Sometimes ground-level venues just won't do. There's something exciting about wandering downstairs to a basement bar space that doubles up as a well-kept secret. Here are our picks for making the most of the underground tipple scene in the capital.
Tottenham Court Road
With the word 'basement' in the title, this chic Soho bar seems like a reasonable place to start. The debonair Parisian feel is evident in the stylish leather sofas, exposed brickwork and dark-wood furnishings – and in the classily understated cocktail choices like the Provence, made from vodka, cucumber, mint and lavender syrup.
We stay in Soho but take a tequila-shaped turn with this Mexican-inspired bar, where spicy street food and zesty cocktails are served in a colourful basement space that forms the lower-ground floor of the ever-popular Wahaca on Wardour Street. Over 80 fine, 100%-agave tequilas and mezcals are the specialities here drink-wise, while entertainment can be added to private events in the form of piñatas, foosball and the hazardously riveting pastime that is tequila tasting.
3. Cecil's London
For entertainment with a touch of throwback glamour, head to Cecil's in London Bridge, where the traditional speakeasy vibe is fused with a Shanghai underworld theme, reflected in the clever décor and ambience that starts with the hidden door into the shady world. The downstairs bar is an informal space for cocktails, chat and catch-up.
This Georgian townhouse, close to iconic Smithfield Market, boasts no fewer than five floors – including a rooftop garden, and a basement bar, of course. Nicknamed The Birdcage, this underground space accommodates up to 60 people for private parties, which can be complemented by DJ sets, party food and even cocktail-making classes. Signature cocktails – known as The Birds – include the Cuban Royalty, comprising dark rum, brown sugar, fresh orange, lime, mint and prosecco.
The Prohibition era of the Roaring Twenties is evoked in the speakeasy-style décor of this comfy basement bar in Marylebone, where the music recreates the Jazz Age ambience. Forgotten cocktails from a century ago are reintroduced with modern techniques to appeal to all the senses. Highlights include the innovative Mr Hyde, composed of Bacardi 8, Purl's own cola syrup, smoked and then wax sealed, and topped off with coffee fog. Just make sure you know the password to get in...
The basement section of this central bar and eatery, just a short walk from Oxford Street, is perhaps best known for its famous hip-hop karaoke nights. The space is a versatile one that can be tailored to individual events for up to 150 people, whether in terms of lighting, seating, DJ sets or live music.
With a prime West-End spot, Cahoots is the ultimate underground bar, in the most literal sense. It's themed around the London Underground, specifically from the '40s, post-war era, with the venue taking on an air-raid shelter feel – but with cocktails, swing dancing, live bands, and costumed staff in character. The whacky venue can be hired in its entirety or in part, for guests looking to sip cocktails like Boiled Beef and Carrots from milk bottles, and to dig into Blighty-based snacks like crumpets with golden syrup.
For more awesome venues – and great deals for booking them – go to hirespace.com.