear lower-key alternative country, world music, and jazz, alongside poetry and literary events. | Compton Terr., Islington | 020/7226-1686 venue (no box office; ticket sales numbers vary with each event) | www.unionchapel.org.uk | Free-£25 | Hrs vary | Station: Highbury & Islington.
This sprawling subterranean club opposite Smithfield Meat Market is a firm fixture on the London scene and is regularly voted as one of the top clubs in the world. “FabricLive” hosts drum ’n’ bass, dubstep, and hip-hop crews and live acts on Friday; international big-name DJs play slow, sexy bass lines and cutting-edge music on Saturday. The devastating sound system and vibrating “bodysonic” dance floor ensure that bass riffs vibrate through your entire body. TIP Get there early to avoid a lengthy line up and don’t wear a suit. | 77A Charterhouse St., The City | 020/7336-8898 | www.fabriclondon.com | £7-£20; discounts after 3 or 4 am | Fri. 10 pm-6 am, Sat. 11 pm-8 am, Sun. 11 pm-6 am | Station: Farringdon.
East London’s bar scene is ever evolving, with the trendy crowd constantly pushing farther east in search of the next big thing. Shoreditch has bars and clubs to suit nearly all tastes these days, while Dalston, the neighborhood to its north, attracts a younger clientele.
Dalston is London’s hippest neighborhood for nightlife right now and this stark, industrial bar near the top of the main drag is as hot as it gets. Join the youngish crowd for craft beers and gourmet burgers. There’s a club in the basement that hosts DJs and live gigs. | 33-35 Stoke Newington Rd., Dalston | 020/7923-1680 | birthdaysdalston.com | Free-£10 | Mon.-Thurs. noon-midnight, Fri. noon-3 am, Sat. 11 am-3 am, Sun. 11 am-midnight | Station: Dalston Junction.
Light and friendly, the Book Club tops off a dose of Shoreditch’s fashionable industrial chic with a dollop of culture. White tiles, bare brick walls, and big black-and-white photos set the tone and there’s a separate room for table tennis. Breakfast is served weekday mornings, a full lunch menu is offered through the week, and a modern menu of cocktails accompanies music, book launches, and workshops in the evenings. | 100 Leonard St., Shoreditch | 020/7684-8618 | www.wearetbc.com | Mon.-Wed. 8 am-midnight, Thurs. and Fri. 8 am-2 am, Sat. 10 am-2 am, Sun. 10 am-midnight | Station: Shoreditch High St., Old St.
Comedy Cafe Theatre.
This new venue upstairs at the Bedroom Bar hosts at least three mixed-bill comedy nights a week, including the free New Act Night every Wednesday. Up-and-coming comics appear alongside big international names such as Tony Law and Andrew Maxwell on Friday and Saturday, and when the show’s over, DJs take the stage, transforming the bare brick space into a dance club. The buzzing downstairs bar hosts five live bands a week, as well as a tasty Korean canteen. | 68 Rivington St., Shoreditch | 020/7739-5706 | www.comedycafetheatre.co.uk | Free-£12 | Tues.-Thurs. noon-1 am, Fri. and Sat. noon-3 am | Station: Old St., Shoreditch High St.
Housed under a series of old railroad arches, this spacious brick-wall bar, restaurant, dance floor, and live-music venue pulls a young, international crowd with its hip vibe and diverse selection of music. Long tables bring people together, as does the food, which draws on global influences and is served tapas-style. Drinks, though, are expensive. | 83 Rivington St., Shoreditch | 020/7739-3440 | www.cargo-london.com | Free-£20 | Mon.-Thurs. noon-1 am, Fri. and Sat. noon-3 am, Sun. noon-midnight | Station: Old St.
Big international DJs regularly play this übercool Shoreditch nightspot, which is tucked away in a small side street off the main drag. The decor is industrial chic, with some banquet seating in the relaxed upstairs room and a downstairs with a more hard-core vibe. A youngish crowd dances the night away on the weekend, while weeknight live gigs attract a more diverse bunch. | 32-37 Cowper St., Shoreditch | 020/7354-9993 | www.xoyo.co.uk | Clubnights £12.50-£20; gig ticket prices vary | Fri. and Sat. 9 pm-4 am, Sun.-Thurs. hrs vary | Station: Old St.
SOUTH OF THE THAMES
Recent years have seen an explosion in south London nightlife, from the gentrification of Brixton, to the artistic colonization of Peckham, and the continuing popularity of Vauxhall as a destination for gay clubbing.
Fodor’s Choice | Aqua Shard.
This classy bar on level 31 of the Shard, London’s new skyscraper and the tallest building in Western Europe, is worth a visit for the phenomenal views alone. The cocktail list is pretty special, too, with ranges inspired by teas and botanicals, as well as all the usual classics. No reservations are taken (except in the restaurant), so be prepared to wait during busy periods. | Level 31, The Shard, 31 St. Thomas St., London Bridge | 020/3011-1256 reservations | www.aquashard.co.uk | Daily noon-1 am | Station: London Bridge.
This popular south London hangout is frequented by local hipsters and counterculture types. It was the first DJ bar in the world and has since enjoyed a fabulous reputation. The vibe at this “surrealist boudoir” is unpretentious, with top-name DJs playing cutting-edge sounds every night in the main bar, comedy and cabaret upstairs, and pizza available until midnight. | 389 Coldharbour La., Brixton | 020/7733-7515 | dogstarbrixton.com | Free; Fri. and Sat. £5 after midnight | Tues. and Wed. 4 pm-11 pm, Thurs. 4 pm-2 am, Fri. 4 pm-4 am, Sat. noon-4 am, Sun. noon-10:30 pm | Station: Brixton.
Ministry of Sound.
This is more of an industry than a club, with its own record label, online radio station, and international DJs. Though it’s too much a part of the establishment these days to be at the forefront of cool, the stripped-down warehouse-style club has a super sound system and still pulls in the world’s most legendary names in dance. Following its latest renovation, there are chill-out rooms, four bars, and four dance floors. | 103 Gaunt St., Borough | 0870/060-0010 | www.ministryofsound.com | £15-£25 | Fri. 10:30 pm-6 am, Sat. 11 pm-7 am (last entry 4:30 am) | Station: Elephant and Castle.
Fodor’s Choice | O2 Academy Brixton.
This legendary Brixton venue has seen it all—mods and rockers, hippies and punks—and it remains one of the city’s top indie and rock venues. Despite a capacity for almost 5,000, this refurbished Victorian hall with original art deco fixtures retains a clublike charm; it has plenty of bars and upstairs seating. | 211 Stockwell Rd., Brixton | 0844/477-2000 box office | www.o2academybrixton.co.uk | £15-£50 | Hrs vary | Station: Brixton.
CHELSEA AND KNIGHTSBRIDGE
The pages of society magazines are full of photographs of gorgeous young people dancing the night away at clubs—many of which are members only—in these famously swanky neighborhoods. Dress up and be prepared to splurge.
Jazz and Blues
This civilized Chelsea club showcases mainstream and contemporary jazz by well-known British-based musicians. TIP You must eat a meal in order to consume alcohol, so allow for an extra £30. Reservations are advisable. Sunday lunchtime jazz takes place on selected Sundays; call ahead. | 90 Lots Rd., Chelsea | 020/7352-5953 | www.606club.co.uk | £8-£12 music charge added to bill | Mon. and Thurs. 7 pm-11:30 pm, Tues. and Wed. 7 pm-12:30 am, Fri. and Sat. 8 pm-1:30 am, Sun. 12:30 pm-4 pm and 7 pm-11:15 pm | Station: Earl’s Ct., Fulham Broadway.
The Blue Bar at the Berkeley Hotel.
With low-slung dusty-blue walls, this hotel bar is ever so slightly sexy. Immaculate service, an excellent seasonal cocktail list, and a trendy David Collins design make this an ideal spot for a romantic tête-à-tête, complete with jazzy music in the background. | Wilton Pl., Knightsbridge | 020/7235-6000 | the-berkeley.co.uk | Mon.-Sat. 9 am-1 am, Sun. 9 am-11 pm | Station:Knightsbridge.
The focus is more on bars than clubs in this west London neighborhood, though late-night fun is on offer at a few notable exceptions. In general, you can expect a young, moneyed crowd making this their first stop on a wild night out elsewhere.
Beach Blanket Babylon.
In a Georgian house in Notting Hill, close to Portobello Market, this always-packed bar is distinguishable by its eclectic indoor-outdoor spaces with Gaudí-esque curves and snuggly corners—like a fairy-tale grotto or a medieval dungeon. A sister restaurant-bar-gallery offers a slightly more modern take on similar themes in an ex-warehouse in Shoreditch (19-23 Bethnal Green Rd. | 020/7749-3540). | 45 Ledbury Rd., Notting Hill | 020/7229-2907 | www.beachblanket.co.uk | Daily noon-midnight | Station: Notting Hill Gate.
Notting Hill Arts Club.
Rock stars like Liam Gallagher and Courtney Love have been seen at this small basement club-bar. What the place lacks in looks it makes up for in mood, and an alternative crowd swills beer to eclectic music that spans Asian underground, hip-hop, Latin-inspired funk, deep house, and jazzy grooves. | 21 Notting Hill Gate, Notting Hill | 020/7460-4459 | www.nottinghillartsclub.com | Free-£8 | Tues.-Sat. 7 pm-2 am, alternate Sun. 6 pm-1 am | Station: Notting Hill Gate.
REGENT’S PARK AND HAMPSTEAD
Camden Town boasts a handful of dance clubs, but it’s this north London neighborhood’s music venues that are the big draw for most. Every genre is covered, from folk and pop, to jazz and world music, with interesting gigs taking place every night of the week.
Comedy and Cabaret
Canal Café Theatre.
Famous comics and cabaret stars perform every night of the week in this intimate, canal-side venue. The long-running NewsRevue is a topical song-and-sketch show performed Thursday-Sunday evenings. | Bridge House, Delamere Terr., Little Venice | 020/7289-6054 | www.canalcafetheatre.com | Free-£15; NewsRevue £12.50 | Pub Mon.-Thurs. noon-11 pm, Fri. and Sat. noon-11:30 pm, Sun. noon-10:30 pm | Station: Warwick Ave., Royal Oak, Paddington.
This Victorian theater, formerly known as Camden Palace, has seen acts from Charlie Chaplin to Madonna, and genres from punk to rave. Updated with lush reds not unlike a cockney Moulin Rouge, this is still one of London’s most stunning venues. Sounds of live indie rock, cabaret, funky house, and club classics keep the big dance floor moving, even when it’s not heaving. | 1A Camden High St., Camden Town | 0870/432-5527 | www.koko.uk.com | £5-£30 | Hrs vary, depending on shows | Station: Mornington Crescent.
This former steam-engine repair shed hosts some of the most atmospheric medium-scale rock and pop gigs in the capital, plus a varied program of circus, theater, dance, and the occasional art installation. There’s a good restaurant on the first floor, and in the summer the terrace bar is transformed into an “urban beach,” complete with sand. | Chalk Farm Rd., Chalk Farm | 0844/482-8008 box office, 020/7424-9991 inquiries | www.roundhouse.org.uk | Free-£40 | Daily 9:30-5 (later when performances are taking place; times vary) | Station: Chalk Farm.
Jazz and Blues
A palace of cool in bohemian Camden, this remains an essential hangout for fans of both the mainstream end of the jazz repertoire and hip-hop, funk, world music, and Latin fusion. It’s also the unlikely venue for Saturday “I Love the 80s” nights. Book ahead if you want a prime table in the balcony restaurant overlooking the stage. | 5 Parkway, Camden Town | 020/7485-6834 venue info, 0844/847-2514 tickets (Ticketmaster) | mamacolive.com/thejazzcafe | £6-£35 | Sun.-Thurs. 7 pm-10:30 pm, Fri. and Sat. 7 pm-3 am | Station: Camden Town.
At one of the finest small clubs in the capital, punk, indie guitar, and new metal rock attract a non-mainstream crowd. Weekend club nights upstairs host DJs (and live bands) who rock the decks. | 49 Chalk Farm Rd., Camden Town | 020/7424-0800 venue, 0844/847-2424 tickets | mamacolive.com/thebarfly | £5-£11 | Mon. and Tues. 7 pm-midnight, Wed. and Thurs. 7 pm-2 am, Fri. and Sat. 7 pm-3 am | Station: Camden Town, Chalk Farm.
The best up-coming and medium-to-big-name rock performers consistently play at this 2,000-capacity club. It’s a converted 1920 art deco movie theater, with a balcony overlooking the grungy dance floor. | 9-17 Highgate Rd., Kentish Town | 020/7428-4099 venue, 0844/847-2405 tickets | theforumlondon.com | £12-£60 | Hrs vary, depending on concert schedule | Station: Kentish Town.
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