When we think of speakeasies, we tend to think — quite naturally — of prohibition. We think of cloistered, sequestered bars down secret alleyways, with doors that seamlessly blend into the wall and interiors rife with cigarette smoke, mismatched furniture and surreptitious glasses of whisky being downed left, right and centre. The prohibition era has a unique glamour of its own, to which speakeasies irrefutably belong. But just because speakeasies sprang from prohibition doesn’t mean they’re forever relegated to that decadent era — as we at Gentleman’s Journal recently discovered.
London’s speakeasy scene is thriving. Not due to a necessity for illicit alcohol, of course; but simply due to the enduring glamour, decadence and indulgence that imbues any speakeasy-themed establishment. The popularity of speakeasy bars may be due to the parallels between lockdown and prohibition, or simply due to the allure of 1920s elegance; either way, there are speakeasy bars aplenty to be found in London. So we’ve curated a list of the capital’s top 10 speakeasy-themed establishments…
For vintage cocktails, go to Nightjar
Its softly-lit interior harks back to a bygone age of old-school glamour, and its live music scene is second to none (we’re talking jazz, swing and blues — just the thing to put you in a prohibition-era mood); but Nightjar’s real pull is in its vintage cocktails. We’ve celebrated the bar’s aptitude for a stellar cocktail before, of course — but it’s always worth emphasising that Nightjar’s vintage spirits truly can’t be beaten. Whether it’s an ancient recipe from the pre-prohibition era (1600—1918), a prohibition cocktail (along the lines of an Ampicillin or a Cote d’Emeraude) or a post-war beverage (we’ve got our eye on the Snake in the Grass), you can rest assured that you’ll be offered a range of cocktails from any given point in history.
For the full prohibition experience, go to The Whisky Room
We’re guessing you’ve heard of new hotel The Londoner? The Leicester Square hotel has (unsurprisingly) been the talk of London of late, having recently opened; and this speakeasy bar, located in The Residence — an exclusive collection of areas for working, relaxing and indulging for hotel residents — is prohibition personified. Guests can access the bar via a secret passage, which gives way to the intimate 14-cover parlour. This, in turn, allows guests to explore the world of whisky in all its glory; and in true speakeasy style. Intrigued? Book a stay at The Londoner (which you should really do anyway) and indulge your curiosity…
For late night drinking, go to The Dragon Room
Of course, speakeasy bars tend to infer late night drinking as a prerequisite. But at The Dragon Room, nestled in the basement of lavish restaurant Isabel Mayfair, those late hours will be elevated from the merely convivial to the positively electric. With sublime cocktails (of course), regular DJ sets and that all-important late night drinking from Thursday to Saturday, those opulent interiors are the perfect backdrop to send you back in time and to see through the night.
The Dragon Room
For a choice of bars, go to Opium
Three bars within a bar? We’re listening; and you should, too. Opium is a Shanghai-themed bar that harks straight back to the 1920s. Split across two floors, it offers three bars: the Academy Bar, with its famous ‘Attic’ (think low tables and sofa seating); the Apothecary Bar, with its medicinal bottles adorning the bar; and the Peony Bar, which is the most ‘speakeasy’ bar of the lot, hidden behind a set of red curtains and boasting a cloistered, intimate feel.
For a multi-sensory experience, go to Purl London
It’s a speakeasy in every sense — from the 1920s getup of the bartenders, to the live jazz music on a Friday night. But what really sets the Marylebone-based Purl apart from its contemporaries is its innovative, experimental approach to cocktails. The bar approaches drinks at a multi-sensory level, utilising foams, foods, fog and airs — together with liquid nitrogen and bespoke serviceware — to conjure up cocktails that you’ll likely be talking about for many years to come.
For live music, go to Ricco
Live music tends to be par for the course at a speakeasy bar; but where hidden West Kensington bar Ricco is concerned, live music is a celebratory, triumphant experience that’ll see you stepping through those art-deco-inspired doors again and again. The bar hosts artists and international acts alike, and you can always rely on there being an eclectic, theatrical calendar packed full of live music events from which to choose. And not just live music, either; have you ever wanted to watch Chicago at a speakeasy bar? This October is your chance…
For the last word in luxury, go to 116 Pall Mall by Searcys
If it’s got ‘Searcys’ in its name, you know it’ll be luxurious. Speakeasy bars tend to be imbued with decadent indulgence (or indulgent decadence; take your pick): but luxury isn’t necessarily always a given. When it comes to underground drinking den 116 Pall Mall by Searcys, however, the luxury fizzes and flows with more veracity than the bar’s best champagne. Once the wine cellars of the Prince of Wales and the United Service Club, the bar boasts exposed brickwork, delightfully plush velvet seating, a laudable champagne bar and vaulted ceilings: and with its underground aesthetic, it’s just the place to conjure up the spirit of prohibition in a luxury-clad setting.
116 Pall Mall by Searcys
For a once-in-a-lifetime experience, go to The Candlelight Club
When we say ‘go to The Candlelight Club’: it’s not as easy as that. This experiential evening is held at a secret London location; ticket holders will receive an email two days before the event, with all the information they’ll need (including the password, and which policemen have been bribed; we told you it was experiential). The Club operates as a pop-up prohibition-era speakeasy, and goes colloquially by the name of ‘London’s secret 1920s party’. There is no permanent home; instead, the Club puts on its iconic parties at different locations around the capital. You’ll need to dress the part; and you can expect live jazz, cabaret performances, exquisite cocktails and a venue lit entirely by candles.
The Candlelight Club
To disconnect from the world, go to Oriole
If speakeasies are about one thing, they’re about escape. They’re a portal to another place and time — they transport us away from the toils and travails of our everyday lives, and into a mystical realm of glamour, excess and uninhibited decadence. And if one speakeasy bar encapsulates this spirit of escapism, it’s Oriole. The East London haven is a magical oasis that endeavours to charm its guests with its effusive hospitality, delectable cocktails and regular Jazz Brunches: and it’s just the place to leave your troubles behind.
To witness one of London's best kept secrets, go to The Luggage Room
The bar’s secret black door first opened back in December 2012; and now, the Mayfair speakeasy establishment remains one of London’s best kept secrets. It’s Mayfair’s local speakeasy, and it specialises in classic cocktails reverent of the prohibition era, together with a dash of unique experimentalism. Its cocktail menu is a veritable journey through the history of drinks; and £7 cocktails available throughout October, in celebration of London Cocktail Week, this is a secret you’ll want to discover just as soon as you can.
The Luggage Room
Have we put you in a cocktail mood? Our Cocktail of the Week is The Temperance ‘White Logroni’…
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