You’ve done it. Approximately 16 hours spent perfecting your Hinge profile, three months subtly stalking their Instagram, and a couple of very near misses with the private setting on LinkedIn, and you’ve got yourself a date. Sure, there are plenty of places to go in London but there’s the risk of it being too loud, too intimate, and too expensive when you’re at risk of being cat-fished. That’s why we’ve made this guide, so while you decide whether blue really is your colour, we’ve got the destination covered.
photo credit: Lateef Okunnu
Happiness Forgets is a great name for a first date bar, after all you’re about to meet someone who’ll either make you very happy, or who you’ll immediately want to forget. This intimate, basement bar in Hoxton is all about low lighting and high-quality cocktails. Granted, it’s a small spot but you can reserve a table for two and it’s open until 11pm every night of the week.
All we know about our neighbours is that they really enjoy listening to LMFAO at 11pm on weeknights, but you won’t find any of that funny business at Good Neighbour. This wine bar on Camberwell Church Street only has charcuterie, small plates like wild boar ravioli, and enough candlelight to make for a super romantic date night. There’s also a quiet terrace out back for drinking on sunny days.
The name of this wine shop and bar translates to ‘wine passion’ which, like everything, sounds much more sordid in English. Nonetheless, this all-Italian wine spot in the shrieking heart of Shoreditch is one of the best places to drink wine in London. It’s great to get things going before moving on elsewhere. Or you can stay, head upstairs via a hidden mirror door, and enter a dining room full of rich velvets and charcuterie on tap.
When straight pint-sinking isn’t your game and a cocktail too early can end up leading things astray (cc: regret), then you might want to consider a date venue that slows the pace a little. Where you can sit back with a glass of something sparkling, eye up the other table’s snacks, and enjoy conversation. This is exactly what Café Deco’s terrace is for. Spectacularly sedate with an excellent by-the-glass list that changes daily, the Bloomsbury restaurant and wine bar is an intimate spot. And the menu is just waiting for you to get involved.
Tayer and Elementary
If you’re after something a little more intimate with drinks that have a little more kick to them, then Tayer + Elementary will suit you down to a tee. Despite being two minutes from purgatory itself, a.k.a. Old Street roundabout, the sceney cocktail bar manages to screen itself from the horrors outside via unusual drinks and an excellent soundtrack. It’s walk-in only, so come down early in the evening, lean against one of the counters, and get yourself a watermelon negroni, lovage gimlet, or whatever else gets your juices flowing.
The French House
The French House is guaranteed to be rammed pretty much every night of the week and though that can be a little annoying if you’re arriving after 6pm, it’s kind of what this whole Soho institution is about. There’s little chance of awkward silences as you hustle your way to a standing or sitting spot but, if not, any number of gregarious regulars will be happy to help get the conversation flowing.
Two Hundred Rye Lane
Unless you’re about to go on a date with someone who deems those Taio Cruz-pumping rickshaws to be ‘a proper laugh’, then chances are that a solid 90% of London bars are going to be too loud. But not lovely, casual Two Hundred Rye Lane in Peckham. They’ll serve you a couple of top pisco sours at happy hour—hold the tequila shots and dubstep remix of Sexual Healing, thank you very much. Combining the feel of your cool mate’s flat with drinks that definitely taste better than those made by aforementioned cool mate, it’s perfect when you’re aiming for that effortless, laid-back date night.
Sure, the pub is a go-to first date spot. But it can’t just be any pub. Especially not the one where that local roller-skates to the urinal. That’s more of a five-years-in date spot. No, you need to go to a pub like The Blue Posts. It’s a super cosy and super classy restaurant-y type pub in Soho, where you can get anything from classic lean-and-flirt craft beers downstairs to fancy schmancy biodynamic wines at the upstairs cocktail bar. Plus, if all goes well, you can invest in some high-end charcuterie from the bar.
photo credit: Karolina Wiercigroch
Sager + Wilde
Sage in the streets and wild in the sheets. That’s how you want to come across, right? Well head to Sager + Wilde and you’ll be off to the right start. The atmosphere at this Bethnal Green wine bar is 50% trying-to-be-refined-but-flirtatious glass swilling and 50% sharing handmade pasta because it seems classier than suggesting a nightcap back at yours, stat. It’s a casual but classy vibe for any drink, but especially good for a first meet.
Over Under Coffee
While we love this place for casual daytime pancakes, we love love love it for a first date power flex featuring some of London’s best espresso martinis. This cafe-cum-nighttime cocktail bar is genuinely tiny so it has an intimate feel but trust us, the upbeat soundtrack and friendly service will stop it from ever feeling too serious for first date territory. Heads up, it’s only open in the evening at the weekend, but it’s also an excellent shout for a daytime cocktail if that’s all your ‘busy schedule’ (total lack of trust in online dating) can permit for this first meeting.
If you enjoy blaming dating apps and ‘bloody social media’ for ruining your love life, then this one’s for you. When you step into Bar Américain it all feels very 1920s Paris. You know, back when you couldn’t stalk and inevitably judge their Spotify playlists before meeting them. The Art Deco paintings and cocktail menu will definitely get the conversation flowing. If it goes terribly, you can blame it on the rum. If it goes really well, you can head next door to the brasserie for an old-school dinner date.
The Compton Arms
You’ve been out of the game for a while and now you’re back, kind of. The prospect of meeting someone via an app who appears to have been born out of a witches pot full of cashmere and cheekbones is, frankly, terrifying. You need some Dutch courage and you need to be somewhere comfortable but cool, like The Compton Arms. Pubs are a safe bet and this little Islington one is a surefire winner. It’s a little bit hidden, it’s got a good crowd, and there are some excellent small plates on the menu.
Lady Of The Grapes
They look the same in 85% of their pictures, they know the difference between a schnauzer and a beagle, and, by god, they like to watch Bob Ross re-runs when hungover too. This is a high stakes date and it calls for Lady Of The Grapes. This little wine bar in Covent Garden is sort of like a kindling for romance. Candlelight? Check. Over 100 types of natural wine to try? Yep. Just the right kind of ambience for a little ‘so what are you up to this weekend’ without it feeling try hard? Absolutely. And don’t worry, just in case that online profile was a little (entirely) deceptive, there’s plenty of by the glass and carafe options so you don’t have to commit to a bottle.
Bars? Never really trusted them mate. They’re just pubs with fewer food options, serving beer at a higher price. If that sounds like you, then The Pineapple should be on your first date radar. This pub in Kentish Town has all your classic ales, lagers, and spirits, but has just the right amount of character to make it feel romantic. You’ll usually find a bunch of merry locals at the bar, but if you venture out back to their conservatory then you have all the quaint charm of Richmond Park without having to risk a long trip on the District line. Kind of.
Your date has a job title that involves the letters ‘PhD’, while you’re still not sure whether green clothing goes with the lights or the darks in the wash. When you’re venturing on a date where you need to convince the other person that you’re, err, ‘sophisticated’, The Gibson has got your back. This small bar at the quiet end of Old Street has a nightly pianist playing Prohibition-esque tunes and seriously creative cocktails. Honestly, we challenge any two people on the planet to not at the very least share a smile over a cocktail served from a metallic frog with pearls, or out of a coconut complete with a mini fan and pool inflatable. See, sophisticated, and a good laugh, all rolled into one.
The Winemakers Club
If you’ve been known to start chatting about your parents’ divorce on a first date or relay a ‘really interesting’ fact about the Industrial Revolution to fill any and all silence, then this one’s for you. The Winemaker’s Club is a lovely candlelit wine bar inside a series of old arches under the Holborn viaduct. Everything from the exposed brick cellar walls to the huge selection of wines make this place seriously grown-up, and as long as you don’t burst into your rendition of Sexual Healing while you’re waiting for the bill again, your date will be properly charmed.
Gin might have got you through the best, and the worst, of your singledom, but, this bar underneath Bermondsey's Flour & Grape has over 100 types of the clear stuff plus G&T flights that are perfect for two. You'll try three gins with some top tonic water, and guess which is which before opening up your sealed envelope to see who guessed right. It’s a great spot with a slightly vintage, fashionable lumberjack feel, and completely sets you up for asking if they’ve tried the roasted pork shoulder tortelloni upstairs if you’re fishing for a second date.
photo credit: Karolina Wiercigroch
The Anchor & Hope
The Anchor & Hope in Southwark is the perfect date spot for anyone who’s ever said ‘love is dead’, while also secretly having photos of George and Amal Clooney’s wedding on their phone. This pub isn’t the kind of place that screams romance. It sort of whispers it instead. Sure, most of the walls are painted red and there’s foie gras on the menu but it’s also very casual. Like you. Grab a pint or one of their classic £7 cocktails and sit at the bar. Then, if by some small miracle you don’t despise them, move to one of the outdoor tables and share one of the many bottles of wine. And, should you actually like them (we know, shocking), go for a romantic walk along the river to end the night.
The Arts Theatre Club
The Arts Theatre Club in Soho makes you sound like you read the culture section of The Guardian, but there’s plenty of booze and the option to cut the night short if they seem terrible. Most of their cocktails fall around the £9 mark but there are 10 pages worth of drinks to choose from, so you’ll definitely find something both you and your date will like. We’d go for one of the cocktail tea pots, find a spot on one of the plush pink sofas, and start dropping charming facts about how this place used to be frequented by the Kray twins. How cultured are you.