Other than Soho, there isn’t another neighbourhood in London that comes close to Shoreditch for being packed door-to-door with bars. But just because there are loads of bars doesn’t mean that they’re all worth visiting. In fact, it’s usually a game of roulette when you’re out on any particular night, given that many of them can be uncomfortably crowded and with mediocre drinks.
So instead of wandering into the nearest spot and praying for the best, just use this guide. There are bars here for every situation when you’re out in Shoreditch, whether you want a fancy cocktail with a couple of friends or you’re on the hunt for a place to accommodate your entire water polo team.
We like the Hawksmoor Spitalfields bar even more than the steakhouse it’s attached to (and we like the steakhouse a lot). You’ll find it downstairs from the restaurant, and it’s a cool, dark room that’s perfect for a date or a classy start to a night of drinking. In addition to strong cocktails and friendly service, there’s excellent bar food worthy of a full dinner, including a burger that’s up there with the best in town.
Table football. Mississippi blues. Britain’s colonial plunder. A lot of Shoreditch bars go for some kind of theme, but Happiness Forgets is a place that just focuses on the fundamentals, and it works every time. The cocktails are always on point, your table service will be friendly, and the ambience is perfect for holing up with friends or a date for a few hours. It’s a gimmick-free spot that’s also popular, so you’ll want to book a table. If you do fancy trying your luck, we’d go earlier in the evening.
Callooh Callay is an Alice in Wonderland-themed bar, which sounds lame, but it’s actually executed in a way that’s not at all terrible. There are two main bars: a packed Victorian-style bar up front with comfortable lounge seats and exposed brick, and a second bar ‘hidden’ behind a wardrobe door that’ll make you feel like you walked into a 70’s shagpad after a few pills. The drinks are spot-on, and while we wouldn’t recommend hitting it at the weekend, it’s a good call for a date during the week when the crowd’s less rowdy. Know that it closes later than most bars, so it’s also a nice place for a nightcap.
Your friend Tony’s dragged your group up and down Rivington in search of a secret bar that he heard about from his barber. Cut your losses and take everyone to The Well & Bucket instead. It’s a retro pub on Bethnal Green Road that combines the best things about a pub and a bumping Shoreditch bar under one roof. The beer selection is outstanding, there’s a garden at the back, and you’ll find space for a crew. As a bonus, the excellent 5CC bar is just downstairs.
After you’ve had a couple of drinks at Well & Bucket upstairs, walk down into the basement for cocktails at 5CC. It’s a cosy vault bar with low ceilings and alcoves that are ideal for a second or third date or a small group hang. That said, it’s popular so definitely book if you’re going there with a crew at the weekend. If you’re not immediately feeling anything from their drinks menu, the bartenders will come up with something for you if you let them know what kind of cocktail you’re after.
You go to Super Lyan when you’re in Shoreditch and want to drink top-notch cocktails in comfort, but without the usual booking/crowd shenanigans. It’s a bit out of the way from the main bar area, but that means the crowd tends to be more local and it’s usually easy to find somewhere to sit. The cocktails are experimental without being pretentious - you’ll find stuff like a nitro martini, which is like a cross between an espresso martini and a JD and coke.
As far as big-ticket nights go, they don’t come much bigger than Nightjar. It’s a legendary underground ‘speakeasy’ that has an upmarket feel, incredible cocktails, and a swing band that gets the room moving after 9pm. In short, it’s the kind of experience that you imagined when you moved to London from your hometown. While an experience here can be a class act, be warned that you’ll pay for it - along with cover, service, and expensive drinks, the cost of a night here easily mounts up. Be sure to book well ahead.
Sometimes the best things are hidden in plain sight, like the Muller rice pudding ads, or a good corner shop samosa. Or Joyeux Bordel. It’s a basement cocktail bar on Curtain Road that’s pretty much invisible except for the obligatory bouncer on crowd control. When you get downstairs, you’ll find a bar that has a speakeasy feel without being annoying, and you’ll drink good cocktails without having to wait too long. We also like that there’s plenty of room for a big group, but be sure to book well ahead, as it gets mobbed at the weekend.
You can both start and finish your night at Loves Company, a laid-back cocktail bar by the Old Street roundabout. Begin on the ground-floor bar, where they do a two-for-£12 drinks deal on your first round. After you’ve stumbled out and had a few drinks elsewhere, make your way back to hit their downstairs bar, where there’s an up-for-it crowd, high quality drinks, and a banging soundtrack with a DJ playing until 2am at the weekend.
You know you’ve hit peak Shoreditch when you ask a friend if they fancy going to an Alice in Wonderland-themed bar, and they reply, ‘Which one?’. Looking Glass is another of those bars, and yes, there’s a mirror you walk through to reach another bar at the back. This hidden ‘speakeasy’ is a solid option for a date but check the bar’s website for what’s on, as we’ve definitely/accidentally stumbled into a dominatrix theme night in the past. If you want more relaxed fun, the regular bar area at the front is a nice place to hang with a few friends and some cocktails, and because it’s away from the main strip, you’ll avoid the worst of the crowds.
Shoreditch at the weekend can get messy, but you can ditch the drunken circus by getting a drink in the basement bar of the Nobu Hotel. Though the bar is next to the restaurant, it feels completely separate. Admittedly, it’s pretty much as far from the typical Shoreditch dive as you can get, but the cocktails are good, prices are surprisingly reasonable, and the space is so massive that it never gets too crowded. Hit it with a couple of friends or on a date for a civilised alternative to some of the rowdier places in the area.
Eating at Red Rooster is a hit-and-miss affair, but grabbing a drink here is a totally different matter. Skip the taqueria at ground level, and go straight down to the basement. Here, you can sit at the restaurant’s central bar and watch a jazz band cover classic Janet tunes. Every few minutes, a waiter will bring a chicken with fireworks shooting from its arse to someone’s table. You’ll feel like you’re in a club without actually having to deal with being in a club, and while you’ll technically be sat in the restaurant, you won’t feel like it. It stays open until 2am Thursday to Saturday, making it a perfect choice to end a night.