Londoners in need of liquid refreshment have a seemingly endless selection of pubs and bars to choose among. If even that range is not enough, the city also includes many hidden bars — even bars within bars — in the most unexpected places.
A car park: Frank's Cafe & Campari Bar, Peckham
A negroni lover’s paradise encased in concrete, Frank’s Cafe in Peckham is a bittersweet (much like Campari) summer fling, atop a multi-storey. Founded in 2007, it pulls in the crowds every year in large numbers, and is a firm favourite of those who make the trip up the nauseatingly pink staircase to the 10th floor.
It's summer only, but worth the wait. Not only are the drinks top notch and the skyline views nothing short of spectacular, but Bold Tendencies, which manage the rooftop spaces in the car park, has a whole bunch of bonus extras too. There are art installations on the roof, theatrical performances below and even live orchestra nights — beautiful with the concrete acoustics.
Frank's Cafe, 95A Rye Lane, SE15 4ST
A museum: The Upper Deck Cafe at London Transport Museum, Covent Garden
Damn fine drinks are served in this museum cafe, lurking above London Transport Museum's shop. Try the Routemaster cocktail, a mix of London gin, Cointreau, sharp lemon and a sweet dash of grenadine. The winning touch here is the roundel motif with each serve — be it as an ice cube in your glass or a dusting of cocoa powder on your cappuccino. We’re suckers for London iconography — even more so when it comes in a booze-related form.
If you’d rather make a night of it, the museum regularly hosts Thursday and Friday lates throughout the year. A perfect opportunity for an after-hours snoop around the museum, a chance to 'drive the bus' without having to give way to kids first (you know you want to), and sip on a few drinks.
The Upper Deck Cafe, The London Transport Museum, Covent Garden Piazza, WC2E 7BB
A cinema: Picturehouse Central, Piccadilly Circus
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It's hard to land on just one cinema bar in London, because so many are now serving up the goods. Of course, it's still possible to enjoy a standard Odeon visit with a jumbo tub of popcorn, but the Picturehouse, Everyman and Curzon chains have all cottoned onto the fact that Londoners like to kick back and enjoy their film with a handcrafted cocktail in hand. And of course there are the lovely independent cinemas too.
But Picturehouse Central deserves a special name check for bringing glamour back to the West End film experience. High ceilings, dark walnut finishes, quirky artwork, it's a feast for the eyes. And your tummy benefits too. Order all manner of drinks to devour in the bar or make them last by taking them into the screen with you. And members get a very special bonus: a members' bar with its very own roof terrace boasting views across London.
Picturehouse Central, Corner of Shaftesbury Avenue, Piccadilly Circus, W1D 7DH
An Underground Station: Market Hall, Fulham
If you're anything like us, the idea of combining a fully stocked bar with a former, Grade-II listed tube station sounds flippin' magical. And that's precisely what you get at Market Hall, a food and drink court sitting pretty in the light-filled entrance hall of the old Fulham Broadway Underground station.
Chug by for a bar carved charmingly into the original ticket office booths. Survey the stunning Edwardian architecture and listed features that have been lovingly restored, while sipping on a choice of beers, cider, wine and cocktails. There's a strong focus on British bevvies with local brews and London spirits front and centre.
Market Hall, 472 Fulham Road, SW6 1BY
A tram shed: Tooting Tram & Social
A former tram shed full of, well, everything but trams. Kitted out with chandeliers, sofas and a top sound system, Tooting Tram is a late-night hotspot with a jam-packed schedule. There's karaoke nights, open mic nights, racy bingo, retro games nights and more.
When it comes to the sauce, there’s currently a ‘cocktail of the week’ on offer, plus an ever-changing rota of ales, bottles and spirits, for social south London folk to try.
Tooting Tram & Social, 46-48 Mitcham Road, SW17 9NA
A residential building block: Barts
An exceptionally well hidden hotspot for those in the know, located in a posh Chelsea apartment block. And there's no separate side entrance. Oh no, you actually have to venture right inside and totally make out you know what you’re doing.
Dripping in nods to the 1920s American Speakeasy era, a concept which has exploded in the drinks scene in the past few years, it serves up decadent sharing cocktails in gramophones and top hats. If you do manage to find it, be sure to check out Churchill's Breakfast. It's flavoured with unusual Perique Tobacco liqueur and is all sorts of smokey deliciousness.
Barts, Chelsea Cloisters, 87 Sloane Avenue, SW3 3DW
A salacious Soho venue: La Bodega Negra
If you book a first date here with the aim of impressing with your insider knowledge — for the love of God, be aware that the secret entrance looks like a strip joint. And a very convincing one at that.
It’s slap bang in the middle of Soho and says GIRLS in huge neon signage. But beyond the risqué facade, you're in safe date territory. Inside is an authentic Mexican restaurant with a bar menu packed with margaritas and lashings of tequila. There’s actually a ‘conventional’ entrance around the corner which leads into the adjoining all-day cafe — but where’s the fun in that?
La Bodega Negra, 9 Old Compton Street, W1D 5JF
A government building: The Houses of Parliament
A slightly cheeky one — as you do actually need to know someone who can sneak you in. Thousands of people hold enough security clearance to get you as far as one of the bars — you can even make a pub crawl out of it. The most relaxed is the Sports & Social bar, which even does karaoke on a Thursday night. Sing along with Eric Pickles, anyone?
The Palace of Westminster, SW1A 0AA
A huge fridge: The Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town at The Breakfast Club, Spitalfields
‘I’d like to see the mayor please’, is what you casually say to the staff here upon entering this (almost always) packed brunch spot, popular with the perpetually hungover. You’ll then be led down through a retro Smeg fridge to an intimate underground drinking den full of well-crafted cocktails and a buzzing atmosphere. We’re not messing with you. Honest. Choose your time carefully, however. It gets busy and you can't book. We visited on the first Monday after New Year to find a full house.
The Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town, The Breakfast Club, 12-16 Artillery Lane, E1 7LS
A wardrobe: Callooh Callay, Shoreditch
No passwords, freemason-esqe handshakes or fumbling around the houses required here. Just enter the main, Alice in Wonderland-themed bar before popping through the innocent looking wardrobe to discover the back bar (and, importantly, the loos).
In keeping with a bar that’s routinely voted among the best in the world, it serves up some truly amazing drinks, from a constantly overhauled menu. Upstairs, hidden behind some velvet curtains in the corner, is Jubjub — another ‘bar within a bar’. It's not technically members-only, but it does give members priority (and their very own key to unlock the front door. Smug).
Callooh Callay, 65 Rivington Street, EC2A 3AY
This article is part of our Best of London Food and Drink series. Visit the page for more recommendations of where to enjoy the capital's top food and drink, categorised by cuisine, food type and more.