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5 Must-Visit Quirky Cocktail Bars in London

0. Header - Clover Club

 

Whatever else you might say about London, you can’t deny it’s a stellar place to drink. Whether you’re after a classic pub or a trendy new spot, a hole in the wall or a stylish rooftop scene, you can always find what you’re looking for in this booze-loving city.

And for those craving an especially quirky watering hole – somewhere with genuine character and a creative cocktail menu – you’ve come to the right place. The bars on this list may be eccentric, but we guarantee their drinks, decor and distinctive vibes are impossible to beat. On that note, here are five must-visit quirky cocktail bars in London for your next night out!

 

1. The East Bandstand, Swingers West End

1. East Bandstand

 

It may surprise you to hear that our first suggestion isn’t a standalone spot, but a retro cocktail bar in Swingers West End. Then again, what quirkier place for a bar than a crazy golf club with a 1920s seaside theme? Though Swingers West End contains a number of delightfully atmospheric cocktail bars, the East Bandstand is our favourite. Paying homage to the theme with aquamarine pillars and colourful umbrella lampshades, this bar is the perfect place to lose yourself for a little while – whether in the dreamy aesthetics, the exceptional drinks, or both.

Speaking of which, you won’t want to miss their singular cocktail menu. From seasonal specialties like the Yuzu Sour – a potent cocktail of Kakuzo Yuzu Gin Liqueur, crème d’abricot, elderflower cordial, grapefruit bitters, cola and egg white – to signature Swingers concoctions like the Clover Club, these drinks are sure to lift your spirits (no pun intended). And if you’re in the mood for a change of scenery, you can always visit another cocktail bar within Swingers! We also love the Fairgrounds Bar and the vine-draped West End Terrace, which has a retractable roof and is heavenly in summer. Have enough Swinging Punches (key ingredient: Red Bull Tropical) and you might even feel energised enough for a round of post-happy-hour crazy golf. Cheers – we’ll drink to that!

 

2. Nightjar Cocktail Bar, Shoreditch

2. Nightjar

For a cocktail bar with a menu to rival even the best-stocked pubs, stop by Nightjar in Shoreditch. This bar is named after the nocturnal nightjar bird, and it’s easy to see why: with low lighting, smooth jazz and unusual cocktails, Nightjar conjures a compelling noir-like aura. To enter, you must first find the elusive front door and take the stairs to this subterranean space, where you’ll be greeted by an impressive collection of bottles and live music every night of the week.

But back to the real focal point: the drinks. Nightjar’s menu – complete with colour illustrations and an ingredient glossary – features no fewer than 30 custom cocktails and mocktails. Divided by era of origin (e.g. “Prohibition” and “Post-War”), the drinks are also labelled with evocative notes – one cocktail reads “bittersweet, umami, earthy” – to tempt your taste buds. The perfect cocktail will depend on your palate, but we’d be remiss not to recommend the Chapeau or the Name of the Samurai; the first two items on Nightjar’s “Signatures” list, these drinks contain utterly unique in-house ingredients you won’t find anywhere else.

 

3. CellarDoor Aldwych, Covent Garden

3. CellarDoor Aldwych

 

“Cellar door” was said to be a favourite phrase of Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and countless other writers. After visiting this stylish, purple-lit underground bar in Covent Garden, you might feel the same! CellarDoor Aldwych maintains a low profile – literally – as a converted public toilet, with an unassuming entrance that gives way to the shimmer of the bar below. That said, the downstairs is anything but unassuming: leather booths, flashing lights and platforms for burlesque and cabaret performers.

The drinks are nothing to scoff at either, with CellarDoor boasting a 13-page menu of classic and signature drinks. There’s a whole page devoted to Champagne cocktails, and another for the more challenging “Slightly Strange” – indeed, from the White Riot cocktail of vermouth, amaro, rum, condensed milk and espresso to the Maiden’s Blush made of absinthe and fresh raspberries, this is one cocktail menu that will not bore you. And while the four-£ tag on Google might deter some, the prices here aren’t actually that exorbitant; even the aforementioned Champagne cocktails max out at £12 apiece. All this makes it a sweet spot for a special occasion in Central London – especially if your party has adventurous taste.

 

4. The Natural Philosopher, Hackney

4. Natural Philosopher

A charming cocktail bar located in a Mac repair shop on Hackney Road, The Natural Philosopher is – needless to say – one of a kind. Though it could get by on novelty alone, this bar also features lush botanical and vintage decor, as well as a thoughtful cocktail menu. “At The Natural Philosopher, our philosophy is simple,” it reads. “We make tasty drinks using unusual, seasonal, and foraged ingredients.” There’s even a range of price points to be as inclusive as possible to patrons.

At the lower end, you’ll find £6 picklebacks in international varieties, including a “Seoul” shot of soju and kimchi brine and a “Mexico” shot of tequila and jalapeño-lime. At the higher end are delicious signature drinks, divided by glass shape along with tasting notes. Our favourite from the “Tall” section would have to be the Black Truffle cocktail of tequila, cherry mead, agave, black truffle and soda; the must-try drink from the “Short” section is similarly savoury, a Peanut cocktail of bourbon, peanut, coconut, tahini and soy. The menu changes with each season, so make sure to stop by soon if these cocktails appeal – luckily, The Natural Philosopher hosts happy hour from 6-8pm every day! For those looking to muse on life’s true meaning with a drink in hand, we can’t think of a better place to do so.

 

5. Discount Suit Company, Spitalfields

5. Discount Suit Company

 

If a recurring theme of this list is “bars that don’t look like bars from the outside,” Discount Suit Company might be the most committed. Unlike other secret bars, which have only a veneer of deception, Discount Suit Company is attached to an entire menswear store – where, yes, you can actually buy suits! But the real treat is the cocktail bar below: a no-frills, bare-brick setup where the drinks speak for themselves.

 

Here you’ll find cocktails based on deep-cut pop culture references (see: Cissy Strut, Mr Susan, Funky Cold Medina) and equally unexpected ingredients. There’s the Tigerstyle made with three different types of rum, yuzushu, coconut and kaffir lime – or for a real kick to the esophagus, try the Long Walk, which contains poitín, Irish whisky and amaretto, softened only slightly by pear, celery and soda. Intriguingly, the menu also suggests mystery cocktails based on your taste; of course, if you trust the bar staff (which you should!), you’ve nothing to lose trying the Scorpion, the Saturn or even the Second Marriage. To be sure, with amazing cocktails and an unpretentious atmosphere, Discount Suit Company is just the place for your next casual yet utterly memorable happy hour in London.

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