Vibrant, eclectic, diverse and full of history: the streets of Soho were once London’s red light district, home to seedy clubs and questionable basements. There’s not so much of that anymore – walk down unmarked steps these days and you’re more likely to find a luxurious drinking den than anything else – although if you look closely enough in the right places, glimpses of the decaying past can still be seen. visa.
Now known and loved as the hedonistic heart of London, as well as the spiritual home of the capital’s LGBTQ+ scene, the area buzzes with extravagantly dressed life in and out of many clubs, pubs and bars. Soho has been a drinking hotspot through the ages, from the 1600s to the 60s, tapping into 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 over the decades have been known to look to this for inspiration — or at least, claim it to be a decent excuse to drink — so it’s no surprise that numbers of bars rarely fell out. While the drinking dens that would attract Jeffrey Bernard and Francis Bacon have all but disappeared (though, gloriously, Gerry’s on Dean Street is back and in ruder health than ever), it’s still fun to have from Trisha and El Camionfine whiskey to be whipped back The Vault under Milroy’sa sense of freshness from the sixties Discreditthe attractive kind of night danger in Opiumand great wine at Crispin’s Bar. But after a bit of a reduction, here are 10 of the best places in the W1 for a drink.
Busy, buzzing and full of Old Compton Street regulars, Swift is a Soho loyalist and an almost permanent fixture near the top of lists of the best bars in London, the UK and even the world. The cocktails are strong (in drink, yes, but also in character), mostly riffs of tried-and-true classics. The place is inventive without being gimmicky or challenging: try tequila in a martini (nutty, rich and dangerously drinkable) or work your way through the extensive whiskey list. The ground floor is lively, while downstairs, in the basement, the cabins are just the place to blissfully lose track of time.
12 Old Compton Street, barswift. with
Tucked away at the end of Old Compton Street’s Charing Cross Road, Bar Termini captures the mood of 1950s Italy – Rome’s main train station in all its mid-century glory, to be precise. Complete with black and white checkered flooring, light sage leather banquettes and a staff in soft white jackets, it’s pure golden age chic. Coffee and cocktails are served short and strong: Negronis in a thimble, pre-bottled for precision and served without ice, the idea being that the first sip tastes the same as the last. It’s a purist approach, and it works — the tiny seven-table space is always packed, with a bevy of punters lining up in front, as much a feature of the place as the miniature martini glasses. Longer drinks are available and there are also charcuterie. But you’ll need to be quick; reservations keep these coveted tables for just one hour. You can also do it the Italian way and embrace those short, sharp serves – right away.
7 Old Compton Street, bar-termini-soho. with
Indian-accented cocktails from the team behind popular Kricket restaurants, served in an elegant onyx-black basement beneath Denman Street. Drinks are contemporary classics, with tastes of gimlet, Sazerac and Ramos fizz bustling with East Asian influences. Look for pickled curry leaf, cardamom and mooli among the spirits. Open until 3am, it’s perfect for a drink after enjoying yourself upstairs in the restaurant – or, for the brave, after trying out some of the other bars on this list.
14 Denman Street, somasoho. with
In 2010 there was a royal wedding, Donald Trump was nothing more damaging than a wealthy reality TV star, and the word “pandemic” sounded like the name of a blockbuster (the kind that would end up going straight to DVD – remember). their?). It was also a time when London nightlife had a real “roaring twenties” thing, with cocktails in jam jars and gin in the teacup. It was the age of the speakeasies, where staff wore braces and any bar worth the smuggled salt required a secret password to get through the door. Nightjar landed on Old Street during the height of the Prohibition fever and was promptly crowned the best bar of the moment. More than 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 jaded and generally a little grumpy, the bar’s sense of fun is as vibrant as ever, and this year brought some of that glitz to Carnaby Street’s Kingly Court. Live music, late nights and vintage spirits might just be the ticket to revive some old souls, and if Nightjar 2.0 can’t transport us back to simpler times, at least we can enjoy escapism.
49-51 Carnaby Street, nightjarcarnaby. with
The Fine White Duke
Named after one of Bowie’s most controversial alter egos, this Windmill Street newcomer already has the makings of a grand venue, all candlelit and weathered concrete walls. The central bar doubles as a cafe during the day, serving drinks at night, and the subtly Bowie-inspired (crucially, not “themed”) drinks list is peppered with clues and hints from various albums, eras, and lyrics. Last on the list, a heady mix of mezcal, Yellow Chartreuse and absinthe will take you to “…Away”, an ode to the last word of the last track from the icon’s latest studio album. A drink as smoky, rich and complex as it is strong may well send you to the stars, but another sip is something to come back to.
22b Windmill Street, thethinwhiteduke.london
This velvet-lined cocktail and natural wine bar above The Blue Posts pub is something of a hidden gem – or at least it was until Evelyn’s Table, the 12-seat restaurant on the ground floor, which received a Michelin star earlier this year and the news began to travel quickly. A particularly good spot for adventurous wine lovers and curious palates, the attentive staff can guide you through a range of low-intervention wines from around the world, with pit stops in sherry, vermouth and sake.
28 Rupert Street, theblueposts.co.uk
Below the Stone Nest
This underground hideout with live music and cocktails under an old Grade II listed chapel on the edge of Soho may be dressed up as a dive bar, but there are still freebies from the talent that keeps Jackson and Frank Boxer at the top of their game, like the artfully weathered walls, ornate gilt-topped structural columns, and the church’s sea of candles. Still, it’s worth diving into any bar that serves white port and tonic, Jean-Paul Deville Champagne and shots of Fernet Branca, especially when there’s Jägerbombs for good measure, a list of top-notch live bands, and even more. a smell of debauchery in the air (I think it’s debauchery – but then again, it’s a very old building).
136 Shaftesbury Avenue, belowsoho.london
London Gin Club
Offering more than twisted G&Ts and a bar full of flavored spirits, bartender Antim Solakov and his team serve up a collection of gin-based concoctions noted for their thoughtful details, seasonal take, and surprising flavor combinations, including black pepper. and cherry wood smoke. Gin may not be on its surprising surge of popularity yet, but for a proper cocktail made with the material, this longtime favorite (recently revived by the Inception Group, which also runs Mr Fogg’s) is the place to go.
Rua Grande Chapel 22, londonginclub. with
Not strictly a bar – the alley is in the “Cafe” – this is the place to watch the Soho wildlife that surges up and down Old Compton Street. Grab a table on the terrace for a nice glass of wine and a cigarette (whether you 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 . Cocktails are the classics, made straightforwardly but decently.
13 Old Compton Street, cafeboheme.co.uk
On the other side of Soho is Bar Crispin, a wine bar specializing in low-intervention things. While the old men who keep glasses of red and white wine in French might disagree – as can regulars at Shampers, sadly now closed and old-school – Soho has never really been about wine. Crispin, however, opened as part of a quiet revolution in the area, among newer wineries that are more laid-back. Staff here have a keen sense of getting to know drinkers on their terms – asking, for example, about favorite foods or cocktails, rather than wondering which side of the Rhone is preferred. The European-inspired food menu is also a winner.
King Street 19, barcrispin. with