Drinking in East London (Part One)
I’ve lived in London for almost three years now, and I’m starting to feel like a real, proper Londoner. My Oyster card never leaves my sight, I can get across the city at rush hour without even breaking a sweat, and tourists have started asking me for directions (I feel like my enthusiasm and charm make up for my lack of actual geographical knowledge in this department). I love having friends visit me, and I often plan ahead to take them to a favourite bar or restaurant of mine, and wow them with all the cool things London has to offer. Sometimes, though, I find myself in a part of the city I’m not too familiar with, desperately trying to think of a place nearby where we can go and have a drink.
In case you ever find yourself in that situation, I’ve put together a go-to guide for bars that will wow your guests and make you look like the coolest host ever. These are all easy to access from Central London (with a slight bias towards the East because East London is the best), and are all reliable favourites of mine.
Here we go –
If you can get to Liverpool Street (if you’re on the central line, the Hammersmith and City line, or to the east of zone one), you can get to:
This lively bar lit with yellow neon lights really comes alive on weeknights when the stockbrokers and the city kids pile out of the surrounding skyscrapers and into the effortlessly cool interior of The Alchemist for after work drinks. The attached restaurant would be an impressive first date location (it makes you look cool, shows you have great taste in decor, and allows you to slide ever-so-smoothly into the cocktail bar for more drinks), but the open plan bar really speaks for itself. The wall of glass window panes which separates the bar from the restaurant, and the industrial pipework propping up the spirits and bottles are particularly instagrammable. It’s the cocktails, though, that really steal the show here. Drinks such as ‘the colour changing one’ or ‘the rum smuggler’ are served up smoking, bubbling or simmering away in an impressive array of bottles, test tubes and other equipment suitable for a real alchemist’s lair.
Impress your guests: It’s going to be busy – book a table in advance if you’re planning to take a larger group, but if not (and who has the foresight to book a table, really?) grab a spot at the bar and keep your eye out for one of the coveted booths against the back wall. For bonus points, enter through the restaurant- you’ll skip the queue at the front door and your guests will get a peek at the full Alchemist experience.
What to drink: Take your pick, pretty much anything is a winner in here but if it includes the words ‘smoke’ or ‘blowtorch’, prepare to be amazed. The menu is organised by spirits, and everything comes in very reasonably at £9-15. For those who don’t drink, the virgin mojito is one of the best I’ve ever had.
The Mayor of Scaredy cat town
Located in the basement of the (truly fantastic and very popular) ‘Breakfast Club’ just off Liverpool St, The Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town is accessed through the door of an old SMEG fridge standing inconspicuously in the corner of the restaurant. Downstairs, the intimate atmosphere and cool retro vibes foster good conversation and the sense that you’re really discovering London, one cocktail at a time. The waiters are super friendly, and happy to make recommendations, and you can even order food along with an impressive range of drinks.
Impress your friends: You just found a speakeasy by walking through a fridge door. Your work here is done, my friend.
What to drink: The drinks here change pretty regularly, but a recent favourite is the ‘Peat-Nut Butter Cup’, made with Bourbon and Advocaat. Perfect if (like me) you like your cocktails to taste like dessert. The ‘Blood and Slander’ also deserves a mention, if only for its fantastic name, made with orange bitters and Bourbon this a more ‘grown up’ drink for those people who actually enjoy the taste of alcohol (maniacs). The drinks are all £9 or £10 too – bargain.
Apples and Pears
Another Shoreditch destination rocking a casual and oh-so-cool vibe. Exposed brick walls, murals, a basement complete with DJ and dance floor, and the best cocktails I’ve ever tasted – what more could you ask for? This bar, located between Brick Lane and Liverpool Street, attracts a varied clientele of hipsters, business men and everything in between, and the barmen really know what they’re doing. Particularly lively on the weekends, this is a reliable favourite that you can get to easily from almost anywhere in East London, thanks to its proximity to Aldgate East, Whitechapel, Shoreditch High Street and Liverpool Street stations.
I’ve written more about Apples and Pears here.
Impress your friends: This little bar is tucked away in Osborn street, just thirty seconds from Brick Lane and the start of the infamous curry mile. The Indian restaurants will compete for your business, so wait for an offer you really can’t refuse (I’ve been offered anything from free starters to 25% off my bill), grab yourself some really great Indian food, and then head to Apples and Pears. If you’re really celebrating, most of the curry houses are BYOB so make sure you stock up on bottles of wine to get your evening started. For bonus points – once you’re inside Apples and Pears, walk up both flights of stairs to the bathrooms, in six inch heels, without falling over. I dare you.
What to drink: Ask your barman for a recommendation, or try one of the specials listed on the chalk board for the freshest ideas. The Swedish Pornstar is a fruity favourite, or Mr Tom’s Nuts is another tasty combo of peanut butter and alcohol. What’s not to love? Everything comes in at around £12, and it’s worth every penny.
The Drunken Monkey
Conveniently located next to the open air food market Dinerama, which is a huge hit in the summer with its food stalls, rooftop seating and indie vibe, The Drunken Monkey is a small, lively venue which serves Dim Sum all day (and all of the night). There isn’t that much room to sit down, but it’s easy to crowd in around the bar and get stuck in to the relaxed atmosphere. The staff are super friendly, there’s often offers on beer (4 for £10, anyone?), and the Oriental decor makes you feel like you’ve stepped off the streets of London into somewhere just a little bit different.
Impress your friends: This place really is a hidden gem, standing quite inauspiciously on a crossroads, it’s probably the last place you’d expect there to be amazing food and cocktails. Drag your friends inside and prepare for them to be surprised!
What to drink: The Monkey has transformed the humble mojito into a work of art, and the strawberry lemonade is another classic which this place really knocks out of the park. At just £5 during happy hour, you can’t go wrong.
The Queen of Hoxton
This venue, situated a little off the beaten track, just beyond Liverpool St Station, is just plain cool. In amongst the retro games machines, the photobooth and the graffiti murals, you could find anything from a table tennis tournament to live music or a packed club night. The real showstopper, though, is on the roof. A huge wigwam complete with a wooden tree (which you can climb to the top of) has been erected on the roof of the building, with plenty of sofas and tables, and an outdoor seating area (complete with log fire) where you can buy food, or simply enjoy the fairytale-feeling of the whole space. This is quickly becoming one of my favourite spots in East London, and it’s definitely something a little bit different for a girls night out or a date night.
Impress your friends: The food served on the roof is delicious, and the perfect antidote to midnight cravings for McDonalds (we’ve all been there!). You can choose from veggie or meat burgers, all served with chips and a speciality hot sauce.
What to drink: The Queen of Hoxton has put together a fantastic cocktail menu featuring loads of exciting ingredients (they even use almond milk – what a champ), but I’m a sucker for the ‘Don’t Go To Dalston’ which features raspberry puree and Prosecco.
I really hope you check some of these out and find some new favourites! I’ve got even more up my sleeve so stay tuned for part two of this series.