The California insider guide to…unusual bars in London

There’s something really exciting about discovering those ‘hidden’ hotspots favoured by discerning locals whilst visiting a new city. Luckily, we’re on-hand here at The California to give you the insider info you need in order to discover some of the best and most unusual bars in London.

The city is full of great venues that are easy to reach from King’s Cross; those quirky bars in London that will give you a really authentic taste of living – and drinking – like a local.

Lighting the way: 69 Colebrooke Row

For world-class cocktails in a refined environment, head on over to The Bar With No Name whilst staying at the California.

Actually, despite the mysterious moniker, this Islington bar is known as 69 Colebrooke Row, but it still revels in its secrecy and intimate appeal. It’s fully deserving of its place as one of the most interesting bars in London.

This one-room backstreet bar mixes Film Noir drama and a 50’s Italian Café feel. The perfect place to relax in the shadows with a cocktail developed at the renowned Drink Factory near Broadway Market.

Forget being lured in with flashing lights and neon signage, an outdoor lantern is all you’ll get to light your road to discovery. To give you the head’s up, though, it’s on the corner of Colebrooke Row and Elliott’s Place.

If you want to get there by Tube, head to Angel and then make your way up the A1. Branch to the right of Islington Green, along the A104 Essex Road and then take a right into Colebrooke Row. It’s the one after St Peter’s Street.

Once inside, don’t leave without trying the Bloody Mary. A traditional choice you might think but, with its horseradish vodka and home-made pepper sauce, it’s not like anything you’ll have tasted before. Most of the cocktails cost £10.50 a pop.

The Bar With No Name is open from 5pm and closes at midnight between Sunday and Wednesday. Head over on a Thursday and enjoy an extra early-morning hour or two if you pop in on a Friday or Saturday night.

69 Colebrooke Row website

Unforgettable, maybe: Happiness Forgets

Happiness Forgets? No, it doesn’t. You won’t forget the fun in a hurry once you have discovered this hidden basement bar – unless you try one too many of the very affordable cocktails.

Find it at 8-9 Hoxton Square. That’s about a five-minute Tube ride on the Northern line between Kings Cross St Pancras and Old Street and then a seven-minute walk via Old Street and Coronet Street to Hoxton Square.

What’s the venue all about? ‘High end cocktails’ in a ‘low rent basement,’ that’s what the owner’s say. What to expect? ‘Great cocktails’ and ‘no wallies’. Sounds good!

It’s open every day between 5pm and 11pm. You can book ahead by email for between two and six people but half of all tables are kept back for walk-ins so don’t be afraid to just turn up for a drink.

Happiness Forgets website


A real tonic: Opium

Opium is so cool it doesn’t even need a sign on the door to get the punters in. Find it at 16 Gerrard Street in Chinatown, just a three-minute walk from Leicester Square Underground Station.

Once inside the three-floor venue behind the Jade Door, there’s plenty to see and more than enough experiences to try. There’s the Bartender’s table in The Academy or head to The Tea Parlour for dim sum and, of course, plenty of tea.

Want something stronger? How about spirits served up in Chinese medicine bottles in The Apothecary Bar?

If you’re in the mood for cocktails, there’s plenty of cheeky choices on offer. How about a signature Opium Cup for £13, brimming with tequila, ginger and Oolong tea, or an £11 Clover Cup of gin, raspberry and lemongrass?

Opium is open from 5pm every day, closing at 1am on Mondays and Tuesdays; at 2am on Wednesdays, at 3am Thursday to Saturday and at midnight on Sundays.

Opium website

Tequila time: El Camion/The Pink Chihuahua

If you’re in the mood for a drink and a dance – you are on holiday, after all, The El Camion Mexicano restaurant’s basement bar The Pink Chihuahua is worth exploring. Its DJs and fun-fuelling drinks menu – unsurprisingly heavy on tequila options – are sure to get your personal party started.

It’s open every day except Sunday, between 6pm and 3am, at 25-27 Brewer Street, under a five-minute stroll from the Tube station at Piccadilly Circus.

El Camion website

The friendly choice: Freud Café

Sometimes you just can’t beat a bit of old school charm. The top atmosphere, not to mention the affordable cocktails, is why locals flock to this Covent Garden basement on Shaftesbury Avenue.

At the top end of Monmouth Street, head down the steps into the high-ceilinged bar and coffee house. During the day, you’ll find locals enjoying soup and sandwiches, along with coffees of all descriptions, whilst by night, the venue is a haven for friends looking for some cocktail-fuelled fun.

Freud Café is open from noon every day, closing at 10.30pm on Sundays, 11pm Monday to Wednesday, midnight on Thursdays and 2am on Friday and Saturday nights.

Freud Cafe website

Go down the toilet: Ladies & Gents

OK, so this one in Kentish Town trades on its novelty value, but don’t be fooled. The home of vodka maestro William Borrell is one of the finest quality cocktail bars you’ll ever discover in a refurbished public toilet!

Find it in Highgate Road opposite the Kentish Town Forum. Email before noon for same-day bookings.

Ladies & Gents website

Hogging the limelight: The Blind Pig

You might not be thinking about hunting out a New York speakeasy whilst visiting a city on the other side of the Atlantic but hearing about the Blind Pig might just make you change your mind.

This cheeky little cocktail bar is a nice contrast with the Soho fine dining Social Eating House below. Visit both and make the trip well-worth the effort.

Think copper-topped bar, mirrored ceilings and lots of reclaimed wood, and you’ll get an idea of what to expect from the Blind Pig. When it comes to drinks, check out the £9.50 Last Tango in Paris, Dill or No Dill, or Silver Screen cocktails.

The Blind Pig and Social Eating House at 58 Poland Street are open Monday to Saturday between noon and 2.30pm and from 6pm until 10.30pm. Book online or call for reservations.

The Blind Pig website

Read more: The best cocktail bars near King’s Cross

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