The last few years have seen Brixton’s food and drink scene go from hardly there to hot stuff. Brixton Village has become a foodie hub, a farmer’s market has grown-up, there’s been an outpouring of craft beer pubs, both a wine and champagne bar have arrived, and the area’s gained its own microbrewery.
But throughout all this — bar a few exceptions — Brixton remained a cocktail blackspot. At least it did up until the last four months, during which we’ve seen no fewer than five major bar openings, with another on the horizon.
While it’s prompted no end of talk about gentrification, we thought we’d leave that particular g-word to one side and focus on gin, gimlets and ginger mules instead. So we embarked on a crawl of these new Brixton bars, as well as a few of the area’s longer-standing spots for good measure.
Opened December 2014
Set on the upper floor of the Prince Of Wales pub on the corner of Brixton Road and Coldharbour Lane, but with its own side entrance, Sovereign Loss launched just before Christmas. It’s Brixton’s first proper speakeasy, and comes complete with the discreet entrance (it’s marked ‘Trade’, by the way), low-lighting, vintage glassware and smart suited staff familiar from popular cocktail haunts such as Purl in Marylebone or Nightjar near Old Street. Both classics and daily-changing special cocktails are available, but do try those made with vermouth, which are a particular house speciality. Cocktails from £8.
Sovereign Loss, 469 Brixton Road, SW9 8HH
Opened November 2014
Brought about by the team behind roaming restaurant Chateau Marmont, this restaurant and bar is being billed as a four-month pop-up. It’s open from Thursday to Saturday with reservations essential for the £35 five-course menu, with walk-ins available from 7pm in the bar. Bare brick walls, sparse decoration and a windowsill that doubles as a back bar are a nod to its pop-up roots, but its cocktails feel much more polished. Its signature is the Brixton Beehive Club, which mixes Peckham-made Little Bird Gin with Earl Grey tea, lemon and London honey. Cocktails from £7.
Beehive Place, 11 Beehive Place, SW9 7QR
Opened November 2014
Historic, and long-closed, railway tavern Brady’s has been transformed into the fifteenth branch of colourful Mexican restaurant chain Wahaca. It may be about eating first and foremost, but it comes complete with a small bar area. Specialities are anything laced with tequila or mezcal, from a range of flavoured margaritas to tequila-spiked mojitos, mules or Bloody Marias. Cocktails from £5.95.
Wahaca, 20 Atlantic Road, SW9 8JA
The Shrub & Shutter
Opened September 2014
One of two cocktail bars to open on Coldharbour Lane within days of each other, The Shrub & Shutter — set further away from the emerging hub around Brixton Village and the station — serves serious cocktails alongside elaborate bar snacks in the form of carpaccios, ceviche, tartares and mini pies. The first part of the bar’s name refers not to foliage but to syrups which form the base of cocktails, and they are a common fixture on the bar’s menu. Try a refreshingly sharp pickled jalapeno margarita made with a jalapeno shrub, blood orange liqueur and Tequila; or a Nam Gin, made with a salted cashew shrub, gin, coriander, pickled veg and soda. Cocktails from £7.
The Shrub & Shutter, 336 Coldharbour Lane, SW9 8QH
Three Eight Four
Opened September 2014
This Coldharbour Lane bar is from the same team as Seven At Brixton, in nearby Brixton Market. The narrow but long space is lined with a full-length bar, and made edgily atmospheric by its rough brick walls: dilapidated, uneven and dotted with patches of residual plaster. Small plates include beef brisket in brioche buns, reuben sliders and ceviche — so far, so trendy. It’s the cocktails which are the main attraction, though. Highlights from the offbeat menu include a Tart ‘n’ Tide, made with whisky, Cointreau, lemon and honey, and served with a seaweed-infused ball of ice; and a Mr Flambastic, created from a blend of spiced rums and shaken with peaches that have been flambéed — before our eyes — in brandy. Cocktails from £6.
Three Eight Four, 384 Coldharbour Lane, SW9 8LF
Opened as Wishbone in November 2012, transformed to Chicken Liquor in July 2014
This dude food chapel dedicated to deep-fried, marinated or burgered chicken was taken over by the MeatLiquor team last summer, hence the change of name. Not all that much has changed, and the bar still does a neat line in sours, using a choose-your-own approach to create a long line-up: simply pick your spirit of choice, add lemon juice or a homemade syrup (options include Vimto alongside several fruits), decide whether or not you want egg white, and finally opt for it to be served straight-up or over ice. Cocktails from £6.50.
Chicken Liquor, Unit 12 Market Row, SW9 8JX
Seven At Brixton
Opened January 2012
Among the first of Brixton’s new-wave eating and drinking spots, Seven is still a leader in the local cocktail scene. From its atmospheric open-fronted market spot (which admittedly can be a little chilly in winter) it serves well-priced tapas dishes and good coffee alongside cocktails which give the classics a twist — think lemon cheesecake martini, or a ginger and basil mojito. Its range of brunch-time Bloody Marys are also worth a try. Cocktails from £5.
Seven At Brixton, 7 Market Row, SW9 8LB
Opened September 2011
Possibly the first place in Brixton to reliably churn out great cocktails, Atlantic Road’s Kaff Bar has become something of a local institution. Brixtonites flock here for affordable Deep South cuisine with Caribbean influences, regular live music and — of course — those cocktails. From menu descriptions written in the style of erotic novels to a price tag of just £4 for the simpler ones and big sofas to sink into while you drink them, there’s little not to love. Its espresso martinis — there’s a whole range of them — are particularly highly rated. Cocktails from £4.
Kaff Bar, 64-68 Atlantic Road, SW9 8PY
Also worth a try...
Dim-sum restaurant with Asian-inspired cocktails. See our review of Courtesan.
Rum punch and a Mezcal Old Fashioned are highlights alongside the classics at this lively good-time bar.
Upstairs At The Ritzy
A relaxing venue for sips atop Brixton’s famous cinema.
There’s no sign of Brixton’s cocktail revolution coming to an end anytime soon — we reckon it’s just getting started. Later this year, Rum Kitchen opens on Coldharbour Lane. It will be the third branch for the Caribbean restaurant and well-stocked rum bar, following venues in Notting Hill and Soho. Read our review of Rum Kitchen Carnaby.
Fancy doing your own crawl of Brixton’s cocktail bars? We’ve plotted them all on a map for you. Not sure we’d recommend visiting them all in one evening, though...