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.
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.
Shoreditch must have the highest density of speakeasy style bars in all of London. Possibly the world. TT Liquor is one of the best we know. This building was once one of Shoreditch’s police stations, but now you access the bar through one of east London’s best, and best looking, booze shops. The cellar bar has been transformed from the old jail cells, and the solitary cells are now furnished with plush leather benches, making them perfect for largeish groups of up to around ten people. The cocktails are as good as any you’ll find in London, there’s a good selection of wine, and regulars can even create their own liquor collection by taking a deposit box for bottles they’ve purchased upstairs.
The Whistling Shop feels like a bric-a-brac shop woke up one morning and decided it would be much cooler if it was a cocktail bar. This rambling speakeasy-style spot is filled with so much Victoriana it comes close to feeling like a theme bar, but the staff really know their booze, and it’s a great spot for a pre-dinner drinks if you’re on the edge of the City with some time to kill.
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.
Bottles is a wine bar on the edge of Old Spitalfields Market offering a wide range of Italian and old world wines, both by the glass and by the bottle. It’s a cosy and atmospheric spot with a reclaimed timber feel, and it’s made even better by the food which is served by pasta specialists the Sood Family.
You could probably go to slick underground bar Black Rock if you’re not a whisky snob, but we’re not entirely sure why you’d bother. Sure, they have a few bottled beers on offer, and a small selection of cocktails, but they really excel at whisky and stock hundreds of bottles, all available by the dram. This is a place to come with a full wallet, an idea of what you already like - balanced, fragrant, spicy, sweet, that kind of thing - and an open mind. Don’t come with a big group though, since this laid back, museum-like space won’t really suit it. Instead, come with a friend, try something you’ve never drunk before, and order a round of haggis balls and some of their other snacks.
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.
The Discount Suit Company is another basement bar. The people behind it run a couple of other excellent London cocktail bars, so you can be confident that they take their liquor very seriously without being bores about it. Come here after the market traders at Petticoat Lane have gone home, and impress your date with your knowledge of hidden things when you take them down an unmarked flight of stairs below the old Discount Suit Company sign on the side of the building. Be warned though, it can get very busy down here, and it might be an idea to reserve a table.
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.
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.
Quiet drinks aren’t particularly easy to come by in Shoreditch. And if you want a glass of wine but don’t want it as part of a meal, the chances are you’re going to have to settle for a giant glass of Blossom Hill at a crowded and uncomfortable pub. The Grocery Wine Bar couldn’t be more different. It’s a bright and friendly spot attached to an organic supermarket on Kingsland Road. The bar isn’t quite so virtuous, but the wines are good, natural, and the staff are always happy to suggest something you might never have tried before, and you can drink anything from the wine section of the supermarket for just £10 corkage. It’s a great spot for catching up with an old friend, or for a date with someone you’ve never met before, when you don’t want to have to jostle past a start-up crew to get another round.
Private members clubs make you feel special. They make you feel like you’ve arrived. They let you eat and drink away from the crowds, in the exclusive company of the select few who’ve paid and joined. The only problem is, you have to pay and join. And then, whenever you’re not there, you kind of feel like you should be. Passionevino is a wine shop and bar on Leonard Street that feels like a private members club. From the outside it looks like it’s just a shop. But to those in the know, it’s not only one of the best wine shops in London, it’s also somewhere where you can push open a door hidden behind a mirrored wall, climb a rickety staircase, take a seat in their maximally decorated upstairs room, take control of the Sonos, and drink some of the best Italian wines you’ll find anywhere outside of Italy.
The Iron Stag is a bar under The Frog on Hoxton Square. It has the same commitment to slightly suspect decor as the restaurant upstairs, but that shouldn’t bother you too much once you start exploring their extensive whisky list. There’s room enough for a decent sized group down here, and the best bar snacks in London - like cheese donuts and fish finger sliders - is acceptable compensation for having to put up with a bit of dodgy art.
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.
The Gibson is a small, dark corner bar at the quiet end of Old Street, serving creative, deadly serious, and sometimes slightly silly drinks. There’s a lot of blow-torch action going on in the making of these cocktails, so if you like your drink served alongside smouldering herbs in a glass that looks like a pipe, this is the spot for you. The service is friendly, there’s a pianist every night of the week playing vaguely prohibition-era tunes, and it’s no standing room, so get here early or reserve space if you want one of the 35-seats.