For more drinking inspiration, see our recommendations for the best bars in London. Each SquareMeal listing features an independent review, as well as reviews from those who have visited, together with unique special offers such as free drinks and discounts.
The Vortex Jazz Club
11 Gillett Square, London, N16 8AZ
A cool cat & an old hand among the young Dalston pups that surround it, the Vortex has been keeping the jazz vibe alive for more than 20 years – for the past five or so in this slightly incongruous modern building. Don’t let the surroundings put you off though, as live music is taken seriously; it’s on every night, 365 days a year. Book in advance at weekends, when you’ll find chairs tightly packed round small wooden tables, & some of the best jazz, world music, blues & folk in town. Musicians range from young local talent to visiting world-class artists. Downstairs, the venue’s bar & restaurant is open all day, with a café-culture feel, food (brunch dishes, lunch specials, loaded burgers) sourced in large part from neighbouring Ridley Road market, & cocktails for a fiver on Wednesday nights.
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35 Chalk Farm Road, London, NW1 8AJ
If you ever need to describe Camden to a puzzled visitor, The Lock Tavern would probably be a useful starting point. In any other neighbourhood, its interior would seem tired, battered and in need of a complete overhaul; however this is Camden, where ‘grungy' is a compliment (although designers might prefer to call it ‘delightfully distressed'). It's not everyone's bottle of Peroni, but the Lock scores heavily with its live music, DJ sets and beer-absorbing comfort food – think ‘pie and a pint' offers, roasts, burgers, battered haddock and chips, bangers and mash, mezze plates and BBQs in the sunshine. Head indoors if you're looking for decibels and vibes, or seek out the roof terrace if you want to chill with a view over the Stables market; either way, this venue is right on the money.
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£50 - £79
£30 - £49
20 Arlington Street, London, SW1A 1RJ
“A classic, but still one the best” says a fan of Le Caprice, the vintage St James’s hangout that gave Caprice Holdings its name. Star-seekers, celebs and grown-up hedonists are easily seduced by its David Bailey photographs, riffing piano player and “fantastic customer service” (directed by legendary maître d' Jesus Adorno), while the food is “easy on the palate” – but irresistible in its own way. Whether you’re in the market for rigatoni with rabbit ragù, crispy duck salad, miso-marinated salmon with stir-fried shiitake mushrooms or a classic brasserie plateful such as slow-roast pork belly with black pudding mash, caramelised apples and Calvados sauce, this kitchen is a failsafe option – and decent value to boot. There’s also fun to be had when it comes to desserts such as rhubarb and custard pavlova or the Cru Virunga chocolate crunch bar with cherries. Flutes and bottles of premium fizz match the mood, or you can get your boozy kicks from the zingy cocktails and classy international wines. With weekend brunch and Sunday night jazz added to the mix, Le Caprice is “always perfect” – even after all these years.
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Boisdale of Canary Wharf
£50 - £79
Cabot Place West, London, E14 4QT
A reassuring alternative to the polished glass and hard edges of its Canary Wharf neighbours, Boisdale is positively tartan-tastic – there’s even a patterned rug for every knee out on the heated cigar terrace. It might sound doddery, but a businesslike crowd and live music (overseen by ‘sommelier of sound’ Jools Holland) add considerable verve – as does an enlivening selection of over 900 single malt whiskies. The Scottish skew continues on the menu, which opens with fine shellfish, pressed pheasant terrine and a mini roast haggis with neeps ‘n’ tatties – although mains widen the net to include, perhaps, chicken curry with winter squash dhal, poached Cornish sea bass or the house Aberdeenshire steak (served with Thai chilli mayo and the “obligatory” chips). Fittingly, a favourite wine order is “a bottle (or two) of the house claret”, polished off with something from the trolley of British farmhouse cheeses.
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£30 - £49
47 Frith Street, London, W1D 4HT
Ronnie Scott’s clientele are, first and foremost, devoted music fans, although everyone who books a spot for noshing gets a table among the tiers. Mind you, it all gets rather glitzy when big names are performing, the Champagne is flowing and the caviar section of the menu has its moment. Thankfully, staff get service out of the way before the band comes on. The kitchen is now cooking up more patriotic dishes (think ham-hock terrine and fish pie) alongside the burgers and other international favourites – artichoke and ricotta tortellini or calf’s liver with confit potato and salsify, for example. Cocktails are also served in the upstairs bar, where a younger crowd gather for funky club nights; Pete King’s ‘nohito’ is a liquid tribute to the club’s late (and teetotal) co-founder.
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30 Old Compton Street, London, W1D 4UR
Young, free and single? This one’s for you. Of course, it will help if you’re also G-A-Y, and not in the way your great-grandmother or Chris Moyles understands the term. Set over three banging floors at the heart of Boystown, one level is devoted to the birds while the lads have free range elsewhere. ‘Vertical drinking until horizontal’ (at very affordable prices) seems to be the mission statement, as the atmosphere gets frenetic and videos of Gaga, Britney and the latest pop queens du jour come fast and furious. Weekends excepted, bottles of San Miguel, Strongbow and Fosters Ice, plus glasses of house wine and spirits with mixers are practically given away at £1.60 a pop. Such discounts certainly help to finance sun-bed and hair-gel habits.
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The Old Blue Last
38 Great Eastern Street, London, EC2A 3ES
No-frills drinking den The Old Blue Last doesn’t exactly follow the Shoreditch template – not in terms of looks, anyway. With its sparse decor & black wooden floor, you’d be forgiven for thinking that this is a proper spit-&-sawdust joint, yet it has garnered a clutch of awards & untold praise, mainly thanks to its owners, Vice magazine, who have imbued the OBL with an edgy sense of cool. Bands & DJs play every night, & it’s often the first chance to see acts before they hit the big time – 2011 saw gigs by The Vaccines, for example, while artists such as Arctic Monkeys & Lily Allen played here in their pomp. Beer is the booze of choice, with Stella, Guinness & Beck’s regularly available on draught.
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36 Stoke Newington Road, London, N16 7XJ
Salvaged from the shell of cult classic DJ bar/club/live-music venue Barden’s Boudoir, The Nest comes courtesy of the crew from Paradise by way of Kensal Green & the Old Queen’s Head, Islington. This tight, dark, no-frills shoebox of a place piles on the building-site chic, & feeds the music crowd with electro, wired techno, freakbeat & thrashing guitars from mostly new acts; night owls also rock on through until 4am at hook-ups such as The Kool Kids Club. Trendy beers include Sagres & Sol, & the drinks list extends to a fair range of high-end brands, cocktails at £7 & wine from £3.50 a glass – plus bottles of Bolly at £67.50 for Miss Dynamite & Mark Ronson wannabes. Expect a door charge (& queues) after 10pm.
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17 Berkeley Street, W1J 8EA
Replete with swathes of red velvet, powder-blue armchairs, ostentatious trappings and nightly live music (often jazz), Park Chinois is an opulent take on a 1930s Shanghai speakeasy that is built for big-money special-occasion dining – complete with a Chinese menu designed around separate western-style courses and served by “impeccable” staff. Dim sum is a top shout at Park Chinois, and rightly so: we love the spicy intensity of the Szechuan vegetable dumplings, the oh-so-crispy duck spring rolls and the summer truffle bao buns. Order from the carte and you might be treated to braised short-ribs with black bean sauce, red prawns with coconut, okra and tamarind or a veggie claypot of aubergines and tofu – although big groups go for the roasted-to-order full-strength Peking duck served with pancakes, shredded cucumber and baby leeks. To finish, there are some unmissable westernised desserts – do try the vanilla cheesecake twinned with passion fruit and strawberry sorbet. Alternatively, if you’re looking for something sultry, head downstairs to the plush-yet-cosy Club Chinois, where the entertainment is a little more risqué.
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The Blues Kitchen Camden
£30 - £49
111-113 Camden High Street, London, NW1 7JN
There’s no need to feel blue at Camden’s spirited soul shack, where food from America’s deep south, nightly live music and a bumper crop of bourbon combine to make a lively New Orleans-style night out. Drink and music take centre stage. Liquid enticements include cracking old fashioned and whisky sour cocktails, as well as milkshakes spiked with booze; aural stimulations comprise an impressive roll-call of bands (Seasick Steve and the Mystery Jets are past performers). Food is less impressive, though big booths, 1950s' memorabilia, neon signs and gingham wallpaper form an appropriate backdrop for a menu that will horrify calorie counters. Fatten up with buffalo wings and blue-cheese dip, seafood jambalaya, smoky barbecue ribs, or stacked pancakes with bacon and maple syrup for Sunday brunch.
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90 Lots Road, London, SW10 0QD
This 30-year-old institution continues to showcase live jazz seven nights a week from its discreet basement premises behind an unmarked door on Lots Road, & non-members can enjoy the sessions so long as they are ordering dinner with their drinks. The menu offers straightforward pickings, from Japanese-style prawns via grilled calf’s liver with new potatoes & a tomato & red onion salad to berry crème brûlée. Prices aren’t exactly cheap, but the quality of the music & the atmospheric setting (murals of jazz greats, old tables clustered around the stage) makes any outlay more than worth it. Be warned: boozy chatter during performances is frowned upon, so sit tight & enjoy the sounds. Annual membership will set you back £95, although it guarantees priority booking at the weekend.
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The Spice of Life
6 Moor Street, London, W1D 5NA
The ‘backstage bar’ at The Spice of Life is a music cellar that boasts an impressive past: Paul Simon, Cat Stevens & Dylan played it, & the Sex Pistols practically lived in it. The next Jamie Cullum might fancy his chances at Monday’s open-mic session, while the remainder of the week is given over to jazz, swing & world music – or indie/dance at weekends. A trio of draught McMullens ales is on song at the bar, & there’s decent wine to be had for £13 (Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon), with the rest of the list coming in below £20 or thereabouts. Food comprises anything from edamame beans to hefty wild-boar bangers, grazing slates & all-day breakfast butties, while meatballs & couscous are laced with harissa, the spice of Tunisian life.
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Jazz After Dark
9 Greek Street, London, W1D 4DQ
It would have made a great location for The Sopranos, but the top notes at this offbeat art gallery-cum-cocktail lounge/diner aren’t operatic: the clue is in the name. Sip champagne from £40 & wines by the carafe (£13); double that for a bottle of acceptable Aussie Chardonnay. A small cover charge applies for live jazz, blues & soul with roots in Memphis & New Orleans – think Harry, Elmore & Etta James respectively. It’s been many decades since Tequila sunrise (£17.95 by the jug) was last described as ‘exotic’, & there’s also piña colada from a ‘frantic & creamy’ selection of nostalgic cocktails. To eat, meatballs join crumbed garlic mushrooms, steak-frites & southern-fried chicken on the quaint menu at this curiously engaging rough diamond with its heart in the 50s.
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2 Empire Mews, London, SW16 2ED
It’s great news for Streatham that Hideaway has found its feet so fast. There are precious few venues that successfully combine good food & drink with live jazz & comedy. This pleasing, post-industrial space was once a snooker hall, but noise levels are low enough for diners to talk to each other (hush generally descends during performances). The bar has a concise but well-annotated wine list, though jazz lovers should sample the cocktails – a homage to great drinks & great performers of the 20th century. The food menu changes regularly, yet contains influences from across the planet; Mauritian pork & pineapple curry or jerk chicken might appear alongside run-of-the-mill steaks & burgers. Portions are generous, which is no bad thing – puddings aren’t worth saving space for.
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Ain't Nothin' But... The Blues Bar
20 Kingly Street, London, W1B 5PZ
Arrive before 7.30pm, or be prepared to queue outside. This pecan-toned juke joint – a reasonably authentic tribute to Basin Street – has built up a devoted fan base since opening, & comes flanked by a hickory-smoked hotchpotch of Americana. You might find the next Big Mama Thornton or Screamin’ Jay Hawkins letting rip with deep, gritty, got-it-bad blues during the open mic sessions; otherwise hot jams, harmonicas & boot-scootin’ boogie are provided by house heroes Rollo Markee & the Tail Shakers or Gentleman Tim & the Contenders, seven days a week. To drink, stick with Marlboro Man hooch: Jack Daniel’s, Jim Beam or Johnnie Walker with a Bitburger or beer on the side. Wines for your belle are served by staff whose Southern charm can occasionally go west.
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96-98 Pentonville Road, London, N1 9JB
Despite its recent facelift – scarlet floral flock wallpaper, crystal chandeliers, steer skulls – the Deep South-themed Lexington still resembles a seedy saloon in Lexington, Kentucky. At its long bar, choose from nigh-on 100 American ryes and small-batch bourbons. Whiskey-based cocktails such as Boulevardier and Red Rye (a Manhattan made with Fernet Branca) are decent sips at £7, but we’d also like to see Juleps in all their juicy variations. Otherwise, order wine from £19, Goose Island and Anchor Steam among the quality American beers and artisanal ciders, and draught London craft ales from the likes of Hammerton and Sambrook’s. New on a menu that includes various burgers, meze and tacos, is a range of pies, served with mash for £10.50. You can hear yourself speak in the main bar; thumping bass and screaming guitars are restricted to the upstairs club room, where live acts of the Iggy Pop-ilk take the stage.
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64 Lant Street, London, SE1 1QN
Saved from property developers via an Asset of Community Value order from Southwark Council, The Gladstone was mentioned in The Pickwick Papers by Dickens. In early 2017 this compact tavern (rebuilt during the interwar years) was titivated and relaunched under rookie new owners. It now comprises a utilitarian blue-grey ground-floor public bar, upstairs lounge and roof terrace. Tap ales include St Austell Tribute, Bermondsey honey beer, Hiver, and three from Meantime. Inexpensive wine is provided by neighbours Lant Street Wine Co; try the floral-fresh Gewürtztraminer or plummy Kiwi Pinot Noir, to go with the likes of lamb meatballs with BBQ sauce, or mushroom pâté-stuffed vols-au-vent. Otherwise, sip a gin, hibiscus and summer-berry Bellini or Gladstone Cocktail (a whiskey and tonka-bean Old Fashioned) and enjoy live jazz and folk, and DJ sets. Music is in the DNA here; Ellie Goulding and Noah and the Whale are among those to have performed.
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The Grand Caffe Concerto at Westfield
su2024, The Village Westfield Shopping Centre, Ariel Way, London, W12 7GE
A unique venue in the glamorous Westfield shopping centre, Caffé Concerto brings together live music with brasserie dining. A sophisticated dining room with a strong music policy, Caffé Concerto presents a stunning calendar of events with regular live performances of jazz, soul and funk from high quality acts in the evenings and a piano/saxophone duo providing a smooth accompaniment to lunch. Surrounding the gleaming grand piano is a number of tables populated with both shoppers and those who have made the visit solely to dine on the fine Italian menu. Here you"ll find Caffé Concerto's kitchen which focuses on favourites of the Italian table, from carbonara to chicken Milanese, accompanied by top quality classic wines. Bar snacks are also available.
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70 Hoxton Street, London, N1 6LP
Strike a Primal Scream retro pose as you hit the scene at this much-adored live music pub and well-respected springboard for supernova success. Playing the dog-eared Macbeth certainly proved no curse for the likes of James Blake, Paloma Faith, The Cribs, Professor Green and Example… for example. To drink, order craft beers from the likes of BrewDog, Beavertown and The Kernel, or go for Tequila and Bourbon, Sangiovese at just £15 or Perrier-Jouët Champagne (£45) – if a wadded A&R man is in the chair. Otherwise, head upstairs to Badar's cocktail lounge – a more recent hit, open Thursday to Saturday nights. Smart calls in this hipster joint include Southside Hoxton (a spiced gin sour), Negronis in Paris, and a bourbon, lemon, blood orange and red wine job called Who Needs Bloody New York. Who indeed?
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£30 - £49
106 Parkway, London, NW1 7AN
Camden’s bohemian contingent loves this bar-restaurant/live-music venue. Such folk are particularly taken with Green Note’s worn-in, carefree looks, and feel inspired by the international line-up of folk, blues, jazz and country acts. An added attraction is the organic vegetarian menu: a creative, colourful ensemble of world tapas with pitch-perfect flavouring – mango and pepper quesadilla, for instance, or arancini (risotto balls) with tomato and chilli chutney, or herby falafel. If the food appeals but not the music, reserve a table in the quiet front room. Otherwise you’ll be dining in the gig space behind, where tables are stashed around a small stage: certainly an intimate venue, but not the place for dinner and a chat. Either way, book in advance, as legions of fans are likely to descend.
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£30 - £49
Kingsland Viaduct, 83 Rivington Street, London, EC2A 3AY
Its original black-sheep clientele may have moved on to pastures edgier, but this long-running Shoreditch bar/nightclub still packs a crowd – albeit of a more mainstream, casual bent. Funky late-late DJ sets and gigs from up-and-coming talent in the brick-arched live lounge are part of the draw – so is the chill-out terrace with BBQ and a canteen, whose no-nonsense plates of lamb meatballs, Caesar salad, jerk-chicken burgers, tapas and pizzas are served until the party kicks in at around 10.30pm. Around £4.50 pays for a glass of house Chardonnay or Merlot from the terse wine list, as well as bottles of Sagres, Pacifico or Rekorderlig; mid-priced cocktails might also tempt some punters. Apparently, anyone caught referring to the place as ‘Cargos' will not be admitted by the security enforcers.
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The Half Moon Putney
93 Lower Richmond Road, Putney, London, SW15 1EU
For decades, this Putney pub’s bijou stage has hosted everyone from The Stones & The Who to KD Lang & U2 – & thanks to its new backers, Geronimo Inns, it may even outlast Bono’s career. The Half Moon’s atmospheric live gig room, largely untouched, features an eclectic mix of strummers, blowers & crooners nightly, while the bar functions as a separate space – so earplugs aren’t necessary with your glass of fruity Syrah/Grenache house red or pint of local ale from Battersea microbrewer, Sambrook’s. The lounge bar (there's a garden too) has been given a typical Geronimo makeover – a slightly overstuffed, updated idea of what a trad boozer should look like, complete with a menu of Brit comfort food for today’s Cath Kidston classes: cured meats & pickles, eggs & bacon, fish & chips, apple pie & custard. Ultimately, it’s more Mick Hucknall than Mick Jagger.
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