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10 Best Speakeasy Style Bars in East London



The speakeasy style seems to be a trend showing no sign of demise. It went global after the phenomenal success of PDT (Please Don’t Tell) in New York, which opened back in 2007. Accessed through a vintage phone booth by a hot dog joint in the East Village, it made everyone feel like they were in on a fantastic secret, like they were about to commence on an unknown adventure. That’s the true appeal of all speakeasies – they play with our sense of imagination and urge to overcome the mundane.

 

PDT advocated fine etiquette (for example, no hitting on women you don’t know) and even finer cocktails with a vintage edge. Soon the rest of the world followed suit, and every other bar that opened was branded a speakeasy. These days the term is used in its loosest possible meaning to include almost all bars with a concealed or unmarked entrance, and more often than not with a vintage aesthetic, whether in décor or drinks menu.

 

In reality, would we really want to return to the days of Prohibition when inevitably the bootlegged booze burned your throat and police were a pain? Probably not, but nonetheless it conjures our fantasies of the roaring twenties when women in tasselled, glittering dresses drank gin from teacups and did high kicks. 


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Brewdog is doing its best to take over the world. It began life in 2007 as a project between two friends to combat the uninspiring UK ale scene and soon was the largest independent brewery in Scotland, exporting around the globe with demand high for their signature craft brews like Punk IPA and Tokyo. Starting with a bar in Aberdeen, they went on to launch in London by driving a tank down Camden High Street, typical of their rebellious, tongue-in-cheek ethos. The Shoreditch BrewDog fits with the area in its stripped down décor, glass wall and bare bulbs. It attracts the city's growing and diverse population of craft beer fanatics, here for its endlessly inventive menu. They've just launched a potentially permanent BBQ pop-up from Texas Joe, meaning you can snack on Southern delights while sloshing back the brews.

Recommended for East London's Best Speakeasy-Style Bars because: Ask the bartenders to take you downstairs, and you'll discover Underdog, their dimly lit and kooky speakeasy with craft beer cocktails.

Tyler's expert tip: Tokyo is a fantastic oak-aged stout that at 18.2% should be approached with caution.

Read more about BrewDog →




Located beneath the Hoxton Square Breakfast Club, this isn't that secret, and it never was. Inside the dining room of this restaurant (obviously open for more than just breakfast) is what looks like a SMEG fridge. It is in fact a secret door, through which you'll find this quirky cocktail bar with its silly name. Don't worry; there aren't any real SMEG fridges, so you can't get it wrong. Inside, it feels like a surreal take on a hunting lodge, with wood panelled walls and (fake) moose heads on the wall. It's low lit and fun and just the right side of kitsch, with silly signs ("No heavy petting") on the wall. They have an excellent cocktail list, tongue-in-cheek like the general vibe here, and British/American bar snacks from buffalo wings to pork pies.

Recommended for East London's Best Speakeasy-Style Bars because: Anywhere that you enter via a fridge and exit via the loos, scores instant fun points.

Tyler's expert tip: The music is great and the crowd is fun, so naturally it gets crowded. Come for good times, not serious chats.

Read more about Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town →


8
East London


Bar Off Broadway is an excellent bar in its own rights, but it also harbours a dirty rum secret. Head to the toilets downstairs, flush the chain (don't worry, they make it pretty clear, which one) and you're in. This rum bar plays on all your piratical fantasies. It is a den for the most suave smugglers of the high seas, with deep red chesterfield sofas, travelling trunks, crystal glassware and old leather bound books. The strong cocktails are served in tankards and the tables are rickety, so it won't be long until you feel out at sea yourself. You can even purchase a bottle of rum, which they will keep in a locker for you between visits, like a proper first mate.

Recommended for East London's Best Speakeasy-Style Bars because: This place feels like a pirate's den of plunder, and definitely somewhere you want to hole-up to test your sea legs.

Tyler's expert tip: This hidden rum bar is officially a pop up, so if you're keen to visit get down there quick before it inevitably packs up shop and sets sail.

Read more about Portside Parlour →


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From the people behind Marylebone's incredible Purl, this place is bringing together our rose-tinted fantasies from the days of gin palaces and all the squalor and elegance that the Victorian era conjures. The entrance is easy to miss, but once inside it is fitted out like a 19th-century bar complete with lots of dark wood, chesterfield sofas and oil lamps. They have two main rooms, as well as their own Distillery, Dram Shop and Gin Closet with a bathtub for brewing. The cocktails are inspired from bygone eras developed within the in-house lab using innovative techniques requiring the likes of a sous vide, a vacuum and a large array of enzymes. They also have their own barrel and bottle-aged drinks. The excellent nibbles should see you through the night.

Recommended for East London's Best Speakeasy-Style Bars because: Hidden at basement level on this backstreet in Shoreditch it's easy to walk up and down the street and miss it completely

Tyler's expert tip: Worship Street Whistling Shop goes back to the squalor and elegance of the Victorian gin palace in all its glory, and with thankfully far better drinks (although there is a bathtub for the gin brewing).

Read more about Worship Street Whistling Shop →


6
Spitalfields


Walking along Brick Lane by night, past the calls of the curry house touts and crowds of revellers, you would never know this little drinking den is tucked away beneath it all. From the same people that brought London and New York the legendary cocktail bar Milk & Honey, Danger of Death is just as classy with a film noir cool. Hidden beneath cosy Super Pizza, the door (next to the downstairs loos) is usually locked to all but members' wielding a magic card, but maybe you'll get lucky (or buy membership online before you go). The long thin bar has a retro soundtrack and the vibe of a very elegant nuclear bunker. The menu fits the theme, looking like a manual for surviving the worst of the Cold War's fears. But the only danger of death you're facing is from the impeccable and incredibly strong classic cocktails on offer.

Recommended for East London's Best Speakeasy-Style Bars because: This secret bar harks back to a time 'members-only' didn't equate to pretentious. Great cocktails with a loose Cold War theme.

Tyler's expert tip: Open Wednesdays allow access to non-members, but make sure to reserve a table in advance.

Read more about Danger of Death →


5
East London


On Stoke Newington Road there's an illuminated sign declaring, 'Nothing to see here...' Don't believe it. Descend the red corridor down to what is a splendid subterranean drinking den, but feels a little like a boozy 1940s tearoom. Ramshackle and artfully dishevelled, with battered wooden floorboards and peeling paint, this place has a glorious old world atmosphere. The sign occasionally changes now, but the bar happily is here to stay. The list of seasonal and classic cocktails are made using top quality ingredients, homemade syrups and juices and served in kooky vessels from 1940s milk bottles to old tin cups. This is the bottom floor of the five-storey townhouse, home to Ruby House, which is frequently used for fashion shoots by the likes of Rihanna and Adele.

Recommended for East London's Best Speakeasy-Style Bars because: They have great cocktails, friendly staff and a beguiling atmosphere. This is a refreshingly unpretentious and relaxed Dalston bar.

Tyler's expert tip: The no-standing policy may mean there's normally a queue out the door, but it also keeps it sociable once inside.

Read more about Ruby's →




For over two decades the Well & Bucket was one of East London's many derelict pubs, occasionally occupied by uninspiring small businesses. That is, until 2012, when it was restored to its former glory and more, and is now one of Bethnal Green's most popular night spots. They've kept the stunning original Victorian tiling and air of dilapidated splendour, and true to old Cockney form, they now specialise in oysters, which arrive on glorious tiered platters. The sliders are arguably less Cockney, as is the fantastic selection of craft ales, but both add to its appeal. Downstairs, around the corner from the loos, is a relatively secret speakeasy-style cocktail bar, 5cc, where they serve vintage-inspired real drinks in fine glassware. Booking recommended.

Recommended for East London's Best Speakeasy-Style Bars because: Hidden in the cellar, 5cc cocktail bar is dark and seductive with strong vintage-inspired drinks. Oysters and an Old Fashioned is the way to go.

Tyler's expert tip: As well as fantastic oysters, they boast one of the best craft beer selections in the area for true aficionados. Bourbon drinkers will be happy here too.

Read more about Well & Bucket →




"Callooh! Callay!" was an exclamation of pure joy and celebration in Lewis Carroll's nonsense poem the Jabberwocky, and a well-deserved utterance on stepping foot in this bar. The name is taken from the Lewis Carroll's poem the Jabberwocky, as is this bar's fabulous sense of playfulness. The antique pictures frames, old gramophones, strange light fittings and a cassette tape menu card give it an eclectic vibe, but it gets truly surreal when you pass through the wardrobe door into the secret back bar. The only thing they do take seriously here are the drinks, with some of the best and most inventive cocktails in the area.

Recommended for East London's Best Speakeasy-Style Bars because: Famous for its through-the-wadrobe back bar, they also have a secret upstairs bar, where a range of different pop ups take the helm.

Tyler's expert tip: Shoredtich has lost much of its appeal through over saturation and city workers, but this quirky bar has kept its calibre high.

Read more about Callooh Callay →




The entrance is hidden on one of East London's busiest streets between a kebab shop and a newsagent. Every detail in this basement bar has been considered from the retro furnishings to the cocktail menus disguised in old Czech books. It's dimly lit and atmospheric – perfect date material. You'll need to call bartender owner Paul Tvaroh on his number to book, as it's table service only here (and no suits allowed). The shared seating gives it a sociable buzz though. The cocktails may be pricey but you're paying for the experience as much as the drink, and each one comes with a touch of the theatrical. If you want the full experience go for the five-course tasting menu (£30), though it needs to be booked 24-hours in advance.

Recommended for East London's Best Speakeasy-Style Bars because: This feels like a covert cocktail bar in 1960s Eastern Europe steeped in atmosphere and secrecy.

Tyler's expert tip: The no suits and reservation only policy here make this intimate, retro cocktail den a special occasion place. It's as much about the experience as it is about the drinks.

Read more about Lounge Bohemia →


Nightjar
Photo courtesy of Nightjar


This slice of old school glamour is hidden between two cafes on the fairly grimy City Road near Old Street tube. Head through the unmarked door, down a dark staircase and into the Nightjar: a bar with lilting jazz tunes to lift the soul and send you straight back to the time of speakeasies and seduction. The cocktail list is divided into historical eras from pre-Prohibition to Post War with a selection of vintage spirits to taste from the turn-of-the-century. Fans of the green fairy should head here for the huge range of absinthe. This place has slick service and oodles of style as well the city's most creative cocktails. They also have live music many nights of the week, all fitting with theme of course.

Recommended for East London's Best Speakeasy-Style Bars because: This is probably as close to a real speakeasy vibe as you'll find in London. It may no longer be illegal but it certainly feels illicit.

Tyler's expert tip: After being voted the third best bar in the world (and the best in the UK), the Nightjar has been packed throughout the week. Booking is highly advised.

Read more about Nightjar →


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Meet Tyler Wetherall

Tyler Wetherall is a freelance writer specialising in travel, food & drink, covering topics as varied as narcs in the Colombian jungle to cocktail drinking in Cuba. Tyler has lived in London...  More About Tyler

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