Like a litter of puppies in a ball pond, Soho is a tonne of fun packed into a small area. When it comes to drinking, you could easily follow your nose and go to wherever looks the loudest and most packed, but if you know where to look, there are some bars that’ll ensure you don’t end up in a Belushi’s. Whether you’re out on the lash or grabbing a pint while you wait for a space at Hoppers to open up, here are our favourite bars to drink in in Soho.
An honest-to-goodness cocktail bar for grown-ups in Soho, Bar Americain thinks your favourite bar hidden behind a fridge is quaint and probably a bit sh*t. Walking down the stairs at Brasserie Zedel near Piccadilly, it feels like you’ve turned up in a bar in 1930’s Paris, complete with framed old pictures and comfy seats all over the place. It’s awesome. The bartenders serve classics, and will make your drink flawlessly, and while you can arguably get a better cocktail elsewhere in Soho, the atmosphere here is hard to beat. Book ahead if there’s a group of you just in case, or drop in before or after a night of irresponsible eating. We wouldn’t judge you for nipping next door for a late night dessert at the brasserie, either.
Knock on the pig’s head below the sign for the opticians, and you’ll enter a wormhole into a Xanadu of fire breathers, naked carnival dancers, and talking animals straight out of the worst acid trip ever. Just kidding, you’ll just find a cocktail bar, but it’s one of the cosiest, slickest ones in Soho. Blind Pig is part of posh restaurant Social Eating House, but it’s a destination in itself - upmarket, smart decor that’ll have you sidling up to strangers at the bar like Don Draper (even if you’re just ordering a shandy) and service that’ll make you wonder why you ever queued for a couple of warm pints at some dump on Brewer Street. Hit it for a cocktail with a few friends, and don’t count on turning up unannounced at the weekend - book ahead.
In Soho, it can be difficult to find a spontaneous place to drink good cocktails (classics, not the ones with umbrellas in them) without having to withstand a scene, or having your face pressed into some stranger’s armpit in O Bar. Swift is pretty much perfect then, and it’s an oasis of civility amongst the absolute dog’s dinner of Old Compton Street, even on a Saturday night. The ground floor bar has an Art Deco feel, and there’s loads of polished glass all over the shop. It’s good for early evening martinis, and you can even get oysters. Downstairs is a whiskey lounge with comfy leather booths for you and a few mates to dig into for the night.
The French House has been around for donkey’s years, and although bits and bobs have changed about this pub since 1891, much of the experience here is steeped in tradition, from its only serving half pints, to its no screens rule. The French is all about consumption and conversation, and once you’ve squeezed into the picture-frame filled bar area, got yourself a drink, and found yourself a spot, you might not ever want to leave.
ECC was the trendiest bar in town years ago, and it’s still a pretty damn good place to get a drink in Soho. All of the hallmarks of a cool bar are there - bloke with a clipboard standing outside a random door in Chinatown, ‘secret’ stairs and a guy on the decks, and lots of people who look both richer and cooler than you inside. The drinks are great (expensive, but worth it), and it’s a banging place to spend a couple of hours getting horribly sloshed. It’s almost always packed, but you can usually slide in without a booking earlier in the week.
We’re not really sure what problem this trendy basement bar off Wardour Street is fixing, but we can only imagine how many people are in desperate need of a posh dessert to go with their cocktail. Yes, Basement Sate’s USP is desserts and cocktails, and it does them well, but you can still get a drink here even if you don’t fancy anything too sweet. The bar’s dimly lit, but with the great tunes and up-for-it crowd, it’s a good space to get a little loose with a few mates. It’s excellent if you’re wanting a night out with friends, so long as you book.
Bar Termini is a very good bar to know, mostly because the cocktails here are excellent, and there’s always a bumping atmosphere that’s apt for the area. The bartenders wear aprons, so you can bet they’re serious about mixing you a nice drink, and there’s a dedicated negroni menu you should definitely order from. Their Aperol Spritz might even change your life. There are also little plates of posh Italian ham and cheese if you get peckish. The downside is that it’s ridiculously popular and can feel cramped, but as long as you treat it as a warm-up and not as a place you’re settling into for the evening, you’ll have a great time.
From the outside, 68 and Boston looks a bit like a generic attempt at a US-style speakeasy, but when it’s Friday night, everywhere’s booked and it’s chucking it down outside, you’ll be thankful that it’s around. It’s a nice, sophisticated-looking cocktail bar spread across two floors, and there’s plenty of space for a group to grab a seat at the last possible minute. They’re good at whiskey (especially the Japanese stuff), and 68 makes a great go-to when you need a bar that’s convenient, good, and not lame.
If you’ve managed to blag your way into the Groucho or one of Soho’s members-only bars, great. If not, there are still cosy places to grab a drink that give you a great clubby atmosphere without having to risk looking like a twat when you bellow ‘do you know who I am?’ to the person at the desk. Mark’s Bar is the bar beneath the restaurant Hix, close to Regents Street, and has glorious sofas, booths, and loads of expensive-looking art by the owner’s mates. What’s more, the drinks are very strong, and are almost worth their high prices - come here for a drink after dinner, or a nightcap before you stumble home.
We don’t want to stereotype and say that the majority of people in the basement bar at Milroy’s whiskey shop are blokes, but the majority of people drinking in the basement bar at Milroy’s whiskey shop are indeed blokes. It’s a bar hidden behind a bookcase at the back of the shop, and there’s a cosy little downstairs space with coves, big leather sofas, and guys with beards having intense conversations about single malts. It’s a good bar, and definitely worth dragging the one dissenter in your group to, even if they complain loudly that they ‘just wanted a vodka red bull’. As well as a good selection of whisky, from bourbons to the Japanese varieties, there are also nice vodka, rum, and mezcal cocktails to shut them up.
Hotel bars are rubbish, aren’t they? Well, yeah, a lot of them are, but the one at the Ham Yard Hotel is definitely not. It’s one of most photogenic bars in town, and besides a vibe that feels more like a member’s club than a bar that’s open to the public, it’s an excellent place for strong drinks and people watching. It can definitely feel a bit see-and-be-seen, but the trade off tends to be worth it, especially if you’re dropping in for a few drinks at their pretty lounge or on their terrace outside. Speaking of - the restaurant here’s not up to much, so stick to drinks before heading to dinner elsewhere.
There are some bars that objectively, aren’t going to win any awards, ever. And sometimes, when all you want is a damn drink and some atmosphere, that’s all you really need. Two Floors on Kingly Street is our go-to for the uncomplicated, simple pleasures of standing around with a drink and sharing some banter with mates. There’s a tiki bar down below (good when it gets rammed upstairs), and you can stand on Kingly Street or in the court behind during good weather. The cocktails are just fine and the staff can be miserable, but when you’re not looking to be fancy or stress out about hitting somewhere cool, Two Floors has always sorted us out. See also: day drinking.