Why go to any old bar when you can squirrel yourself away to a secret spot only frequented by those in the know? You’ll need to have your wits about you to take advantage of the latest trend to sweep through London’s Soho, though. These new basement bars aren’t easy to find, but they’re definitely worth the effort. Here are our favorites. Just don’t tell anyone about them.
Old Tom & English
There’s no way you’d find this elegant joint on Wardour Street unless you were looking for it and, even then, the lettering inscribed on the brass bell is so small and subtle that you still might just walk on by. Wall-to-wall red carpet, retro Scandinavian furniture and a choice collection of lighting features create a classy 1960’s vibe, while the cocktail menu offers a few modern surprises. If you love a gin fizz, you’ll go wild for the London Sloe Fizz, a blend of homemade sloe gin and lemon juice, topped with cream soda. And fans of the old fashioned will savor the addition of smoked apple wood in this spot’s version. But it’s not just about cocktails here: four sparkling wines are available by the glass and an additional three by the bottle.
Cocktail Trading Company Development Bar and Table
Experimentation is in the air at this dark and atmospheric spot tucked away in the basement of Central & Co brasserie. The drinks themselves are a winning combination of silly and serious, served in a crazy assortment of receptacles (tin cans, rubber boots) yet presented on the extensive menu complete with a full ingredient breakdown and making method. The tenders here like to play, but they also want to educate. Order a twist on an old favorite from “The Devil You Know” section — the piña colada comes with coconut sorbet, for example — or opt for something totally unique like the Hop Buttered Bun, a combination of raisin- and nutmeg-infused Bols Genever, butter syrup, wheat beer and lime juice. You wouldn’t think there was enough room for live honky-tonk piano down here, too, but how else do you think the place is able to have such a fun, saloon feel?
Milroy’s whiskey store has been operating in Soho since 1964, but The Vault offers something new to the area: a secret speakeasy accessed via a hidden door at the back of the shop. Descend to the basement and you’ll discover a stripped-back cellar bar where traditional leather banquettes line bare brick walls and candlelight twinkles on polished wooden tables. You might expect a whiskey-focused vibe, given the location, but the mixologists at The Vault leave all that to the team upstairs (which has its own bar, in case you’re in the mood for a drop of the golden nectar). Down here it’s all about house-infused spirits and syrups blended with unusual ingredients like lemon sherbert, caramel or sage to create cocktails with an edge. The drink menu changes depending on what’s in the infusions that day, but we love The Buckley, a combination of cherry- and pear-flavored agricole rum, lime, cane sugar and egg white.