Matthew Pearson

The Best Secret Bars in East London

These are the best secret bars in East London. They’re the kind of places you’ll want to take your friends or your partner or your date without telling them what it’s all about. Try and keep a lid on it until the door swings open. Try and keep it to yourself and everyone will be dead impressed when you punch a few numbers into a phone box on Kingsland Road and a secret door opens. Or you open a fridge in a restaurant and there’s a flipping cocktail bar there. Keep it to yourself that you’re going to...

  • A speakeasy under The Breakfast Club in Shoreditch
  • A place on the list of the World’s 50 Best Bars
  • A cocktail bar in a Victorian bathhouse

Well, at least try to keep it to yourself.

Happiness Forgets

A perma-fixture on the World’s 50 Best Bars list, Happiness Forgets is a small, independent subterranean bar with a big, international following. It’s perhaps best summed up by its taglines. Firstly, the battle cry of the London independent artisanal business: “High End Cocktails, Low Rent Basement.” And our personal favourite: “Great Cocktails, No Wallies.” In the basement of 8 - 9 Hoxton Square, London N1 6NU

The Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town

A secret bar beneath The Breakfast Club in Shoreditch, which you enter through a retro-looking SMEG fridge after telling a member of staff you need to see the Mayor. No, you’re not tripping. No, we’re not joking or trying to make you look like a fool. In your quest to visit the best secret bars in East London, you’re going to need to take a few risks. Flirt with the possibility of looking like a bit of a fool and tell a member of staff, “I need to see the Mayor.” For superb cocktails and all-American bar food, it’s worth the risk. The Breakfast Club, 12-16 Artillery Lane, London E1 7LS

Discount Suit Company

From the makers of Bethnal Green Road’s fantastic Sun Tavern comes Discount Suit Company, an underground cocktail bar in a space that was once a tailor’s stockroom. They’re excellent value, the cocktails here, with the menu a mix of classic old-timey charmers and signature concoctions. Look for the tired, falling-down lettering on the Wentworth Street building, spelling out (with letters missing) the name of the bar. Open the nondescript black down and head down to the bare-brick speakeasy for cocktails and cheese from Neal’s Yard. 29A Wentworth Street, Spitalfields, London E1 7TB


Nightjar is another of the best secret bars in East London to regularly make the list of the World’s 50 Best Bars. It takes its style cues from the American Prohibition era, with candles, tin cup cocktails and live jazz and swing bands every evening from 21.30. They treat alcohol, drinking and entertaining as others treat art or literature—with a respect for the traditions of the past and an embracing of the possibilities present in the future. They’ve created the ideal setting for you to get drawn into the reverence too, with a reservation and table service-only policy taking the fuss and queues and unnecessary noise out of the night out equation. They’re looking to celebrate the idea that a night out drinking cocktails is a refined, sensible and fun thing to do. No shouting or being antisocial or causing a scene. And they’re inviting you to celebrate with them. Nightjar, 129 City Road, London EV1V 1JB

Looking Glass Cocktail Club

This Hackney Road cocktail-obsessed speakeasy can be accessed by pulling a mirror next to the bar of a Hackney Road cocktail-obsessed bar. Yep, it’s a secret bar within a bar and if you find that confusing, try being the unlucky person to first stumble across this place whilst staring brokenly into the mirror wondering where all the years went and all that chub came from. The mirror swung open and all their wishes were fulfilled. They wanted another drink. They got one. This place wants to inject a little bit of hedonism into late-night Shoreditch, with high end cocktails and a relaxed ambience, a wild crowd and DJs on Fridays and Saturdays until 2.30am. You might even hear a bit of that Cockney slang that's made this area famous. 49 Hackney Road, London E2 7NX [caption id="attachment_5558" align="alignnone" width="1000"][/caption]

By Appointment Only

Imagine starting at a new office in the City. You get to the end of the first week. It’s been ok, but you’re not sure you’ll stick around for too long. Sam seems alright, Dan too. Do you want to go out for Friday drinks? Not really...but you’ve got five seconds to come up with an excuse and...they’re up. So you go, not expecting much, you’ll just join them for a half and then slip out. Hopefully you’ll be sat next to Sam. Lovely Sam. You follow the crowd out of the office and arrive at...what looks like a guard tower at the entrance to an Ottoman palace. By Liverpool St. Surrounded by glassy modernism and chain restaurants. You follow the team into the guard tower and down the steps into an opulent, wonderfully low-lit bar, the walls covered in arabesque tiles, a beautiful bar and gold and drapes all across the labyrinthine series of chambers and alcoves. This is By Appointment Only. A Friday-only, reservation-only cocktail bar under Bishopsgate, filling with elegance an old Victorian bathhouse. Maybe stay for more than a half, yeah? By Appointment Only, 7-8 Bishopsgate, London EC2M 3TJ [caption id="attachment_5561" align="alignnone" width="1000"][/caption]

La Cabina

This secret bar in East London has the kind of hidden entrance you’ve wanted to go through since you were a kid. You book and you’re given a four digit code. Punch this into a telephone box on Kingsland Road and the false back of the phone booth will swing open, revealing a staircase down to La Cabina. This place is particularly popular with those wanting to keep going until dawn, with a late license and tapas dishes served until 5am. The food fits La Cabina’s ‘From Sevilla to Shoreditch’ tagline, with menu highlights including curls of roasted octopus served with fried potatoes and a pepper sauce, and haggis scotch eggs. The cocktail list includes some inspired concoctions, including a Bloody Mary/Gazpacho mash up. Reservations essential (otherwise you’ll be randomly punching numbers into that phone box all night long). 232 Kingsland Road, Whitmore Estate, London E2 8AX Alright, now take a sit down. Catch your breath. It's not every day you learn there's a hidden city underneath the city you've been looking at all this time. We know. It's not every day you realise that all those seemingly uninviting doors/fridges/mirrors actually lead to hidden wonderlands. So just take a minute. Take a minute to catch your breath, then head here.

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