Vibrant, eclectic, diverse and full of stories: the streets of Soho were once London’s red light district, home to sleazy clubs and dodgy basements. There really isn’t much of any of that anymore – go down unmarked steps these days and you’re more likely to find a lavish drinking den than anything else – although if you look closely enough at the good spots, glimpses of the seedy past can still be seen.
Now known and loved as the hedonistic heart of London, as well as the spiritual home of the capital’s LGBTQ+ scene, the area vibrates with a flamboyant life that struts its way through the many clubs, pubs and bars. Soho has been a drinking hotspot through the ages, from the 1600s to the 60s, to the punk scene and beyond – London’s naughty corner has long attracted writers, thinkers, dreamers and drinkers . From Orwell to Oscar Wilde, Mozart to Karl Marx and Siouxsie Sioux to the Sex Pistols, artists across the decades have been known to seek inspiration here – or at least claim to be a decent excuse to drink – so this n It’s no surprise the number of bars has rarely gone down. While the drinking establishments that would attract Jeffrey Bernard and Francis Bacon have mostly disappeared (though, gloriously, at Gerry’s on Dean Street is back and healthier than ever), it’s time to have fun at by Trisha and El Trucka good whiskey to spill The vault under Milroy’sa cool look from the 60s to Disreputethe appealing kind of nocturnal danger to Opiumand excellent wine Crispy Bar. But, after some research, here are 10 of the best places in W1 to have a drink.
Busy, lively and packed with Old Compton Street regulars, Swift is a Soho mainstay and a near-permanent fixture near the top of lists of the best bars in London, the UK and even the world. The cocktails are strong (in alcohol, yes, but also in character), mostly riffs on tried-and-true classics. The place is inventive without being fancy or challenging: try the tequila version of a martini (nutty, rich and dangerously drinkable) or browse the long whiskey list. Downstairs is bustling, while downstairs in the basement den, the cabins are the perfect place to happily lose track of time.
12 Old Compton Street, barswift.com
Tucked away at the end of Charing Cross Road in Old Compton Street, Bar Termini captures the vibe of 1950s Italy – Rome’s main train station in all its mid-century glory, to be precise. Complete with black and white checkered floor tiles, pale sage leather bench seats and a crew in suave white jackets, it’s pure Golden Age chic. Coffee and cocktails are served short and strong: Negronis near the thimble, pre-bottled for precision and served without ice, the idea being that the first sip tastes just like the last. It’s a purist approach, and it works — the small seven-table space is always full, with a group of punters lining up in front of as much a feature of the place as miniature martini glasses. Longer drinks are available, and there’s charcuterie as well. But you will have to be quick; reservations keep those coveted tables for just the hour. You might as well do it the Italian way and embrace those short, sharp serves — pronto.
7 Old Compton Street, bar-termini-soho.com
Indian-flavoured cocktails from the team behind popular Kricket restaurants, served in an elegant onyx-black basement below Denman Street. Drinks are contemporary-classic, with tastes of gimlet, Sazerac and Ramos fizz stirred with East Asian influences. Look for curry leaf, cardamom and pickled mooli among the spirits. Open until 3am, it’s perfect for a nightcap after feasting on the restaurant floor – or, for the brave, after trying a few of the other bars on this list.
14 Denman Street, somasoho.com
In 2010 there was a royal wedding, Donald Trump was nothing more noxious than a wealthy reality TV star and the word “pandemic” sounded like the name of a big budget blockbuster (the kind that would have ended up going straight to DVD – remember?). It was also a time when London nightlife had a real Roaring Twenties vibe, with cocktails in jam jars and gin by the cup of tea. It was speakeasy season, where staff were shaking their suspenders and any bar worth its salt needed a secret password to get through the door. Nightjar landed on Old Street at the height of Prohibition fever and was quickly crowned the best bar around. Over a decade later, a lot may have changed, but the love for Nightjar’s slightly quirky cocktails and lavish interiors remains. While the rest of us may be older, more tired and generally a bit grumpy, the bar’s sense of fun is more vibrant than ever, and this year has brought some of that sparkle to Carnaby’s Kingly Court Street. Live music, late nights and vintage spirits might be just the ticket to reviving some old souls, and if Nightjar 2.0 can’t actually take us back to simpler times, at least we can enjoy the escape.
49-51 Carnaby Street, nightjarcarnaby.com
The slender white duke
Named after one of Bowie’s most controversial alter egos, this Windmill Street newcomer already has the makings of a great local, all candlelit and distressed concrete walls. The central bar operates as a cafe by day, serving booze by night, and the subtly Bowie-inspired (essentially, not ‘themed’) drink list is peppered with hints and clues to various albums, eras and lyrics. The last of the list, a heady mix of mezcal, Yellow Chartreuse and absinthe will take you “…Away”, an ode to the last word of the last title of the ultimate studio album of the icon. A drink as smoky, rich and complex as it is strong, it may well send you to the stars, but another sip is something to come back to.
22b Great Windmill Street, thethinwhiteduke.london
This velvet-covered natural wine and cocktail bar above The Blue Posts pub is something of a hidden gem – or at least until the refurbished table at Evelyn, the 12-seat restaurant in the basement. sol, earned a Michelin star earlier this year. and news began to travel fast. A particularly good spot for adventurous wine lovers and those with a curious palate, the attentive team can guide you through a variety of low-touch wines from around the world, with pit stops through sherry, vermouth and sake.
28 Rupert Street, theblueposts.co.uk
Under the stone nest
This underground hideout offering live music and cocktails beneath a Grade II-listed former chapel on the edge of Soho may be dressed up as a dive bar, but there are still gifts of the flair that keeps both Jackson and Frank Boxer at bay. top of their game. , like the artfully aged walls, ornate gilded structural columns, and sea of church candles. Still, any bar serving white port and tonic, Jean-Paul Deville champagne and Fernet Branca shots is worth plunging into, especially when there are Jägerbombs for good measure, a list of Top notch live bands and always a whiff of debauchery. in the air (I think it’s debauchery — but again, it’s a very old building).
136 Shaftesbury Avenue, below soho.london
The Gin Club of London
Offering more than twisted G&Ts and a back bar full of flavored spirits, top bartender Antim Solakov and his team deliver a collection of gin concoctions notable for their thoughtful details, seasonal takes, and surprising flavor pairings. , including black pepper and cherry wood smoke. Gin may not be riding its astonishing wave of popularity just yet, but for a great cocktail made with this stuff, this longtime favorite (recently revived by the band Inception, who also cater to Mr Fogg’s) is the place to go.
22 rue de la Grande Chapelle, londonginclub.com
Not strictly a bar – the clue is in the “cafe” – it’s the perfect place to spot Soho wildlife going up and down Old Compton Street. Grab a table on the terrace for a nice glass of wine and a cigarette (whether you usually smoke or not, I don’t make the rules) – it’s the kind of place that calls for a scarf, sunglasses and your friend with the most outrageous stories. The cocktails are the classics, simple but properly prepared.
13 Old Compton Street, cafeboheme.fr
Across Soho is Bar Crispin, a box of a wine bar specializing in low-touch stuff. Although old tempers stocking glasses of red and white in French might disagree — as would regulars at the sadly closed, old-fashioned Shampers — Soho was never really about wine. Crispin, however, opened as part of a quiet revolution in the region, among new, more laid-back wine bars. The staff here have a keen sense of getting to know drinkers on their terms – by asking questions about favorite foods or cocktails, for example, rather than wondering which end of the Rhône is preferred. The European-inspired cuisine menu is also a winner.
19 Kingly Street, barcrispin.com