While we're spoiled for choice when it comes to pubs and bars in London, some house little more than flat beers and pre-made 'cocktails' in plastic cups.
A trip to a bar deserves an experience far superior to the one you'd get polishing off a bottle in your pyjamas. It deserves creativity, entertainment and some solid alco-expertise.
With this in mind, we've sipped our way through the capital to curate a list of the very best watering holes around (just don't blame us for the inevitable sore head that follows).
Here is our definitive list to the best quirky bars in London:
1. The Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town
This quirky drinking den is hidden beneath The Breakfast Club in Spitalfields. Upon entering, you must tell a member of staff that you'd "like to see the mayor" and, though it seems like they're trapping you in a SMEG fridge, the disguised door actually leads you downstairs to the secret barb. Inside, you can feast on American-style diner food and dirty little drink specials (we're partial to the Peachy Keen - Roe & Co whisky, Crème de Peche, Quebradas, Chardonnay, lemon, sugar & egg white).
12-16 Artillery Ln, London E1 7LS, 020 7078 9639
2. BYOC (Bring Your Own Cocktail)
BYOC, or 'Bring Your Own Cocktail' is – you guessed it – a cocktail bar which doesn't sell alcohol. Instead, you bring your booze of choice along and watch expert mixologists transform it into custom cocktails. Though their original Soho site (below The Juice Bar in Covent Garden) is now closed, BYOC City (hidden in the basement under the James Cochran Restaurant) and BYOC Camden (behind a black door across from Mornington Crescent station) pack a prohibition-era punch their original site didn't have the space for.
11-13 Camden High St, Kings Cross, London NW1 7JE
3. Milroy's of Soho
From the street, it would be easy to assume Milroy's (which opens at 10am) was a whisky shop with some seats in it. But come 6pm, everything changes. The shop and curtained tasting bar heaves with a blended and unusually sociable crowd of grain aficionados, the malt curious, and everyone in between. A 'secret' basement bar, The Vault, is accessed by a faux bookcase in the back of the shop and offers experimental cocktails and champagne while maintaining a whisky-first emphasis
3 Greek St, Soho, London W1D 4NX
4. Evans and Peel Detective Agency
This Earl's Court dive bar masquerades as a detective agency both online and offline. In order to make a reservation, you must submit a 'case', which the 'detective' (or doorman) will question you about on arrival. The true thrills come after you're led through a secret bookcase and into the candlelit 1920s-style speakeasy. The drinks, thankfully, are just as spectacular. Try the Green Point – a blend of green Chartreuse, Rye Bulleit, dry curacao and champagne.
310c Earls Court Road W8, London SW5 9BA, 020 7373 3573
5. Experimental Cocktail Club
The blink-and-you'll-miss-it entrance to one of London's most exciting bars is nestled between two restaurants (Far East Chinese and Four Seasons) in Chinatown. The Experimental Cocktail Club's bare-brick and dimly-lit interior contribute to a cool, laid-back atmosphere that kicks off past 11pm (when a £5 cover charge also kicks in). As the name suggests, the cocktails are unusual and inventive.
13a Gerrard St, Chinatown, London W1D 5PS
6. Callooh Callay
Hot on the heels of its 10th anniversary, Shoreditch's shape-shifting cocktail bar has launched its 2019 menu – a reimagination of 80s Haynes car manuals with 26 new cocktails. Reflecting the demand for non-alcoholic tipples, the bar also now offers a homemade kombucha of the week and booze-free classics such as the Pina con Nada. All the fun with none of the hangover. At The Jubjub, the secret bar upstairs, guest bartenders take a one-month residency to explore and create to their heart's content.
65 Rivington St, London EC2A 3AY, 020 7739 4781
7. Flight Club
With outposts in Bloomsbury, Shoreditch and Victoria, this small chain of super-stylish bars has somehow made darts cool again. Though you don't have to play to stay, their 'social darts' concept means there is a strong sense of community across each oche (that's the 'playing field', to you and I). The ground-breaking technology and trackers leave no room for error whether you're a beginner or expert. We don't hate that drinks and food are delivered direct to you, either.
The 'legend' (PR story) goes that this late-night, speakeasy-style cocktail bar is run by Prohibition-era gangsters who set up shop in London. Porkie pies aside, this South Ken 'apartment' (bar) is the perfect spot for late-night shenanigans. Tokyo Sukiyaki-tei provides a small but delicious Asian menu for peckish visitors and, beyond the black door at the back of the joint, there is also a flower-walled 'Secret Garden' which doubles as a great spot for meeting strangers.
Chelsea Cloisters, 87 Sloane Ave, London, 020 7581 3355
Discreetly located near Old Street tube station, identifiable only by a small plaque and doorman, this reservations-only watering hole is one of London's hidden gems. Sit back and relax with gastro-inspired cocktails and vintage spirits, while listening to live music – everything from blues to swing.
129 City Rd, London EC1V 1JB, 020 7253 4101
10. Dr Kluger's Olde Towne Tavern
The sister bar to the Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town, Dr Kluger's is also hidden below an all-day brunch spot – in this case, The Breakfast Club Canary Wharf. At the disco ball-bedecked branch (accessed by telling a staff member you have an appointment with Dr Kluger), drinks come prescription-styled and prescription-strength, particularly the 'KlugerBombs' and twisted Aperol Spritz creations.
The Breakfast Club, Canary Wharf Crossrail, E14 5AR
11. Lounge Bohemia
Lounge Bohemia is discreetly located between a kebab shop and the Shoreditch Boxpark. Entry is by appointment only and, once inside, you'll be greeted by a Soviet-style interior and a sensational Russian-inspired drinks list. The website is as circumspect as the venue itself – just an address and a phone number are provided.
1e Great Eastern St, London EC2A 3EJ, 07720 707000
12. The Little Blue Door
The geniuses behind The Little Blue Door and The Little Yellow Door have create a home from home for their customers. Think of it as a house party that never ends; bar staff that feel like housemates, dinner parties packed with friendly strangers, hungover Sunday roasts with complimentary games, and more.
871-873, Fulham Rd, Fulham, London SW6 5HP
Underground-themed bar Cahoots is a renovated air raid shelter turned clandestine cocktail bar; complete with 1940s tube carriage, railway tracks, bartenders dressed to the nines. Simply follow Kingly Court's hidden 'To The Trains' sign and descend into the bar's makeshift ticket hall.
13 Kingly Court, Carnaby, London W1B 5PW
14. Black Rock
This bar-less bar is a mecca for whisky lovers. Instead, roaming bartenders are on hand to make tableside cocktails, while a huge table fashioned from half an 185-year-old oak tree sits in the middle, full of whisky cocktails which can poured straight from tap to glass. In their 'library', Scotch, Irish, American and Japanese whiskies are split into easily priced drams; one, two or three dots denoting a £7, £9 or £11 pour.