We love a quirky speakeasy. If we're going to spend the best part of a tenner on a fancy cocktail, we don't want to be sipping it in a soulless bar that resembles someone's front room. As a result we’ve been shunning standard bars and heading underground to discover the unorthodox, subterranean world of speakeasies in ex public conveniences. Here are our top picks, and we can guarantee none have those bloody 50p turnstile charges.
By Clare Ebberson
Cellar Door | Aldwych
Hidden away underground in Aldwych is this flamboyant venue, with just a handful of tables. The nightly live acts include cabaret, burlesque and magic and there’s an extensive list of cocktails including the unusually named “Never Trust a Flamingo" (gin, watermelon & Campari) and “Honey I Drank the Dacquiri" (rum, honey & lime). Rumour has it that these were some of that most famous gents WCs back in the day, with visitors including none other than Oscar Wilde. The bar still claims to have the sexiest toilets in London and who are we to quibble...
WC Clapham | Clapham
Thought WC stood for water closet? Well at these 100 year old ex public conveniences, WC has been rebranded as wine and charcuterie. We know which we prefer. The sharing platters (or sharing slates as they call them here, obvs) include a wide array of cheeses, meats, mezze and breads. That’s not to mention snacks of almonds, olives and scotch eggs if you still have room. The wine list changes regularly, or choose from the craft beers and cocktails on offer.
The Attendant | Fitzrovia
This Victorian former gents' WC is the go to place in Fitzrovia to get your caffeine fix, having its own coffee roastery and cafe. There's no hiding the past of this cosy venue as you can pull up a stool at one of the decorative urinals (now alcoves where you can enjoy your lunch). There are a range of healthy salads, wraps and smoothies to go with your coffee, and you can't leave without trying their signature sea salt caramel brownies.
Bermondsey Arts Club | Bermondsey
This candle lit speakeasy serves sophisticated cocktails, spritzers and aperitifs. If you can't decide, the knowledgable bartenders can make you a bespoke drink (we’re all about their perfectly mixed dirty martinis). The regular free live jazz and the Art Deco surroundings make you feel as though you’re back in a 1920’s prohibition jazz den, so grab your best flapper dress and head on down.
Ladies & Gentlemen | Kentish Town
This Kentish Town favourite is the ingenious creation of Vestall Vodka's owner and such is their dedication to spirits that they make their own alcohol on site, including their very own Highwayman gin. The gin is so exclusive that only 12 bottles are made daily, so you'd better be quick if you want one. If that's still not enough gin, you can attend one of Ladies and Gents' gin making sessions. They let you take your handcrafted spoils (complete with a wax seal) home. Or just try it in their range of creative cocktails, which use locally sourced ingredients such as fruit and honey.