London Nightlife

There is absolutely no reason to sit at home or in a hotel in London - the metropolis spreads out, as one commentator said, like a hungry whore. Certainly, if there's money in your pocket you can enjoy the best of what's on offer. There are some bargains to be had too, see our free  page. Don't make the mistake most tourists do: swinging London never took place out of doors: it was an indoor phenomenon in clubs, bars and nightclubs - the only people playing guitar on the steps of Eros are spanish school students.

Clubs  ~  Latin/Salsa    Pubs    Cafes    Hanging out    Restaurants


London DJs are famous the world over, earning huge sums just for playing records, and the club scene here is second to none. Clubs come and go, some going before they've come - so it's worth checking on the day if you can. The usual free and not-so-free listings magazines give a good view of the week ahead, though some have plugs to get in.

In summer the main focus is the Mediterranean Isle of Ibiza, where clubbers regard the beach as somewhere to chill after all-night sessions. Many famous DJs appear in London to promote their overseas ventures.

Again it's the choice and range that's so impressive - through the staple 2-black-guys-and-a-drumbox, through to 'cheese' and clubs where playing board games is the raison d'etre. The current trend is UK Underground Garage which the Ministry of Sound has recently gone big on. The Ministry may seem like an old established multinational, but it's really up-to-date, it's continuing success is based at being at the cutting edge, and then refining the experience. Bagley's was first, but the MOS muscled in and outdid them.

There's also, and this is very British too, a healthy cross-over between dance music and traditional ethnic music, with 'banghra' music adding in Indian Sub-Continental sounds, as well as the ubiquitous reggae, afro, latin hybrids.

The excellent NME Music Paper online has an extensive search engine for gigs and clubs - you can also buy tickets there

If you don't want to make the effort to choose then anything at the Ministry of Sound, at 103 Gaunt Street, in Elephant and Castle, Fabric (great website) at 77 Charterhouse Street off High Holborn, or at Canvas on York Way, just north of King's Cross are usually worth the effort. For sheer friendliness, vibe and effort we recommend 'Planet Angel' a cooperative run by clubbers themselves - it's the only club we've inspected in person while it was underway. E is the norm but they're responsible and helpful as well as creative - if you want to start somewhere start there.    For a safe environment for your excesses the arches is run by people who enjoy a good time, rather than concentrating on transferring money from your wallet to yours. The nature of events there vary considerably though - check what's playing, it's at the intersection of Southwark Bridge Road and Southwark Road SE1 - close to London Bridge, where the newly re-named SE ONE(the last club in the venue had a record of E deaths, despite being 20 metres away from a major hospital, now under new and very decent management) occupies a huge swathe of railway arches underneath the station itself. Lots of different clubs (and events) held here so need to check what's playing rather than just turn up.

There are a few good club sites on the web which you can consult now - most of them are too flash and difficult to navigate. A good club search engine can be found here Also try London Clubs Guest list   - though it's not too strong on the more esoteric, quirky clubs it will help you get into the mainstream ones more quickly and save money. The Guardian's free events guide, which is included in their Saturday edition is excellent and comprehensive - including 'kitsch lounge cheese' as well as clubs where you play ludo.

Soft drugs such as ecstasy are very much part of the London club scene, though not compulsory, it is possible to have a good time without them and if you can, try. We've got friends whose brains are frazzled by ecstasy use and are either on anti-depressants for the rest of their lives, or curled up in a corner crying. And quite honestly, if a club doesn't feel good unless you're E'd out of your head it probably isn't that good a club!  


London rivals the best Salsa venues in the world. There are hundreds of venues, clubs and lessons so many that they have their own magazine, Salsaworld, which you can pick up at venues such as Salsa at 96, Charing Cross Road - many of the venues cluster round this part of town, but they also spread across the city.

There are at least 10 major clubs a night.  It's not a thing to just go and do from scratch as the standard is often quite high - especially in the suburbs like Brixton where salsa parties go on til dawn. However if you sign up for a lesson you can usually go on to the club associated with it for free afterwards. There's a good guide at LondonSalsa
 UK Latino is a website dedicated to all things latin in the UK.  


Drinking in London can prove quite expensive: there's a hefty tax on alcohol, and the profit margins, especially on wine, can be very high. The 2010 Alcohol Tax report revealed that the average price of a pint of bitter in the IK is £2.58, with lager selling for £2.95. The average masks a huge spread: London prices are 35% higher than in the north-east.
In the centre pubs can get a bit rowdy after 22:00, though 'All Bar One' bars (across London) have been designed for women and present a quieter image. Remember that Brits drink in 'rounds' where one person in rotation buys drinks for all those drinking with them, and that drinks have to be purchased at the bar.

To taste the best beer look for a 'Camra' sticker or consult their website - not as complete or up to date as we would wish. This website has a good guide to real ale pubs in London. This website is an independent guide to pubs in London. We agree with most of their top 100 pubs. The Guardian ran an article on the best 200 pubs in Britain with several London pubs making the cut.. read all about it here

For a shortlist we recommend, from personal experience :

The Water Poet (9-11 Folgate Street, E1 6BX)  -  our current favourite.   Renovated and updated Georgian pub - renovated in the way a Georgian would approve of. Small rooms, three bars, great pool rooms, restaurant, entertainment space, garden, and attractive barmaids. Hidden off down a road near the top of Bishopsgate (as it becomes Norton Folgate), close to Spitalfields Market. In the process of sorting their beers out but everything else seems right. We go for the atmosphere.
The Prospect of Whitby (57 Wapping Wall, E1) an old smugglers' pub on the Thames, with plenty of character, not very accessible by public transport - and sadly, rather less character since the refit. Food not as good as claimed.
The Anchor, Bankside , old pub overlooking St Pauls, featured in the film 'Mission Impossible', and frequented by Pepys. Best for outside on summer evenings, but the inside rooms are snug too for winter. Despite the great building lacks a bit of the character it should have, due to aggressive interior decoration. (see our walk one)  
The Trafalgar Tavern, Greenwich The place to have a drink in Greenwich, overlooks the river and has plenty of period charm. If it's too crowded, the Cutty Sark pub a couple of hundred metres east along the waterfront is another good bet - though the interior of this 1700 inn has been modernised.
The George, Borough High Street. The last of the old galleried coaching Inns. Great period feel. It's actually a national monument, preserved by English Heritage (See walk one)
The Black Friar
, one of the most beautiful pubs in Britain on the corner of Queen Victoria St and Blackfriars Rd (sadly it's closed at weekends) with wonderful Pre-Raphaelite murals. A masterpiece.
Cittie of Yorke
, 22 High Holborn, at the top of Chancery Lane,  famous old pub with spectacular interior - go right to the back of the pub for the best bits.
Dickens Inn
- in St Katherine's dock - only 25 years on present site, but the building is older, a haven in an area devoid of good hostelries.
Lamb and Flag
- Rose St, Covent Garden - old slanting pub in side street opposite the Garrick Club
Olde Cheshire Cheese
- 145 Fleet Street. Pub frequented by Dickens Thackeray, and the whole literary set. Dickens' chair is still where he left it..
The Grapes
, Shepherd Market (see walk two, part two) pleasant Victorian pub in this enclave from which Mayfair takes its name.
The Goodship
Kilburn High Road, just south of Kilburn tube - very good music scene, live and DJ and the best jukebox in London. Not a quaint old pub. Good for New Years Eve.
Dog and Duck
18 Bateman Street - popular film and advertising haunt in Soho - a nice interior, though very small. But not as small as
The Rake
Winchester Walk, Borough Market SE1, which is London's smallest pub, and one of its top 5 as rated by most organs that count (nb the bladder is not an organ, though the liver brain and kidneys are).
Prince Albert
Formosa Avenue W9 - within projectile vomiting distance of Warwick Avenue tube this classy pub with a cool interior and starry/beautiful people clientele is the place to drink if you're exploring Little Venice. On a crisp November night when there's mist rubbing itself against the lamp posts it's a great place to be. Has a large restaurant - we've not eaten there but a friend who lives nearby swears by it. Look our also for the 'Enigma' bar in the basement of Turing's old house.
Admiral Duncan
- Old Compton St. London's premier gay pub - if you're into such things it's a good place to pick up information, and more. Comptons bar directly opposite is a more aggressive sort of pick-up joint. 
Pubutopia - a pub guide.


Sadly London is almost devoid of good cafes and it's often impossible to find anywhere to go after 19:00 that doesn't involve drinking alcohol - few pubs or bars serve good coffee. This is changing as competition hots up between Starbucks, Costa and Nero's - the three dominant chains.  The Independent Newspaper recently produced a list of the top 50 cafes in Europe - only one London cafe featured on the list, and we think that was put there for reasons of nationalism rather than authenticity.

TThere are many fast-in-fast-out coffee bars - too many - in London but none of them invite you to linger, and many don't keep newspapers (for that very reason). When Coffee Republic posted bad results in 2003 the Managing Director's first reaction was to promise to remove the comfy chairs and aim for a client time of 10 minutes max.

.  Cafe Nero is perhaps the trendiest of the coffee bars, especially the one on Old Compton St, and does good ciabatta, while Bar Italia, on Frith St in Soho is an institution, but hugely overpriced, and stays open til very early in the morning.
Patisserie Valerie (44, Old Compton St, Soho, 215, Brompton Road - near Harrods, and 105 Marylebone High St), and Maison Bertaux (Frith St, Soho) are great for the Viennese/German tradition of Cafe/Kuchen and retain a fifties feel. 

Hanging Out

For a cool, relaxed evening there are several places to hang out or explore: they are equally cool in the day as at night, but we include them here...

St Christopher's Place - French feel to this block of restaurants and boutiques off Oxford St, near Selfridges.
Lancashire Court is trying very hard to be the 'new' St Christopher's Place, but not really succeeding yet. Pleasant courtyards with trendy restaurants and bars linked by alleyways - it's just west of Bond Street, south of Brook Street
Shepherd's Market - same sort of feel as Christopher's Place, in Mayfair
Marylebone 'village'  the village epithet was added by estate agents, but there is a close knit feel to this area, centering on Marylebone High Street, which runs between Oxford St and Marylebone Road, just north of Bond St station.
Brick Lane
- a fascinating district colonised by waves of immigrants from the Hugenots onward.  The architecture is fascinating (unique French Styles imported) and the atmosphere now dominated by the Bengali Community. One building in particular has been a Catholic, a Protestant church, a synagogue and is currently a mosque. More Indian restaurants than we can count, displacing the older, Jewish community to the very north end of the street where Salt beef and baigels reign (though more spellings of the word beigel than we've seen anywhere).
- where all the trendy bars and restaurants are. Epicentre of cool.   Curtain Road and Rivington St mark an X at the area's epicentre - though the boundaries are always changing.  A more sedate area spreads down to the back of Liverpool St Station and the Broadgate complex. The strip from Hoxton Square down Shoreditch to the north half of Brick Lane is london's equivalent of New York's East village.
- a village on the heath which is a beautiful walk during the day, and a great place for sunset views of the City.  The pubs and restaurants in the village are immaculate.  Very wealthy people live here and the decor reflects their taste.  <

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