Picture the scene:
You’re in a stuffy pub with no air-conditioning and it’s full of lads in suits who sweat like Lee Evans and laugh with their entire bodies at every single thing their boss says OR You’re in a stuffy bar in your suit and everything around you is black, pitch darkness, all the while sunshine blares outside OR You just wanna breathe while you drink a pint, maybe have some food while enjoying the warm breeze of June, the languid humidity of July, the searing heat of August.
The answer to each is: You should go to a rooftop bar.
Not only are they practical when it’s hot as hell, they’re also absolute catnip on Instagram. At last count, on Instagram, #rooftop has 4,798,469 posts, #rooftopping has 94,668 posts and #rooftopvibes has 13,675, and it’s about time you joined the gang, isn’t it?
Here are our picks of the best, not-totally-screamingly-obvious rooftop bars in London that aren’t Sushisamba because you’re not made of money are you?
CULPEPER ROOF GARDEN (Whitechapel)
A lovely little roof terrace with a greenhose, a bar, loads of bench space, sun flowers, like those trellace things that plants climb up, weather-worn tables, and great food. Plus you get to look at the Guerkin! It looks like a giant pickle! How cool is that?
40 Commercial Street, E1 6LP
PARADISE BY WAY OF KENSAL GREEN (Kilburn)
A secret little stash of a roof terrace (albeit one with a conservatory - not sure if that counts as cheating but here the hell we are) in fashionable Kilburn, The Paradise is a bustling bar, gastropub, and live music venue with an extensive a la carte menu and an eclectic soundtrack on the ol' speakers.
19 Kilburn Lane Kilburn Lane, W10 4AE
DALSTON ROOF PARK (Dalston, obv)
This one undoubtedly is comes under the SEO-friendly designation “rooftop” and the open-air definition usually assigned to it. The Dalston Roof Park is a buzzy gaff open half the year with BBQs, fashionably give-a-shit clientele, and cocktails, pop-up food stalls, DJs, and astroturf all over the floor. It does cost £3 and there's no lift to the top, but it's well worth the admittedly quite small outlay.
Print House, 18 Ashwin St, E8 3DL
THE ROOF GARDEN (Kensington)
Yep, it’s the one with the flamingos, Tories, and deck-chairs, but The Kensington space is a genuinely very nice place to spend a few hours in the sun, with ducklings and cocktails and laughing at overheard conversations about “Mummy’s new home in Winchester”. It’s tucked away off the main high street so if you can’t find it immediately, don’t panic: you’re sorta supposed to not be able to find it right away.
99 Kensington High St, Kensington, W8 5SA
THE GOLDEN BEE (Shoreditch)
With an extensive drink list and Monday night film club (with tickets coming with unlimited popcorn and a blanket), it more than makes up for the fact that Old Street’s The Golden Bee doesn’t have a kitchen. They cool Tokyo-y lighting and club classics on the speakers really take the edge off, too.
Singer Street, EC1V 9DD
THE DRIVER (Kings Cross)
Reclaimed wooden furniture, leather sofas, and all the trimmings downstairs, up on the roof Kings Cross venue The Driver it’s a thoroughly Mediterranean affair. Unvarnished decking, stoneware chairs (and non-stone chair, don’t worry), little tables, literally loads of sunlight, The Driver’s got the lot: with a fish-heavy menu and platters (get the meat one: baby back ribs in spicy Barbecue sauce, chicken goujons, lamb minted koftas, chilli jam and homemade fries – yeah, fuckin’ boy) and a prime location for commuters.
2-4 Wharfdale Rd, Kings Cross, N1 9RY
THE FOX (Haggerston)
A real gem, The Fox is just a nice pub with a small, unassuming terrace, picnic benches and good conversation, plus the requisite reliably mixed bag clientele that only Haggerston can provide. Great beer selection, too.
372 Kingsland Road, E8 4DA
Right by Marylebone station is a little contemporary cafe atop Alfie's Antiques Market, with ace views and a clientele that's surprisingly not that unbearable. What with it being an antiques place and all, you might expect the patrons to be dressed like ghosts from a Dickensian novel only using iPads, but - depending on your threshold for a lil' boho chic - that's not the case here. Food ranges from homemade scones and the ubiquitous eggs fifteen different ways to Moroccan meatballs and aubergine parmigiana, and it's all proper delicious.
(image courtesy of TripAdvisor)
13-25 Church St, Marylebone, NW8 8DT
FALTERING FULLBACK (Finsbury Park)
Tucked away just around the corner from Finsbury Park station, away from the commuters and bowling throngs, on a leafy residential road, the Faltering Fullback is a deceptively cavernous pub with two very different rooms downstairs (one a regular pub, the other a live music venue) and upstairs, a split-level decking that attracts the sun and the cool people that come with it.
19 Perth Rd, Finsbury Park, N4 3HB
MAGIC ROUNDABOUT (Old Street)
When was the last time you went to hellscape train station Old Street, with its subterranean labyrinth and untold stationary shops? Well, now it’s got a nice club/bar in it, Magic Roundabout, with cool music and drinks and actual people having fun in a train station, and – luckily enough – a massive roof market with pop-up food stalls and bars.
Old Street Roundabout, EC1Y 1BE
MODEL MARKET (Lewisham)
To be honest, Model Market serves you serious Magic Roundabout vibes only with the added bonus of not sitting in the middle of a main road and the added clout of perennial favourite Street Feast on the booze and grub. Alcoholic slushies and beloved food van Spit and Roast are our favourite combo.
196 Lewisham High St,SE13 6LS
Cracking food in this modern cafe-bar with a laid back Italian attitude, a beautiful granite bar-top and unfussy furniture, Vivo might just be one of London’s best kept secrets. The desserts are wicked and the amount of sunshine that hits the roof (if you can get a seat) will do wonders for your vitamin D.
57-58 Upper St, Islington, N1 0NY
QUEEN OF HOXTON (Shoreditch)
Hated, adored, but never ignored, Queen of Hoxton is Shoreditch’s The Dolphin: a spot everyone likes to moan about but when they’re in there they love it. And, tbh, what’s not to enjoy about a giant decked roof with fairy-lights and a great big wigwam under which lies a twee-but-actually-quite-nice woodland themed chilling area. We love it. You’ll love it too. You haven’t gotta join in with the Wackiness – sometimes it’s just nice to have somewhere slap bang in the middle of town (they’ve got a cinema club too, showing films like The Big Lebowski on the open-air projector).
1 Curtain Rd, London EC2A 3JX