Blind Tiger , Blind Pig , Speakeasy… whatever name you might know them by used to be illegal bars that came about during the Prohibition Era in America. Of course now-a-days running a successful and popular illegal version of the same in London might be hard work. Enter Speakeasy “inspired” bars with their secret entrances, nondescript doors, hush hush vibes albeit with full fledged websites and twitter accounts. All of these bars have highly skilled bartenders churning out stellar cocktails in common. This is fine drinking at its best and five of them make it to my favourites list:
Mayor Of Scaredy Cat: The first is always special and Scaredy Cat was my first ever Speakeasy jaunt. The entry through the SMEG fridge door (that’s right, you enter through a fridge) adds to it being even more memorable. Located beneath the Breakfast Club on Artillery Lane, a narrow staircase leads you to this basement bar. The staff are well informed, easy going and full on intelligent recommendations. The decor is made up of exposed brick facades, mounted moose heads, retro posters and porthole windows. There is nothing secret about the venue and it might even be one of the more well known speakeasys but that doesn’t alter the vibe that is very easily reminiscent of early prohibition days. The drinks are delicious, unpretentious and the menu ever so slightly mocks other more established venues.
Address: 12-16 Artillery Lane, London E1 7LS
Portside Parlour: Located near where I lived and what I consider – not entirely impartially- to be one of the best parts of London, Portside Parlour is a basement speakeasy in Broadway Market. Making things slightly meta, Portside is located beneath cocktail bar Off Broadway. If you thought entering through a fridge was cool this one’s entry is through a loo. There is nothing save a sink and a cistern in the cubicle which when flushed leads to a secret entrance. Don’t be misled by the name, Portside has nothing whatsoever to do with Port. Instead they are solely a Rum Bar housing over 50 types of Rum. This well designed and authentically decorated speakeasy is decked with massive wooden chests, Victorian drunkards plastered on walls, lush leather couches and of course, candles. My favourite drink here is the Cherry infused Bourbon. Yum.
Address: Basement Bar 63-65, Broadway Market, London E8 4PH
Worship Street Whistling Shop: The folk at Whistling Shop take the Prohibition vibe all the way back to the Victorian Era. The drinks here involve some really awesome old school techniques and they take their job as cocktail makers very seriously. In their own words they use, “… rotary evaporators, sous vide, vacuum technology and a large array of enzymes, acids, proteins and hydrocolloids to create drinks that are truly unique.”
This is the sort of place where Victorian era science, bar staff in waistcoats, age old spirits and tables made out of bathtubs all come together seamlessly.They have highly accomplished brewing skills and offer a range of barrel and bottle age drinks along with offering a barrel ageing service. Their list of alcohol related fabulousness doesn’t just stop there, they have a library of vintage gins, some of which are over a 100 years old! And they’re all for sale. Umm and also, they have an in-house lab for their alco-experiments. Pretty awesome, hey?
Address: 63 Worship St, London EC2A 2DU, United Kingdom
ECC: All the speakeasys featured on this list so far are located in East London. In my defence when a stumble is all one can manage, proximity to home is a massive factor. Breaking the trend is a Chinatown located bar, ECC or Experimental Cocktail Club. Surrounded by a host of Chinese restaurants the entrance to ECC can very easily be missed. For all you know, it’s the entrance to someone’s house or storage unit and not to one of London’s classiest and busiest speakeasys. Look out for a bouncer and sometimes a hostess standing among fruit stalls, worn out doors and neon coloured restaurant signs. Of all the bars in London piggybacking off the Prohibition trend, ECC feels the most genuine. It’s got a French counterpart in Paris and it appears some of their mixologists have made their way via the Chunnel to London’s Chinatown. The cocktails while not very experimental are none the less delicious. The décor across its three floors is tasteful, quirky and chic and it is easy to see a lot of money has been spent to acquire the classy look.
Address: 13a Gerrard St, Chinatown, London W1D 5PS
Nightjar: The cocktails in Nightjar are a lot more than just delicious tasting alcohol in a glass: they are pure art. I have saved the best and my absolute favourite bar in all of London for the last. Each cocktail served here is an effort laden creation and the presentation is nothing like I have seen elsewhere. Who knew so much could be done in and around a tiny but potent glass of spirits. All thanks to Nightjar, a mere cocktail no matter how well made will never be good enough for me again.
The bar is well clued in on the local music scene and brings in talented live performers a few times a week. Booking in advance especially if you’re a large-ish group is a must. A simple plaque on a wooden door lets you in on Nightjar’s location amongst the fried chicken shops it is surrounded by. The décor while not as wonderful as that of the other speakeasys still does well enough to create the right ambience. The menu is divided by time line and they have some incredible signature drinks like the Rosehip Julab and the Shrubbler, my favourite Nightjar cocktails. To see if they did equal justice to traditional cocktails, I ordered the Bloody Mary and I was not disappointed. Keeping the taste traditional the presentation in beakers, on wooden boards and ceramic holders has Nightjar’s stamp of uniqueness all over it. If you had to pick one out of all the many speakeasys in London then let this be it.
Address: 129 City Rd, London EC1V 1JB