You can dress all your staff up as prohibition era gangsters, decorate the entire place with moustaches and name all your drinks after breeds of cat, but you still won’t be as cool as Frank’s. The secret? It’s on top of a car park in Peckham. Now bear with us, we know that sounds less than appealing but it’s one of the best nights out in London, capped with a great view of the city skyline as the sun sets. Word is out by now though, so get there early if you want to get a seat. It’s only open from May to September, because however quirky we may be, nobody wants to be sat on top of a London car park in the middle of winter.
On paper, this East London cocktail joint has all the hallmarks of quirk-induced eye rolling (secret bar accessed through a wardrobe, punny drink names, menu in an empty cassette case). In reality, it’s utterly charming and devoid of pretension. But above all else, Callooh Callay earns its place on this list because of the quality of its drinks and the mind-bending talents of its staff. The theme may be quirky, but the execution focuses on comfort and ensuring that the experience (and it is an experience, trust us) is truly special.
BYOB is usually reserved for premises that can’t get a license, but at BYOC, bringing your own bottle is a gimmick that plays out brilliantly in practice. Book your table, pay your entry fee and bring a bottle of whatever spirit takes your fancy, then leave your night in the hands of their inventive staff who will use the many tools at their disposal to concoct a variety of cocktails based around your spirit.
‘Tropicalifornication’ might sound like a Red Hot Chilli Peppers concept album, but it’s also how Nine Lives describe the look they were going for when they took over a Victorian basement in Bermondsey and filled it with bamboo stakes, palm fronds and wicker – ending up with something that looks like a tiki bar in Anthropologie. Created with sustainability in mind (from the sound system that powered legendary next-door club, Cable, to the recycled lemon rinds that make the oils for the bar’s Aztec-influenced cocktails), they’ve literally learned how to bottle self-satisfaction – and serve it in an Easter Island head mug.
Below The Smoke
Hidden in a basement beneath a trendy Nordic smokehouse, minimalist to the point where your drink looks like it’s cluttering the table and run by someone who calls himself ‘Fantastic Mr Fox’, Below The Smoke couldn’t be more Shoreditch if it tried. But learn to relax in the whiter-than-white Ikea vibe and you’ll enjoy the best Scandinavian cocktails in London – with experimental drinks fusing dill-steeped gin, beetroot vodka and birch sap. If anyone asks, just say you “work in media”.
If you’re walking through Soho at night and you see a neon sign over a dark staircase that says “French lessons”, walk away. Unless you’re in Soho Grind, that is, a Beak Street café that arguably serves the best coffee in London – and that keeps one of the city’s hippest afterhours speakeasy bars in its basement. If you're going to try an espresso martini anywhere, this is the place to do it (and it might be the only place in town you can get drunk and eat almond croissants at the same time).