The Bar Hit List: The Best New Bars In London
A running list of the best new places to drink and be merry.
There are a lot of good places to drink in London. Candlelit taverns, slick hotel bars, your mate’s tiny garden where the local tabbies like to hang out while you sip the world’s strongest margarita. But sometimes you want somewhere better than good. Sometimes you want somewhere great that has the added shiny bonus of being brand spanking new. Introducing our bar hit list, a one-stop list of the new London drinking spots that we’ve tried and can’t shut up about. Bottoms up.
We usually avoid walking through Covent Garden’s piazza, let alone meeting there for a drink. But Stereo, a bar, live music venue, and restaurant, is worth dodging tourists, street performers, and swarms of pigeons. Descend to the moody basement and slink into one of the low leather sofas for interesting house cocktails like a bourbon, fino sherry, and amaretto number, and well-made classics. The action happens around the warmly lit, circular bar in the middle, which is ideal for a solo post-work margarita and a chat with the bartenders. Alternatively retreat to the corner for a cosy tête-à-tête, or get a spot by the stage for the nightly live music. It’s worth booking a table later in the week as people get more dressed up, the volume increases, and there’s a high chance of dancing.
Prepare to be wooed, charmed, and seduced by Bruno’s before you even sit down. It’s from the folks behind bistro restaurant Caravel (a.k.a “London’s most alluring floating fire hazard”) and located inside the adjacent barge on the Regent’s Canal in Islington. Sink into a plush, pink velvet armchair, made for hushed tête-à-têtes over sweet rum and pineapple cocktails, or snag a high stool for a pre-dinner grapefruit-spiked negroni. The soft lighting, steamy windows, and chilled-out playlist set the mood to cosy-luxe—ideal third date territory when you want to whip out the “I know this little place” line. Equally, if there are a few of you who want a beer somewhere nicer than your local, there’s squirrelled-away, corner sofa seating under the stairs. Whoever you bring will be utterly charmed.
Sign up for our newsletter.
Be the first to get expert restaurant recommendations for every situation right in your inbox.
"It’s impossible to feel anything less than fabulous at Common Decency, the art deco-inspired bar underneath Covent Garden’s NoMad hotel. The soft, low lighting gave me the kind of glow that looked like I’d spent an hour at the MAC store around the corner. Throw in gold detailing, plush fringed chairs, and moody booths, and I didn’t want to leave this glamorous underground drinking den for the crowded streets above. Especially when a few cocktails down. You could request classics, but house specials hit the mark—like the kicking Szechuan Gibson or refreshing Green Muse, laced with herbal Pernod absinthe and Lillet blanc. Just know that at Common Decency, fabulous doesn’t come cheap and drinks are pricey, so save it for a special occasion when you want to get dressed up, or come for a brief bask in that fancy lighting." - Daisy Meager, Senior Editor
“My general approach to decorating is holding an item—trinket dish, cushion, 18th-century apothecary vial—to my face and asking whether a ‘70s mystic and/or Stevie Nicks would own it. It’s for this reason that my instant and total infatuation with this Shoreditch hip hop bar makes total sense. Between the distressed walls and coming of age novels stacked above the fireplace, it screams artiste’s shag pad with the added benefit of quite silly, really quite fun cocktails. Roxanne is from the team behind Dirty Bones and you can expect rum-loaded highballs, a manzanilla house martini, and my personal favourite, the homemade boozy Vimto. It’s a great place for a cocktail before partaking in the sacred art of going out out, or just for letting off some steam in front of the DJ booth.” - Heidi Lauth Beasley, Staff Writer
“Sometimes I like to masquerade as a socialite. Whether this narcissistic trait is borne of too much quality time with the Sidebar Of Shame or an intensely misguided reading of The Simple Life, who can say, but it is this urge for glam that saw me rocking up to Claridge’s on a Friday night. The famed hotel’s latest bar is a tiny pink hideaway that has the kind of overwhelming golden age beauty that made me check whether I had lipstick on my teeth no fewer than eight times. It’s a place for sophisticated sipping or a dressed-up birthday toast over an exceptional plum take on a Joan Collins. The coconut rum and mint wonder ‘Sapphire’ is also worth an order, but be warned that the cocktails all fall around the—checks overdraft—£20 mark so come here for a tender moment rather than a whole evening.” - HLB
photo credit: Greg Funnell
“If, like me, the anxiety of ‘winter is coming’ is already setting in, get yourself to Bar Daskal. The wine and cocktail bar in Borough Yards, from the folks behind Barrafina, has Big Spanish Holiday Energy. The whitewashed walls, warm lighting, and bold artworks, combined with artfully placed knick-knacks and colour-coordinated books, give off a luxe Mediterranean B&B feel, in the best possible way. Slink into the banquette seating for date night fuelled by negronis or perch around high tables for a perfectly poured after-work Estrella. Just know that snacks like gildas and chorizo are essential and after a couple of strong spritzes, you’ll be muttering phrases like ‘costa del London Bridge’ and wondering if you too need a vintage vase stuffed with paintbrushes to bring the holiday atmosphere home." - DM
photo credit: Liam Bundy
The Umbrella Workshop
“Tucked away in a quiet mews around the corner from the chaos of Shoreditch High Street, this bar, all exposed brick and moody lighting, is tiny. But the fact it can only fit around 10 people, huddled on stools or on the coveted bench by the window, creates its intimate, in-on-a-secret charm. There’s a short, weekly-changing cocktail menu, but here’s the twist. This spot is from the folks behind The Discount Suit Company and The Sun Tavern, and serves as their spirit-soaked testing ground. So that sweet-sour pink creation topped with whipped cream or that gin-based, refreshingly herby sharpener won’t be here next week, but might appear again on one of the sister menus at a later date. You can request all the classics too but the fun really lies in chatting with the friendly bartenders to decide what creative drink to try. The walls are lined with bottles available to buy so you can keep the good times (and cocktail experiments) going back at yours after closing time.” - DM
“Soma is not just one of the best new bars in London, it’s one of the best bars in London. I have already been to this sultry—yes, sultry—little basement spot in Soho so many times since it opened that I now receive a warm welcome from the manager. Let’s not linger on what that says about my lifestyle and instead focus on the fact that the cocktails here are outstanding. I’m talking alcohol alchemy via the medium of curry leaf vermouth, coconut milk, and a cardamom-loaded negroni that is now my favourite cocktail in London. From the people behind Indian mini-chain Kricket, the short cocktail list remixes—nay, improves—the classics and serves them on a slick oval bar. Plus, it’s open until the early hours from Tuesday to Saturday and the service is faultless.” - Heidi Lauth Beasley, Staff Writer
photo credit: Charlie's
“Crisps are the key to my heart. But I was already head over heels for Charlie’s, a small, sultry basement bar off Columbia Road, before the eponymous owner placed a huge bowl of ridged ready salted next to my negroni. Located below a leather goods and furniture restoration shop (also owned by Charlie), the only sign of the bar’s existence (which is only open on Thursday nights) is a small chalkboard in the window with its name and the words: Ring Door Bell Hard. Already charmed. Descending the steps will whisk you to a different world—think moody speakeasy, dark wood-panelling (carved by Charlie), flickering candles, a handful of low stools, and a couple of seats at the bar. The menu is just as small and charming with a few St. John wines, bottles of beer, and five classic cocktails. The espresso martini and spicy mezcal margarita came out on top but honestly anything you drink will taste ten times better than usual because you’re drinking it at Charlie’s. And not just because they come with a side of crisps.” - DM
“Sometimes a cocktail can change your mind. Suddenly your date looks 40% more kissable, your dedication to going to bed before midnight dissipates, or maybe it causes you to have an epiphany about candy floss in bevs. Now, I usually do not condone this kind of silliness and tend to like my cocktails simple and bitter, like my men. But there is something about the impenetrable glamour and class of this basement speakeasy that allows you to accept that maybe you do like your boulevardier with a white chocolate sceptre. Why the hell not? Just like the original Nightjar in Shoreditch, the new Carnaby location has live music almost every night of the week but if you really want to experience the full swinging attitude, come here at the weekend. Candy floss cocktail encouraged.” - HLB
Below Stone Nest
“The first time I went to Below Stone Nest on Shaftesbury Avenue, my feet hurt and I was dragging around the consequences of my urgent retail therapy. My mood would be best described as aggy with a touch of blister-sponsored hysteria. By the time I finished my negroni, I was having the time of my young hot mess life. There was a live band playing upbeat swing tunes on the stage, people seducing each other over tea light candles, and I stayed until 2am even though it was a weeknight—everyone be cool, don’t tell my boss. From the distressed tall walls to the general air that people are going to get up to all kinds of naughty things once they leave, there is something distinctly Left Bank Paris about this moody basement bar. You can’t book but every time I’ve rocked up since, I’ve walked straight in, blisters and all.” - HLB
“I was raised a good Christian girl—I know, given most of the things I’ve written for this website, we’re all surprised—and it’s for that reason that I can say I know a good church when I see one. Amazing Grace in London Bridge is a converted church hosting live music and is a great shout for anyone who spent the entirety of our many lockdowns posting ‘I miss gigs :(‘ on Twitter. The drinks are pretty standard but it’s the space and commitment to Good Tunes that really sets it apart from your average drinking den. There’s plenty of standing space in front of the stage but if you’re here for a carefully orchestrated display of your personality—some call this practice a ‘first date’—then sit up on the mezzanine. Just be sure to check out the calendar of live performances so you don’t rock up to a ‘90s tribute night when you were expecting a live jazz saxophone session.” - HLB