I don’t know about you, but my idea of a good day out doesn’t involve warm beer. It certainly doesn’t involve said beer being spilled down my back, by a group engaged in one of the loudest conversations ever perceived by the human ear. And yet, as soon as the weather begins to resemble anything other than a Lowry painting, this becomes the way of it. Off to the pub garden we all trundle.
By virtue of being easily irritable, I’ve resolved to limit my intake of beer garden days. Doctors do not recommend more than one a week (probably). I don’t recommend them at all (definitely). Instead, I’d much rather nurse a well-made drink in a temperature regulated, subterranean bar, where everyone is seated, and no one is pretending to be nice in order to steal a cigarette filter.
Our favourite bars still need our support during summer, when everyone is, ostensibly, at a chain pub. Don’t worry. Spoons will be there when you get back. But your favourite bar may not; don’t risk it. Here’s where to head.
I’ve been engaged in a somewhat internal battle for several years, not really thinking of myself as a “cocktail person”. A recent visit to Nipperkin changed all that. Neatly folded beneath 20 Berkeley, bar manager Angelos Bafas has created a cocktail menu that spotlights hyper-seasonal British ingredients, and as such is constantly changing. There is no faff or irritating garnishes, just well-made drinks crafted in what feels like Angelo’s front room. If it’s still there, grab the tomato and elderflower for a fleshy umami bomb.
20 Berkeley Street, W1J 8EE, 20berkeley.com
Below Stone Nest
You’d be forgiven for not knowing Below Stone Nest exists; the only thing that ever gives the venue away is a stocky bodyguard who guards the door on weekends. But descend downstairs and you’re met by a veritable cave à vin underneath a Grade II listed chapel. Crumbling stonework frames a single dive bar and plenty of seating. It’s also extraordinarily well-priced for the area. Get a glass of wine for £4.50 or a shot of cafe Patron for £5. It’s no reservations, though, so get down with time to spare to avoid disappointment.
136 Shaftesbury Avenue, W1D 5EZ, stonenest.org
Sometimes, given the unpredictable climate of London’s food and drink scene, when something you love opens, you pray that it stays that way. So, when Goddard & Gibbs closed earlier this year, I thought that its basement bar, Seed Library, was also for the chop. Mercifully not. It’s a laid back Shoreditch affair from the all-pervading Mr Lyan group. Slip into a side door and let a blood orange streak guide you towards cocktails and vinyl. Go for the raspberry champagne (Laurent-Perrier’s La Cuvée mixed with raspberry eau de vie) or the apricot stone Old Fashioned. They keep a few spots for in-the-know walk-ins, but this is definitely one to book in advance.
100 Shoreditch High Street, E1 6JQ, seedlibraryshoreditch.com
Rondo La Cave
It would be remiss of me to not mention The Hoxton’s best kept secret. La Cave is downstairs at The Hoxton’s Holborn outpost and has all the hallmarks of a Parisian cave à vin, with an east London twist: Champagne riddling racks heave with bottles of natural wine, while chic little round tables are piled high with deep dish pizza. At present, the venue is closed for refurbishment, but it’ll be back come September.
The Hoxton, 199-206 High Holborn, WC1V 7BD, thehoxton.com
From the chaps behind Kricket, this is a minimalist take on a modern speakeasy — a concept often a little cringe and trite, so it’s nice to be spared the flapper girls and mounted rhino heads in favour of something a little more upmarket. A stainless steel bar takes pride of place, illuminated by hanging pendant lights. Drinks are inspired by the flavours and aromas of the Indian subcontinent and surrounding areas, with names such as Coconut, Cumin and Chaat. Very dark, very brutalist. Very me.
14 Denman Street, W1D 7HJ, somasoho.com
Another underground hotel bar, and another hit. Not only that, but Common Decency lays claim to creating my favourite cocktail in London. You’re sure to have seen the very Instagrammable, double-tap-worthy main dining room of The NoMad. It’s all sunshine and hanging plants, bougie brunch and wealthy hotel guests. But double back on yourself and you’ll find Common Decency, an homage to Oscar Wilde’s “affront to common decency” trial at Bow Street Magistrates court, where The NoMad now resides today. Common Decency is the Hyde to the restaurant’s Jekyll: opulent patterned fabric, fringed upholstered chairs and dim lighting. You know the vibes. Oh, and my favourite cocktail? The Sergeant Pepper, a heady mix of tequila, cachaça, lemon, coriander and jalapeño. They’re a dear at £17, but you’ll only need one.
NoMad London, 28 Bow Street, WC2E 7AW, thenomadhotel.com
And finally, the most recent opening from the rapidly expanding Top Cuvée team (pictured above), a business which many a budding wine enthusiast credit for their initial wine fascination. With disco balls, fun house mirrors and as much neon signage as a Shoreditch resident has any right to expect, downstairs at Cave Cuvée personifies the wine industry’s playful, irreverent side. By the glass choices change every day, but is perennially focused on the low-intervention end of the spectrum. There are also gourmet hot dogs on offer, naturally.
250A Bethnal Green Road, E2 0AA, topcuvee.com