Rooftop bar season is over. It's dead, finished, finito. Yeah, you heard us; it's time to start having your adult drinks in dimly lit, darkly atmospheric basement bars instead. London isn't exactly a city wanting for places to grab a drink but it can sometimes be a little difficult to find the best underground drinking spots when they’re located – quite literally – underground. But that sense of mystery and intrigue is all part of the appeal of finding a bonafide hidden gem. The distinct lack of light at these basement bars can hide the flaws of your complexion while strong cocktails can hide the flaws of your personality. Basically: they’re perfect. Or, at least, they can be when they're done right.
Knowing the difference between the bars that are going to charge you £16 for a rum punch that tastes like something you'd cobble together at a university house party and the ones that'll charge you that same £16 for a cocktail which will alter your whole perspective on spirits is essential. To help you navigate that subterranean drinking terrain, we’ve curated this handy little list of London’s best basement bars that intends usher you in the right direction (downwards) to a spate of quality drinking establishment.
From ultra-swanky venues like Kwānt and Milk and Honey to East London hotspots like Discount Suit Company and Behind This Wall, we hope this guide (presented in no particular order) helps you find at least one location that’s dark, dingy and close to home. Yes, a lot of these basement bars can be difficult to spot at first, and might involve angry squinting at your Google Maps while you slightly embarrass yourself in front of someone you’re trying to impress, but that's all part of the fun, isn't it? Want to drink an Old Fashioned in behind a secret bookcase? Want to eat a baja fish taco at an underground mezcaleria? You're in the right city. and you've come to the right place.
12 of London's best basement bars
25 Heddon Street, W1B 4BH
Cocktail savant Erik Lorincz has stationed himself under Mayfair's Momo and has quietly – and confidently – been serving some of the best cocktails in the city since the restaurant's basement bar Kwānt opened up to London's thirsty, thirsty residents. Trust us when we tell you that Lorincz is an absolute wizard when it comes to mixing a stiff drink. The Head and Tails cocktails combines Vida mezcal, beermouth, Peychaud's Bitters, and genmaicha sada with a cavolo nero crisp; a concoction that'll leave your tastebuds spinning and your bank account crying as you inevitably order another. Yes, the cocktails here are expensive and your bill can add up even more when you throw some snacks into the equation (who can say no to a plate of falafels with their Patrón?). But Kwānt is worth it for the special occasion cocktail of your dreams.
2. Original Sin
129 Stoke Newington High Street, N16 0PH
We're big fans of basement bars here at Foodism. It's why we wrote this entire list dedicated to London's best basement bars. They're dark, sultry and perfectly suited for sipping on cocktails and making bedroom eyes at someone you fancy the absolute pants off. Original Sin is one of our faves. Cocktails like the Persephone (vodka, manzanilla, pomegranate, rose and tomato cordial) and Negroni Rosa (rosa vermouth, amaro, aquavit, strawberry, and balsamic) are a little bit savoury, a tad fragrant, and a whole lot of delicious. If your date's going really well, you might as well throw caution to the wind and order some chicken liver paté while you're at it. God knows that'd woo us.
3. Behind This Wall
411 Mare Street, E8 1HY
You might know Narrow Way, near Hackney Central station, for the excellent Tonkotsu half-way up the pedestrianised road. You might not know it for the excellent Behind This Wall. But that's forgivable, because there's nothing to give away its presence save for an unmarked black door next to coffee shop Palm Vaults. Open it, go down, and you'll enter a subterranean, pine-laden bar, where a small team of bartenders will mix you alchemic, seasonal cocktails to go with a compact food menu. We particularly enjoyed a Uber XL, with Baron de Sigognac VS Armagnac, Combier L’Original triple sec, cured lemon paste, and lemon juice in a sugar-dust rimmed glass. It can get a little bit lemony in Hackney – how about it.
4. Discount Suit Company
29A Wentworth Street, E1 7TB
Discount Suit Company isn't where you go to find a budget Pierre Cardin for your third wedding of the season. Discount Suit Company is where you come to sink back some of London's best made cocktails in a trendy exposed brick basement. The entrance is nondescript but the drinks inside – the 'Deal or No Deal' with Woodford Reser ve Bourbon, sweet vermouth, abruzzo punch, and Bogart's Bitters is dear to our hearts – are anything but. Even if you're not a cocktail sort of person, a bottle of 100% Orange 0% SO2 (yes, it's actually called that) from Castell d'Age should prove to everyone around that you are, in fact, cool enough to drink in East London.
5. Bernardi's Cocktail Bar
62 Seymour Street, W1H 5BN
What do you do immediately before settling in for an Italian feast? If the answer is 'have an aperitif', we've got news for you: head underneath Marylebone's pan-regional Italian restaurant Bernardi's and you'll find the downstairs cocktail bar, which specialises in vermouth- and amaro-based Italian classic cocktails. There'll be something to graze on, too, in the form of a small section of the cicchetti and pizzetti served upstairs. If you can bear the surface (sunlight – shudder) there's a terrace that wraps around the restaurant, too.
6. The Vault
3 Greek Street, W1D 4NX
Yeah, we know that a secret bar located in London's oldest whiskey shop behind a facsimile bookcase sounds like the sort of Essex-bait gimmick from hell that we usually steer well away from. But The Vault saves itself from being a joke thanks to the quality of the cocktails and its unrelentingly pleasant vibe. The whiskey cocktails are – quite obviously – the way forward when you're ordering your victuals. Nevertheless, it is worth noting that just about every serve here will leave you satisfied. The Vault is one of London's least secretive secret spots to grab a drink, and we love it all the more for it.
7. Milk and Honey
61 Poland Street, W1F 7NU
Milk and Honey is a London institution; a venue that's played host to more dates, anniversaries, business meetings, and catch-ups over the years than perhaps any other venue. There's a plethora of reasons that drinkers keep returning to this Soho staple time and time again. One of the main ones? It's very, very good - hence why it's on our list of the best basement bars in the City. Milk and Honey hand-squeezes fresh oranges, limes, lemons and pineapples each afternoon to ensure only the freshest ingredients are allowed into each of its drinks. The bar even presses its own ginger to make its house ginger beer and boasts some decent grazing options on top of all the above. Why? Because it can. And because nothing tastes better after a few hours of sunlight-deprived drinking than a portion of buttermilk fried chicken strips with sriracha mayonnaise. Milk and Honey is a cocktail bar where the who's who of London's glitterati can be witnessed from all their various angles; a place to see and be seen at. Just make sure you follow the house rules of "no name-dropping, no star f**king".
8. Happiness Forgets
8-9 Hoxton Square, N1 6NU
As the older sibling of Spitalfields's Original Sin, Happiness Forgets is a nocturnal subterranean basement bar that knows how to mix a stiff drink. Open from 5pm daily, Hoxton residents know Happiness as one of the most consistent cocktail spots in the vicinity. Deep cut rum from Haiti and crowd-pleasing British gin both hold court behind the venue's shabby chic bar. The cocktail list is always on the move but serves like the Howler (pisco, Cap Corse aperitif, Campari, coconut and thyme shaken and topped with Funk Estate Blood Orange sour beer) underline the ethos of this forward-thinking drinks space. Take care not to completely lose control of yourself though: Happiness Forgets, but your Instagram remembers everything.
9. WC Clapham
Clapham Common South Side, SW4 7AA
Don't sleep on this Clapham charcuterie and wine bar. Careen yourself around the corner of the Clapham Common underground stop and you've already arrived, your stomach calling out for cheese and meat and your mouth parched for the fruit world's greatest gift to humanity: wine. The wine list traverses from the old world to the new world and back again; rich, red Lebanese muscat jeune and pretty French muscadet sitting at opposite ends of the spectrum. The "superior" cheese and charcuterie platter comes adorned with enough sheafs of meat (rosemary salam, venison and green pepper salami, red wine and Draycott Blue salami) and quality cheeses (Morbier, Castel Blue and Tomme de Savoie) to have your head spinning. The best bar in London located in a former lavatory? Undoubtedly.
10. Reverend JW Simpson
32 Goodge Street, W1T 2QJ
We like our cocktails cool and our cocktails bars even cooler. Reverend JW Simpson is one of London's best basement bars that fulfils that exact criteria. The cocktails are made with laser-guided precision and – averaging at around £10 a pop – won't leave you completely dead in the water when it comes to paying your rent. Some of the drinks even sound frankly... healthy; the 'eyesight' is a mix of Barsol Quebranta pisco , rooibos tea syrup, carrot, Fair Goji berry, lemon and egg white that sounds, looks and tastes like a post-workout beverage that wouldn't be out of place at a Gymbox. For those that want to bring some of the bar's charms back home with them, The Reverend's series of specialised cocktail masterclasses (with a focus that shifts everywhere from Angostura to Seedlip) offer the ideal chance to shake it up with the best of them.
26 Kingly Street, W1B 5QD
Tacos are one of the world's most excellent drunk foods. There's not a more heartening sight than the hypnotic turn of an el pastor when you're half-cut and in dire need of something to line your stomach before you turn in for the night. Cocteleria works on that very basic principle. Located downstairs from the Soho branch of Breddos Tacos, margaritas and mezcal galore can be found at this unsung hero of the London drinking scene. Come for a zesty Paloma and the best damn Micheladas in the city, stay for the baja fish tacos.
12. Swift Bar
12 Old Compton Street, W1D 4TQ
Whether you're chasing short or long drinks, Swift's downstairs basement bar is one of the best watering holes going in Soho. Which, considering the area's embarrassment of riches when it comes to cocktail bars, is really saying something. It's Swift's excellent atmosphere that really separates it from the pack. You'll struggle not to feel at least 10 times more interesting as soon as you step inside its dim and darkly seductive domain. All you've got to do after that is pray that your date finds you half as interesting – or, at the very least, is up for an excellent drink while you prove to be about twice as boring as your choice of bar. The ever-expanding whisky selection of 250 different drams from every corner of the globe means not ordering at least one Old Fashioned at Swift is borderline heresy. Don't make that mistake.