Nina Koo-Seen-Lin discovers some of London’s cool, new(ish) subterranean hideouts.
Harrison’s basement bar in Balham (pictured above)
Co-owned by Rick Stein and Sam Harrison, the restaurant in one of the most sought after areas in London has recently undergone a refurbishment and serves delicious cocktails in low lit, swanky surroundings. Try the Gateway to the South cocktail (a concoction of Southern Comfort, peach liquor lime juice, lemongrass gomme and cherry) which will keep even the most devoted of north of the river dwellers in the Balham basement bar.
214 basement bar in Bermondsey (pictured above)
There was a time when gin was cruelly named Mother’s Ruin but that’s all changed. Gin is in and Bermondsey Street is a culinary cabaret. One of the top places to visit is 214 Bermondsey where bottles of gin come from distilleries all over the world (and also just around the corner).
Lupita East basement mezcalaria bar near Spitalfields (pictured above)
The sister venue of the Charing Cross Mexican restaurant of the same name, Lupita East boasts an underground mescal bar where restaurant diners can cool down after a mini Mexican feast of nopales (cactus) tacos. The Mexican theme is here to stay in London, but at Lupita East you’ll find authenticity.
Quiquiriqui basement bar in Shoreditch (pictured above)
Another mezcalaria (the first in London in fact) down a Shoreditch side road. If you want strong, hard liquor in a traditional-looking Mexican roadside drinking den, then this is the place to go. Embrace rounds of smoky handcrafted mezcal, and house margaritas. Ask for Jenny and you’ll receive a lesson on mezcal culture.
Reverand JW Simpson basement bar in Fitzrovia (pictured above)
Don’t worry, we haven’t fallen so far into desperation to descend into the underground cellars of the churche. The boys behind Bourne and Hollingsworth have taken over the old abode of a former clergyman. The place has been left as it was taken over, so the wood chippings and pastel tiles add the humble atmosphere that Bourne and Hollingsworth do so well. Cocktails have a vintage England feel to them, such as prune Manhattans, sherry cobblers and Port in a Storm.
Smith’s basement bar in Hammersmith (pictured above)
Downstairs drinking dens may not be the first choice on a hot summer’s day - roof terraces and beer gardens usually get the lion’s share - but come rain, come shelter and Smith’s is happy to provide. The cocktail bar underneath the Brook Green Hotel has private booths and serves free bowls of popcorn and a homemade veggie platter. Classic, martini and signature Smith cocktails are all worth a sip, but if you’re looking for something more gargantuan, look for Gustav Holst (a prim and rummy take on the fishbowl).
Vaults of Voltaire basement bar in Blackfriars (pictured above)
The private but spacious grottos of Vaults of Voltaire provide a basement bar for City of London workers to sit back and relax after a hard day in the office. Decorated in silks and animal prints and adjacent to a champagne bar with a colour palette inspired by champagne, caviar and cigars, this basement bar, perhaps, appeals more to the City gentleman.
BYOC basement bar in Covent Garden (pictured above)
Although it’s just one flight of stairs to reach this speakeasy bar, you’ll still have to work a bit harder to gain entrance to BYOC (Bring Your Own Cocktail). You must book (via email) in advance for a rather short but spectacular two-hour slot, costing £20 per person. The concept is to bring your own bottle of spirits and the bartender will create bespoke cocktails using an array of juices and syrups from an old-fashioned drinks trolley.
Coya pisco basement bar in Piccadilly (pictured above)
The summer sun in Central London can all become too much, we know. Luckily for everyone there’s a solution. Coya Pisco Bar transports you to Peru via a Piccadilly basement. It’s the place for some of the best Pisco Sour cocktails outside of South America. Munch on the cooling palm of hearts salad (made from the stem of the trunk of a palm tree) and baby squid layered with Peruvian marigold and quinoa. End with another Pisco Sour.