What you know as a speakeasy and what your great-parents knew as a speakeasy differs. Then, and we’re assuming they were living in 1920s Chicago as we write this, it was a secreted away in the basement of a petshop, with underground tunnels for transporting the liquor and a table permanently reserved for Al Capone. Now, it’s basically a theme bar. But one you’d actively want people to know you went to – they’re hardly Planet Hollywood. These are London’s finest…
There are two Purls. The original is in Marylebone, but we’re keener on the new mini version in Hampstead. Hidden above Dach & Sons Americana-inspired restaurant, although not especially well – it’s mentioned in the menu and on the website – it seats just 30 people. Dramatic presentation comes as standard. Our favourite is called (embarrassingly and predictably) Mr Hyde’s Fixer Upper, which comes in an 18th century styled poison bottle with liquid nitrogen billowing atmospherically around it.
50/54 Blandford Street, London, W1U 7HX, purl-london.com
The point of a speakeasy style bar is the exclusivity – you’re going somewhere that only a few people know exists rather than battling the crowds at, say, a Pitcher And Piano. Of course, this puts the bar itself in something of a quandary because it’s not exactly conducive to maximising profits, but this Shoreditch venue sticks to its secretive mission better than most. Nestled by fried chicken shops and newsagents, it’s jazz music and late-night cocktails are impressively out of keeping with it surroundings.
129 City Road London, Greater London EC1V 1JB, barnightjar.com
Evans & Peel Detective Agency
Hidden by a plain back door in Earl’s Court, you have to ring the buzzer for entry before traipsing down the stairs into a noirish PI’s office. The code words might take a bit of getting used to – do you want to see your desk or spend time in the holding cells (go straight to your table or spend time at the bar) – but if you’re buying into the concept, and if you’ve booked to go, we imagine you are – it’s a slice of welcome theatricality.
310c Earls Court Road, London, SW5 9BA, evansandpeel.com
La Bodegra Negra
A Mexican restaurant rather than another cocktail bar, but given a speakeasy vibe by its false exterior claiming to be just another Soho sex shop. Rest easy, it’s well guarded – you won’t have unexpected punters fooled by the outside furtively shuffling in as you’re gulping down your tostadas. If it’s drinks you’re after, the restaurant specialises in hand-crafted mezcal and tequila cocktails in its cellar bar.
9 Old Compton Street, W1D 5JF, labodeganegra.com