London's Artiest Bars

By Londonist Last edited 66 months ago
London's Artiest Bars
The Freud cellar bar

You want a drink, but you also want to take in some of London's culture. The two are not mutually exclusive (although the effects of alcohol may negate any new grey cells you generate by bettering yourself through art). Here's our pick of London's best places to enjoy a drink and soak up the visual arts.

Freud Café-Bar And Gallery

If you’re missing the speakeasy scene of Soho’s heyday, why don’t you just dig yourself a cellar bar? That’s what Courtauld Institute of Art graduate David Freud did with a little help from a brilliant young architect. The result? A work of art in its own right. Freud has been serving cocktails (and coffees) in the heart of the West End for almost 30 years, and the high ceilings and exposed concrete have hosted everything from documentary photography to ink sketches and oil paintings. If you’re looking to push your limits as far as you can, try a Noah Constrictor: with tequila, apricot brandy, apple juice, lime and mint leaves — part of a repertoire of over 70 cocktails developed over the years, many of which have been contributed by the bar's equally creative staff. 198 Shaftesbury Avenue, WC2H 8JL

ICA Bar, Institute of Contemporary Arts

Located on The Mall, with a nightly programme of private views, talks and events, a drink in the ICA bar will place you firmly in the company of an animated and discerning crowd, from established and emerging artists to curators, collectors and critics. Although the bar has always boasted strong design, there was a time when it felt like a very separate entity. With the recent integration of selected works from featured exhibitions — and its role as a shop window for artist editions — it’s now a place to enjoy a drink while absorbing (rather than just observing), everything the ICA has to offer. The best time to visit is on a Tuesday when it not only waives the usual £1 day membership, but cocktails (classic and contemporary) are buy one, get one free from 6pm-7.30pm. The Mall, SW1Y 5AH

The ICA Cafe bar. Image: Bookatable

First Thursdays

If you’ve ever peered in the cosy steamed-up windows of Shoreditch galleries on a Thursday night, wishing you could join the glass-clinking of the trendy arty types within, now's your chance. Every month, over 150 galleries in east London open their doors from 6pm-9pm, to host free events, exhibitions, talks, workshops and private views as part of First Thursdays. Organised by the Whitechapel Gallery, take the free art bus or simply follow the recommended walking tour, and you’ll uncover some of the area's lesser-known art venues. Hopping from one gallery to the next, you’ll almost certainly secure a glass of wine in each (sometimes free!) and introduce yourself to a much more sophisticated kind of ‘crawl’. Various locations, east London

The Proud Archivist

This hidden gem is a combined gallery, bar, restaurant and café, which serves a thriving creative community, seven days a week, from its bright canalside location. The communal tables make The Proud Archivist a great place to strike up conversation, while you explore its extensive range of gins, cocktails, craft beers on draught, and other house specialities. Make like some of the world’s most famous artist absinthe-drinkers: try The Sazerac (rocks glass washed in Absinthe, Sazerac rye whisky, Peychauds Bitters and garnished with lemon zest) and suddenly you’ll feel right at home, surrounded by some of London’s best emerging artists as well as established talent from around the world. 2-10 Hertford Road, N1 5ET

The Light Wall in the Event Space at The Proud Archivist. Photo by Luke Hayes

Proud Camden Bar & Gallery

With walls adorned by stunning images of rock ’n' roll royalty, by day this 200-year-old Grade II listed horse hospital in Camden is a peaceful gallery, dedicated to showcasing the work of some of the music industry’s best-known artists and photographers. By night, the exhibitions become an impressive backdrop for the sounds of the next generation of new bands, as this unusual space is transformed into a live music venue. Featuring an eclectic mix, there’s also live comedy, cabaret and open mic nights. The Stables Market, Chalk Farm Road, NW1 8AH

By Phillipa Ellis, author of arts blog Arts Aloud

Last Updated 11 October 2018