London's Best Basement Restaurants And Bars For When You're Feeling Moody
10 spots to have your main character moment.
Championed by the likes of Don Draper, Ryan Atwood, and every Bond character since records began, brooding is one of life’s greatest pleasures. Perhaps you’re instigating lowered eyebrows and a faraway look because you had a terrible day at work and need everyone to know it. Or maybe you’re on a date and you’ve realised that channelling Jessica Rabbit is sexier than your impression of Ned Flanders. Debatable, but whatever has led you on the noble quest to get seriously moody, these basement bars and restaurants are the perfect setting, featuring candlelit corners and thoughtful tumbler swirling. Let’s get moody.
Gordon's Wine Bar
Gordon’s is London’s oldest wine bar and conveniently, it’s also at the top of our list for Restaurants That Are Perfect For Espionage Fantasies. Open since 1890, this subterranean spot by Embankment station is covered in historical newspaper clippings and has the general aura of the world’s most romantic bunker. It’s ideal for sipping excellent wine with someone you desperately fancy, or for finding a corner to cosy up in while you nibble breadsticks and stew on the fact that no one liked your Twitter post. Either way, get involved in the vast cheese offering and enjoy how exceptional your skin looks in candlelight.
photo credit: Lateef Okunnu
Nothing says ‘I’m deep’ quite like telling someone to meet you at a bar called Happiness Forgets. And as far as bars go, this spot is pretty close to perfect. An intimate, basement bar in Hoxton, that’s all about low lighting, high-quality cocktails, and a locals-only atmosphere. It’s excellent for a quick drink after work or for a longer session as the evening wears on. 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.
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Few restaurants in London make you feel the glitz, the glamour, and the misguided feeling that you’re the lead in a Baz Luhrmann film quite like Brasserie Zédel. Everything about this Parisian-style brasserie in Piccadilly is gold-detailed and gloriously art deco. Whether you’re descending the stairs for cocktails and cabaret at adjacent Bar Américain, or you're dining on a brilliant value prix-fixe meal, this is surely the most Hollywood basement in London.
The Arts Theatre Club
When the piano doubles as a custom DJ booth, you know you’re set for a good time. The Arts Theatre Club has been open on Frith Street since Soho’s peak days of urban naughtiness, and it looks like your best mate’s vintage basement flat. If, of course, your best mate was Anita Pallenberg. From the kitsch sharing teapots to the plush red seating, it’s a whole lot of fun and the selection of daiquiris definitely doesn't hurt either. FYI the mood shifts from tipsy giggles to full-blown ‘60s club come 11pm, and the party doesn’t stop until the early hours.
Ask any newspaper, playwright, or Jonas brother, and they’ll tell you the same thing. Sex sells. That’s probably why Blacklock, a loud and proud steakhouse that boasts about being in a converted Soho basement brothel, was always going to be popular. It’s cool. It’s affordable. And as long as you don’t think too hard about the things these walls have seen, it’s a lot of fun. But really it’s the meat that makes Blacklock one of those restaurants you’ll visit time and time again. On the old industrial beams, you’ll find all of the different cuts and chops handwritten in white pen, there’s a section on their menu that simply reads ‘Steak Sarnie’, but if you’re looking to share, the ‘All In Selection’ is the way to go.
Mele E Pere
Mele E Pere is a Brewer Street trattoria where the mood is permanently set to old-school Soho. You know, a time when Virginia Woolf used to float around in silk stockings and Jeffrey Bernard made an entire legacy out of calling in sick. A better time really, and undoubtedly a moodier time. Get a slice of the nostalgic action—and a slice of oil-slicked, spicy ‘nduja pizza—by descending down to the sprawling maroon basement dining room, that also happens to be home to London’s longest vermouth menu. From majestic chalky mountains of complimentary parmesan to heaped sweet ragus, expect expert takes on Italian classics that will make you smile, even when your primary commitment is to being seductively sulky.
The Winemakers Club
Underneath Holborn Viaduct is the Winemakers Club, a candlelit wine bar in a series of 150-year-old arches, that looks like the kind of place Hannibal Lector would drink a nice chianti. Winemakers is best suited for the evening thanks to its underground setting, and it’s intimate and relaxed enough to go on a casual date, or even on your own. The wine selection is good, as are the prices, and its casual atmosphere makes it a great spot to try something new. Not least their raclette toastie.
Trullo is a much-celebrated Italian restaurant down the road from Highbury and Islington station. It’s known for its low-lit, candle flickering atmosphere, just as much as it is for its delicious cacio e pepe with chunky, worm-ish noodles, and lip-smacking Amalfi lemon tart for dessert. The upstairs dining room is beautiful, but downstairs—a moody bunker where bottles of barolo should be drunk and sunk—is a place for elongated dinners and meaningful looks from inside secretive booths. A place where all day or all night can easily be spent.
If you’re the kind of person who loves first editions and candlelit romance, you’ll appreciate Andrew Edmunds. It’s an old-school Soho bolthole with a basement dining room that takes romance—and seductive lighting—seriously. You’ll eat by candlelight and order from a menu scrawled on a chalkboard. It’s obviously ideal for a date, but the food is really good too. They have a changing menu with things like braised squid and dressed crab which are excellent, as well as plenty of solid vegetarian options.
Below Stone Nest
Like success montages in films and hormone-driven first loves, being moody is at its best when it has a great soundtrack. Enter Below Stone Nest, a basement bar on Shaftesbury Avenue that feels distinctly Left Bank Paris and has live jazzy saxophone performances. The concise cocktail menu keeps things simple for anyone who just wants to pose with a classic negroni. And the abundance of tealights keeps things sexy for anyone in the market for a little late night seduction. It’s open until 2am from Wednesday to Saturday, and although it’s walk-in only, we’ve never had a problem rocking up and getting straight in.