Like a litter of puppies in a ball pond, Soho is a tonne of fun packed into a small area. When it comes to drinking, you could easily follow your nose and go to wherever looks the most packed and has Beyoncé playing the loudest, but if you know where to look, there are some bars that’ll ensure you don’t end up knee-high in overpriced sambuca. Whether you’re out on the lash or just casually grabbing a pint while you wait for a space at a nearby restaurant, here are our favourite bars in Soho.
Soma is the best bar in Soho. It has a lot in common with this area’s other popular drinking dens: it’s underground, it’s relatively small, and it’s got well-dressed clientele. But the thing that sets Soma apart is the smoky, inventive takes on classic cocktails. It’s from the people behind Indian mini-chain Kricket and you can expect ingredients like kumquat and green chilli in the drinks. Everything from the long, slick bar to the early hours closing time make it impossible to leave. Hangover cures at the ready.
An honest-to-goodness cocktail bar for grown-ups, Bar Américain thinks your favourite bar hidden behind a fridge is quaint but probably a bit sh*t. Walking down the stairs at Brasserie Zédel near Piccadilly, it feels like you’ve turned up in a bar in 1930s Paris, complete with framed old pictures and comfy seats all over the place. The bartenders serve classics and will make your drink flawlessly, and while you can arguably get a better cocktail elsewhere in Soho, the atmosphere here is hard to beat. We wouldn’t judge you for nipping next door for a late-night dessert at the brasserie either.
Looking for a Soho bar that’s perfect for birthdays, first dates, third dates, and one last drink at 2am? You’ve found it. Disrepute is a deeply glamorous underground bar that is just as sophisticated as it is practical. The service is always attentive, the leather banquette seating is always packed with doey-eyed couples, and the bubbles are always flowing. In Kingly Court and open until 3am every night apart from Sundays, it has that best-kept-secret feel but trust us, it gets busy so book ahead if you’re rolling with a group.
The Blind Pig
Knock on the pig’s head below the sign for the opticians and you’ll enter a wormhole of fire breathers, naked carnival dancers, and talking animals straight out of the worst acid trip ever. Just kidding, you’ll find a cocktail bar, but it’s one of the cosiest, slickest ones in Soho. The Blind Pig is part of fancy restaurant Social Eating House, but it’s a destination in itself—upmarket, smart decor that’ll have you sidling up to strangers at the bar like Don Draper (even if you’re just ordering a shandy). Hit it for a cocktail with a few friends but don’t count on turning up unannounced at the weekend—book ahead.
Nightjar Carnaby is a cocktail bar that serves drinks that come with candy floss but isn’t one of those terrible bars that serves overpriced drinks that come with candy floss. Are you keeping up? Good. This speakeasy-type spot is soundtracked by live piano tunes, has that particularly sexy genre of low lighting, and serves quality cocktails that are creative and fun. The smoky bourbon Toronto number with orange blossom candy floss might even make you use the word ‘genius’. The bar is closed on Sundays and Mondays but has you got covered until the early hours throughout the rest of the week.
In Soho, it can be difficult to find a spontaneous place to drink good cocktails (classics, not the ones with umbrellas in them) without having to withstand a scene, or having your face pressed into a stranger’s armpit. Swift is an oasis of civility among the chaos of Old Compton Street, even on a Saturday night. The ground floor bar has an art deco feel and there’s loads of polished glass to make you feel sophisticated. It’s perfect for early evening martinis and they have a great selection of mocktails. Downstairs there's a whiskey lounge with comfy leather booths for you and a few mates to bed into for the night.
The Arts Theatre Club
When the piano doubles as a custom DJ booth, you know you’re set for a good time. The Arts Theatre Club has been open on Frith Street since Soho’s peak days of urban naughtiness and it looks like your best mate’s vintage basement flat. If, of course, your best mate was Anita Pallenberg. From the kitsch sharing teapots to the plush red seating, it’s a whole lot of fun and the selection of £10 daiquiris definitely don’t hurt either. Just be warned that the mood shifts from tipsy giggles to full-blown ‘60s club come 11pm and the party doesn’t quit until 3am.
The French House
The French House has been around for donkey’s years. Although bits and bobs have changed about this Dean Street pub since 1891, much of the experience is steeped in tradition, from only serving half pints to the no screens rule. The French is all about consumption and conversation, and once you’ve squeezed into the picture frame-filled bar area, got yourself a drink, and found yourself a spot, you might not ever want to leave.
Experimental Cocktail Club
ECC was the trendiest bar in town years ago and it’s still a pretty damn good place to get a drink in Soho. All of the hallmarks of a cool bar are there—bloke with a clipboard standing outside a random door in Chinatown, ‘secret’ stairs, a guy on the decks, and lots of people who look both richer and cooler than you inside. The drinks are great (expensive, but worth it) and it’s a banging place to spend a couple of hours getting horribly sloshed. It’s almost always packed, but you can usually slide in without a booking earlier in the week.
We’re not really sure what problem this trendy basement bar off Wardour Street is fixing, but we can only imagine how many people are in desperate need of a posh dessert to go with their cocktail. Yes, Basement Sate’s USP is desserts and cocktails, and it does them well. But you can still get a drink even if you don’t fancy anything sweet. The bar’s dimly lit, and combined with the great tunes and up-for-it crowd, it’s a good space to get a little loose with a few mates—so long as you book.
Bar Termini is a very good bar to know, mostly because the cocktails are excellent and there’s always a bumping atmosphere that’s apt for the area. The bartenders wear aprons so you can bet they’re serious about mixing you a nice drink, and there’s a dedicated negroni menu you should definitely order from. In case you get peckish, there are also little plates of posh Italian ham and cheese. The downside is that it’s ridiculously popular and can feel cramped, but as long as you treat it as a warm-up act and not as the place you’re settling into for the whole evening, you’ll have a great time.
A basement bar hidden behind a bookcase inside an old-school whisky shop? Soho really has thought of everything. A cosy little downstairs space with coves, big leather sofas, and guys with beards having intense conversations about single malts, The Vault is a good bar. And it's definitely worth dragging the one dissenter in your group here, even if they complain loudly that they ‘just wanted a vodka red bull’. As well as a good selection of whisky, from bourbons to Japanese varieties, there’s also a coconut butter old fashioned that will set the mood for a PDA-fuelled date night.
Hotel bars tend to be a bit rubbish, don’t they? Well, yeah, a lot of them are, but the one at the Ham Yard Hotel is definitely not. It’s one of most photogenic bars in town and besides feeling more like a members’ club than a bar that’s open to the public, it’s an excellent place for strong drinks and people watching. It can definitely come off as a bit see-and-be-seen, but it tends to be worth it, especially if you’re dropping in for a few drinks in the pretty lounge or on the terrace outside. The restaurant here’s not up to much, so stick to drinks before heading to dinner elsewhere.