From not-so-secret speakeasies to retro-fitted Victorian toilets, here's what London's finest subterranean bars have to offer below ground level.
A (fake) abandoned Underground station reinvented as a 1940s-themed cocktail bar, Cahoots is inspired by its history as a Second World War air raid shelter. Everything about this venue has been carefully chosen to transport drinkers back in time; swish wooden escalators lead down to the restored tube carriage bar where guests can sip their cocktails from war time thrift hip flasks, old milk bottles and tins. Entertainment includes swing dancing, sing-a-longs around the piano, and jazz nights.
Cahoots, Kingly Court, 13 Kingly Street, W1B 5PG
If gin's your tipple, head to 214 Bermondsey (underneath restaurant Flour & Grape). 80 different varieties of Mother's Ruin are available, alongside their own hand-crafted Bermondsey Tonic Water. Themed tasting flights allow you to sample several different varieties at once: pick from The Great British Gin-Off and Tour of London, each offering three related drinks for £18. Tasting notes give proper gin geeks the chance to pore over each of them with glee, before revealing which is which via a sealed envelope.
214 Bermondsey, 214 Bermondsey Street, SE1 3TQ
Evans & Peel Detective Agency, Earls Court
One of a veritable fleet of 1920s Prohibition era-style speakeasies all over town, Evans & Peel Detective Agency comes with the added excitement of having to complete a role play through an intercom with a 'detective' in order to gain entry into the downstairs bar.
Shabby-chic faded glory is the order of the day, with age-spotted mirrors, exposed brick walls and filament bulbs galore, which make it a bit on the moody side. However, there's nothing shabby about the top drawer cocktail list, which includes twists on old favourites such as 'The First Date' daiquiri, with added date and chilli syrup.
Evans & Peel Detective Agency, 310c Earls Court Road, SW5 9BA
South London's answer to Ronnie Scott's, Hideaway is a jewel on Streatham's cultural map. A spacious cabaret-style restaurant and wine bar a stone's throw from Streatham station, this popular local venue is one of the best places in London to listen to underground jazz, soul and blues music. Much less crowded than Soho, it's easy to get in, tickets are rarely more than £15, and the standard of performers is sky high.
Hideaway, 2 Empire Mews, Stanthorpe Rd, off Streatham High Rd, SW16 2BF
Merchant House, City of London
Embrace your inner Bertie Wooster at Merchant House on Bow Lane, an upmarket cocktail bar where all the drinks are themed around mercantile history and their epic collection of spirits. With 600 whiskies, 400 gins and 400 rums behind the bar, you're spoilt for choice.
Found underneath a hidden courtyard not far from Cheapside, this oak-panelled hideaway oozes old world class without feeling elitist. The drinks menu is set out like a book with beautiful illustrations, and they offer flavour profiles to help you decide precisely which whisky to pour into your Old Fashioned or gin to grace your White Lady.
Merchant House, 13 Well Court, EC4M 9DN
A candlelit wine bar and charcuterie in the most unlikely of places... a former public toilet right next to Clapham Common tube station. Perfect for date night, the tiny venue retains the faded glamour of its original Victorian features, which have been up-cycled into bookable booths.
An ever-changing wine list encourages experimentation. We swapped the Sauvignon for some Gruner Veltliner, an Austrian wine that would go down very well with one of the cheese and charcuterie sharing slates which include such delights as venison salami and Cornish brie. With a similar vibe to perhaps the most iconic of all London's underground bars, Gordon's Wine Bar on Embankment, you'll need to get there early to be guaranteed a spot.
WC, Clapham Common Southside, SW4 7AA
For other subterranean bars in former toilets, check out Ladies & Gentlemen in Kentish Town, Camden and King's Cross
Trailer Happiness, Portobello
One for the rum lovers, this delightfully tacky Tiki bar wouldn't look out of place in an Austin Powers film. It has a well-deserved reputation for customer service, with knowledgeable bartenders. Groups can book a cosy booth and get companion
ably toasted with lethal sharing bucket the Zombie, which contains five different types of rum, maraschino liqueur, citrus angostura bitters, grenadine and (as if all that wasn't enough) absinthe.
Trailer Happiness, 177 Portobello Road, W11 2DY
Basement Sate, Soho
What is the one thing that can make a good cocktail bar better? Combining the drinks with gorgeous puddings, of course. Founded on the same kind of ingenuity that gave us the Cronut, this Soho spot has hit on one killer USP. From strawberry popsicle cheesecake to creme fraiche and peach panna cotta that actually looks like a peach, there are some impressive concoctions here for those with the sweetest of teeth.
The sugar rush continues on the drinks menu with such intriguing options as the Made in Ecuador (cocoa nibs gin, banana and cherry liqueur, and lemon) and the Provence (vodka, mint, cucumber and lavender syrup).
Basement Sate, 8 Broadwick Street, W1 AHN
Reverend JW Simpson, Fitzrovia
A scattering of candles on the pavement and an exquisite stained glass windows are two of the scant clues that Reverend JW Simpson occupies the site of an old rectory. Another, of course, is the name — but other than that, this cocktail bar has resisted the temptation to go all-in with the church theme.
Inside, it's reassuringly bereft of religious iconography, instead plumping for an aesthetic that's more shabby chic than sacrilege. That said, its disciples' — that's what they call the bartenders — devotion to crafting divine drinks is practically evangelical. Congregate here for luscious libations like the sinfully rich Bumble: a cognac and apricot liqueur concoction featuring chamomile and bee pollen syrup. Or, if you're up for something a little educational, wait for one of the Reverend's 'Spirited Sermons', a cocktail masterclass themed around a particular liquor.
Reverend JW Simpson, 32 Goodge Street, W1T 2QL
Discount Suit Company, Spitalfields
This tailors' stockroom-turned-cocktail-joint off Petticoat Lane ticks all the usual boxes for a cosy yet stylish basement bar. Low ceilings? Check. Moody lighting? Check. Wood panels and exposed brickwork? Double check. What sets it apart — aside from it's intriguing East End heritage — is a short but oh-so-sweet list of forgotten classic cocktails that your bartender will whip up with lightning speed. The Neal's Yard cheese boards make for a unbeatable bar snack, too.
Discount Suit Company, 29A Wentworth Street, E1 7TB
Bounce, Farringdon and Old Street
London's original ping pong bar has it all: booze, wood-fired pizzas, and high octane tabletop sport. Though Bounce accepts walk-ins, it's well worth rallying at least five of your most competitive mates and making an advance booking if you're planning a game during peak hours. If you're up for something a little more high-tech, you can show off your backhand over a round of Wonderball, which uses snazzy projection mapping in order to turn the table into a giant, neon-hued computer game.
Bounce, 121 Holborn, EC1N 2TD and 241 Old Street, EC1V 9EY
Freud, Covent Garden
No-frills cellar bar Freud boasts some of the best value cocktails in central London, making it a much-cherished haunt for locals and savvy tourists alike. Despite having stuck around since 1986, with its chalkboard menu and rickety furniture, Freud looks like it could have been cobbled together just hours before you entered it. It's all part of its bohemian charm, though — which is amplified by the fact that the venue is the brainchild of Courtauld Institute of Art alum David Freud, who sought to recreate the spirit of the Viennese coffee bars that inspired his artist father, Lucian (yep, that Lucian).
Freud, 198 Shaftesbury Avenue, Seven Dials, WC2H 8JL
In most bars, you'd be shown the door for trying to smuggle in your own bottle of vodka, but B.Y.O.C isn't your average neighbourhood watering hole. Here, you're encouraged, nay, compelled to bring the booze. Simply bring along the spirits you like best, stump up the £30 entrance fee on the door, and hand over your liquor to one of B.Y.O.C's more than capable bartenders. They'll use it to create no less than five bespoke cocktails across the next two hours — with a little help from their ample selection of juices, syrups, and bitters.
B.Y.O.C Camden, 11-13 Camden High Street, NW1 7JE