4244 Kingsland Road
Tel: 44 20 7739 3863
This unpretentious Caribbean bar is a stress- and attitude-free way to hit the Hoxton scene. Neither fashionable nor unhip, the crowd's mixed—by age, race, and style—and more friendly than at your average snotty place-to-be-seen. The look is the typical neighborhood warehouse with exposed brick and vent tubes, loungey couches, and less-typical fairy lights and wooden window shutters. Thursdays through Sundays there are not-deafening DJs and the occasional live band playing reggae, calypso, or Latin. Other draws are its Caribbean menu, a short but good cocktail list, and of course, beer.
6 Little Portland Street
Tube: Oxford Circus
Tel: 44 207 631 0700
Less is more? Not at this kitsch-tastic cocktail bar (pronounced "Annex 'trois'") with gold banquettes, mismatched strips of floral wallpaper, retro tables and chairs, and fantastical chandeliers. To top it off, there's a three-foot carousel in the center of the room. The clientele is as eclectic as the decor, thanks to the West End location: too-cool-for-school kids rubbing elbows with bankers in pinstripes. This is a campy offering from Michel Lasserre, Stefan Karlson, and Hassan Abdullah, three antiques dealers turned nightlife impresarios—and owners of Les Trois Garçons restaurant (1 Club Row, Tower Hamlets, E1; 44-207-613-1924; www.loungelover.co.uk) and the Loungelover bar. There's also a restaurant at Annex 3, but the bar—and its good selection of seasonal cocktails (the Limelight, an herbal passion-fruit mojito, is everyone's current favorite) and bottled beer—is a better reason to go.
Langham Hotel, 1C Portland Place, Regent Street
Tube: Oxford Circus
Tel: 44 207 636 1000
Named for the 360-foot-deep well beneath the floor, this glam bar opened in January 2007. Interiors star David Collins (who perfected his art on the Blue Bar and Claridge's) transformed the very blah bar of this former, very blah, Hilton into a 21st-century mini-Versailles with textured leather, mirrors, stately chandeliers, and enormous windows. The cocktails are based on what must surely be the best rum library in the land. Nondrinkers can play too: The bar is open all day for morning coffee, afternoon tea, and any in-between meal you can invent.
Tel: 44 207 629 8888
The Dorchester's frumpy old bar is unrecognizable in its fabulous new plumage—all lacquered mahogany and mirrors, with purple velvet banquettes backed by insane six-foot-tall red glass spikes. The giant drinks list is cocktail nirvana, from the Fancy Drinks (concoctions spiked with a little something extra) to the three-drink Flights (different styles of classic cocktails to compare and contrast). Beware, though: Some of the wackiest glassware in town could give a nervous drinker stage fright. A frozen martini for instance, may arrive in a classic martini glass…classic, that is, apart from its two-foot-long stem; a mulito (a mojito made with the Colombian fruit lulo) in an Argentinean maté cup made from a gourd, with a silver straw. For well-to-do types dressed up for a night on the town, it's a great stage; though for the young crowd, not so much.
7–8 Bishopsgate Churchyard
Tube: Liverpool Street
England EC2M 3TJ
Tel: 44 20 7920 9207
Interred beneath a Moorish cupola next to a churchyard, The Bathhouse is one of London's more esoteric venues, with original decorative tiling, candle lighting, and a menagerie of animal skeleton prints. Victorians came for the Turkish baths and vapors; new Elizabethans descend the circular steps for Grey Goose vodkas, Asahi on tap, and DJs inside a giant birdcage. Reserve a table for Thursday's cabaret-and-supper night, which grooves to '50s swing and rock 'n' roll; Friday is Caligula, where an angular, gayer clientele are marshaled by Club Kids alum Larry Tee. Lady Gaga, Nick Cave, and even Bill Murray have shaken their tail feathers here.
2-4 Boundary Street
Tube: Liverpool Street
England E2 7DD
Shoreditch society can get stifling. The alfresco Boundary Rooftop offers valuable thinking space, as well as 360-degree views over the city. Crowning Terence Conran's new 17-room Boundary hotel, the bar was unveiled in summer 2009 and is open spring through fall, weather permitting, its Mediterranean optimism (olive trees, barbecue, wicker sofas) tempered by such practicalities as a log fire, a canopied seating area, and blankets to snuggle up in. The drink of choice is the elderflower martini, best taken with a plate of bready nibbles and olive oil. No reservations (the line has been known to snake around the block). Check twitter.com/boundaryrooftop for a weather report before you go.
65 Rivington Street
England EC2A 3AY
Tel: 44 20 7739 4781
A bar named and decorated after Lewis Carroll's poem Jabberwocky might sound a tad gimmicky, but this Shoreditch venue is delightfully eccentric. Step inside and you are transported to a surreal world, the perfect antidote to the gritty urban neighborhood. Up front, the decor combines wildly retro 1970s wrapping paper on the walls, black ceilings, etched mirrored walls, stone hexagonal tables, and an eclectic mélange of cozy wing chairs, 1950s-style folding kitchen tables, and low purple divans. The real attraction, however, is the huge antique wardrobe in one corner. It's through this Narnia-style closet that you'll find a VIP lounge, a second room with bathtubs turned into sofas, a chandelier hanging from a crane, and rest rooms tiled floor to ceiling with old cassettes. The house specialty cocktail, the Mad Hatter's Punch, is a blend of four different rums, crème de pêche, ginger cordial, prosecco, freshly squeezed lime juice, and Angostura and grapefruit bitters served up in an old gramophone and designed to be shared. This place is kooky, hip, and refreshingly unpretentious, attracting a mixed crowd of the casual and besuited.—Giovanna Dunmall
Open Sundays through Thursdays 5:30 to 11 pm, Fridays 5:30 pm to 1 am, and Saturdays 6 pm to 1 am.
89 Westbourne Park Road
Notting Hill, W2
Tube: Westbourne Park
Tel: 44 207 221 0021
Owned by Tom Conran, son of Terence, the Cow is actually a gastropub with a dining room upstairs, but you can have a good night here on alcohol alone. The Cow serves a very good Guinness (accompanied, if you're peckish, with a half-dozen oysters or a pint glass of prawns). With its retro posters and eclectic furniture of a traditional bent, it's a chill place to grab a daytime drink, but the evening brings some serious crowds of Notting Hill trendsters that spill out onto the street (at least in the warmer months). Be prepared to push and plead to get near the bar. Equally enjoyable, the Westbourne is just across the road if you fancy a pub crawl (101 Westbourne Park Villas; 44-207-221-1332; www.thewestbourne.com).
Mon–Fri 7–11 p.m., Sat 12–3 p.m. and 7–11 p.m., Sun 12–3 p.m. and 7–10:30 p.m.
191 Portobello Road
Notting Hill, W11
Tube: Ladbroke Grove
Tel: 44 20 7908 9696
For a taste of members-only Soho House plus the Notting Hill scene simultaneously, come to SH owner Nick Jones's slightly less impenetrable westerly outpost for a glass of wine or three, snacks, and maybe even a movie, too. This was a much-loved old cinema (England's oldest, actually), a 60s subculture center, and a music venue. Now the movie house is flash with leather armchairs, footstools, cocktail tables and a bar that's open until five minutes before the main feature—art-house flicks mostly. The brasserie-bar provides food, drink, and buzz from 8 a.m. onward, and gets very busy at night. Unfortunately, the quieter upstairs scene is members-only.
77a Charterhouse Street
Tel: 44 871 075 1737
Still one of the biggest, and definitely one of the best, club venues in London, you'll find established resident DJs (Craig Richards, Terry Francis) and world-class guests, including Sasha, John Digweed, and the Chemical Brothers. But there's enough fresh talent to keep this venue at the cutting edge of new sounds. Built on the site of a Victorian meat cellar, and opened in 1999, it retains an underground feel with exposed brickwork and arched ceilings. Three rooms of varying sizes—24,000 square feet in all—offer different vibes; the Bodysonic dance floor in one is directly connected to the bass frequencies, so you feel the reverb through your feet. Small bars are dotted throughout, and there are plenty of nooks and crannies to rest up, including the all-too-comfy bed seats. On Fridays, there's a selection of drum 'n' bass, hip-hop, and breakbeat, while Saturdays concentrate on house. Fabric also hosts the polysexual DTPM every Sunday.
Friday 9:30 p.m. to 5 a.m., Saturday 10 p.m. to 7 a.m., Sundays 11 p.m. until the party dies down; closed Monday through Thursday.
49 Dean Street
Tel: 44 207 437 2799
The name is no mere handle: This small and crammed pub in prime Soho is Gallic from the fleurs-de-lis on its signage to its refusal to stock pint glasses—or beer. Well, there is some beer (draft Kronenberg, for instance), but it's best to go with the flow and drink (hard) Breton cider, Calvados, or, of course, wine. The place has been packed since WWII, when London-based members of the French Resistance met here. Now it's actors and journalists who lean on wooden walls lined with signed B&W boxing shots and throng the pavement nursing their halfs and sneaking phone calls (cell phones are not allowed inside). You may wonder what the fuss is about, but, with old-fashioned pubs disappearing under a tide of poseur bars and gastro-centers, this beloved institution is all the more charming for its lack of design or evolution. Upstairs, there's a tiny, decent Franglais restaurant where Fergus Henderson (of St. John) got his start in the early 1990s.
Victoria and Albert Museum
Tel: 44 20 7942 2211
Tube: South Kensington
Maybe a night in a museum doesn't sound like a wild evening out, but on the last Friday of the month (December excepted) the Victoria & Albert does more than simply keep its doors open until 10 pm. Every month offers a different theme, with live performances, talks with curators, guest DJs, food, and a bar from 6:30 pm onward. One highlight is the annual July Village Fête, which pays homage to a British tradition—a sort of mini state fair—but updates it, with the hippest designers and artists running the stalls. Other featured topics spotlight the museum's major exhibitions, which have covered everything from surrealism to quilts in recent years.—Updated by Giovanna Dunmall
East London, where alty grit meets gay gentrification, is the 'hood of the moment. On weekends, the Joiners Arms, an unpretentious, down-and-dirty East End boozer, draws a social, eclectic crowd eager to cruise to the Gaga beat (116–118 Hackney Rd.). At East Bloc, in hipster Hoxton, a trashy-meets-crazy party pedigree extends from the owners (Wayne Shires of the Cock, now closed) to the clientele (Kate Moss has trounced through with her gays). Friday and Saturday throngs heave against Keith Haring installations, with both burly boys and pop tarts drawn to a rotating roster of parties as colorful as their names: Disco Fag Bar, Gutterslut, Hot Boy Dancing Bar (217 City Rd.). The polysexually freaktastic be-there-or-be-forgotten monthly Vogue Fabrics has moved to Lyall Hakaraia's underground bar—literally, a semisecret dive in the fashion designer's basement (66 Stoke Newington Rd.). But the party's former location, Dalston Superstore in Shoreditch, remains the preferred haunt of fashion editors and music industry types the rest of the month. Plus, the restaurant/gallery's brunch will help you recover from the twisted gay parties held downstairs (117 Kingsland High St.).
Central London skews more to the prepped-and-ready mainstream gay. Muscle boys and young good-looking office types drink at Soho's Rupert Street Bar before heading to Lo-Profile on Wardour Street (all leather-glass-steel interior design, flattering light effects, and electro house) or Shadow Lounge, a self-consciously upscale spot that started as a gay members-only club. Call or e-mail ahead to get on the guest list, or make sure you're a gorgeous fella—or with one (5 Brewer St.). Adorably tacky, the G-A-Y consortium—G-A-Y Bar (one floor for the ladies, two for the gents) on Old Compton Street, its sister club G-A-Y Late (5 Goslett Yard), and G-A-Y Club at Heaven (The Arches, Villiers St.), made famous by Madonna and Kylie Minogue appearances—remains a camp magnet for a young and frisky twink set OD-ing on sugary pop grooves.
Ultimate weekend warriors and insomniacs head South to Vauxhall, underneath the railway arches. Start with a drink at the space pod–like Barcode Vauxhall on Friday (69 Goding St.), barhop along Albert Embankment to Onyx at Area, and wind up at bone-rattling after-hours party A:M at Fire, on South Lambeth Road, till midday Saturday. Then rest and repeat till Sunday's famous Horse Meat Disco at the Eagle brings it home with resident DJs (and the occasional fantastic guest) spinning Italo, electro, and punk funk to a diverse crowd that dances until throwing-out time (349 Kennington Lane).—Justin Ocean
1 Whitby Street
Tube: Liverpool Street
Tel: 44 207 012 1234
When it comes to decor, the Loungelover has come a long way from its former incarnation as a meatpacking factory. From the same antiques dealers behind disco glam Annex 3, Loungelover takes a different route, with an air of eccentric sophistication that appeals to Shoreditch's art-and-fashion brigade. The interior combines everything from baroque wall hangings to Japanese lanterns and a fair share of taxidermy, with retro chairs, and a long wooden table. The mixologist makes good use of subtle flavors—rose petals, lavender, cardamom, sage—and there's also a tasty selection of hot bar snacks, especially the vegetable and Granny Smith tempura, and the chicken skewers with peanut sauce. Be sure to book a table on weekends, or you might find yourself squashed into a small area around the bar trying in vain to catch the eye of the over-busy waitstaff.
66-70 Brewer Street
Tube: Piccadilly Circus
England W1F 9UP
Tel: 44 20 7292 3518
Chef Mark Hix has long championed British ingredients, a passion that also informs his speakeasy-style Mark's Bar, beneath his new Soho restaurant, Hix. Home to a billiards table, clubby chesterfields, and contemporary London art, it has a menu of historical English libations curated by cocktail whiz Nick Strangeways, and a clientele that has included Kate Moss, Roger Moore, and Guy Ritchie. Order a Hanky Panky or a Spitfires Over Kent and wonder at the mysterious jars of Hix Strangebrewgins infused with seasonal flavorslining the shelves.
11 Market Place
Tube: Oxford Street
Tel: 44 207 079 2020
A favorite post-work hangout for the ad and music execs from the surrounding offices and studios, on weekends this bar gets jam-packed with a mixed-bag crowd, due to its location minutes from Oxford Street. Small wonder: Decked out floor to ceiling in honey-colored wood, the feel is that of a laid-back shackalbeit a sophisticated, urban version, with quirky fake candle lightingwhere patrons snack, drink and dance. Despite the "We make it up as we go along" sign at the bar (that laid-back shack thing, again), you'll get a mean cocktail here. There's an outdoor terrace used during rare good weather, and downstairs the DJ keeps the music funky and loud.
The O2 Arena
England SE10 0DX
Tel: 44 20 7549 6686
Housed in the massive 02 arena in Greenwich (the home of the ill-fated former Millennium Dome) and with a 2,600-person capacity, Matter is more superclub than club. Designed by architect William Russell of Pentagram, it is part live venue, part club, and part performing arts space. You can count on an impressive lineup of DJs and live music events, featuring the best in house, dubstep, drum and bass, and hip-hop, since it's owned by the same people behind innovative Clerkenwell nightclub Fabric. There are two balconies overlooking a huge stage, two dance floors, and a bar on each of the three levels. And if you're familiar with Fabric's Bodysonic dance floor—designed to vibrate the frequencies of the bass speakers up through your feet—Matter's Body Kinetic dance floor is the next generation in this technology. The club's Zone 2 location south of the River Thames is accessible by tube, and for a more unique clubbing experience, by riverboat (the journey is free to those with Matter tickets; www.thamesclippers.com or www.matterlondon.com/travel/boat). The crowd is an eclectic gathering of ravers and city clubbers in their twenties and thirties.—Giovanna Dunmall
Days and hours of operation vary; see Web site for calendar.
31 Kensington Park Road
Tel: 44 207 792 3921
Beloved by the Notting Hill set as soon as it opened in 2006, this dark and sexy boîte re-creates Rat Pack cool with a serious selection of ritzy cocktails and a layout that makes every banquette feel secluded. Mixology geeks love the long and involved drink explanationsif they can read them by the light of a single candle.
29 Greek Street
Tube: Leicester Square
Tel: 44 207 437 5920
The Coach & Horses won notoriety as the haunt of professional boozer and Spectator columnist Jeffrey Bernard, and was rebuilt as the backdrop for the biographical play Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell, by Keith Waterhouse. The last owner, Norman Balon, was the self-proclaimed rudest landlord in London, and prone to grumpy outbursts. Now that he's gone, it's safe to go in—unless you like your bars slick and sophisticated. Face it: It's a dump. But if you're looking to drink and smoke heartily like a legendary local in a legendary local, this place has plenty of character—and plenty of characters.
6 Park Row
Tel: 44 208 858 2909
If you're looking for some history along with your pint, the Trafalgar has plenty of it. Built on the banks of the Thames in South London in 1837—the same year Queen Victoria came to the throne—it was originally called the Old George and was a favorite of such authors as Charles Dickens, William Thackeray, and Wilkie Collins (Dickens actually set part of Our Mutual Friend here). It was also a favored haunt of Liberal MPs who came for the whitebait suppers: tiny deep-fried herring eaten whole. They're still on the menu, as is a good selection of ales. With lots of dark wood and muted colors, its Regency style remains, and the space is divided into lots of smaller rooms, all with great views over the river.