1. Plaquemine Lock, Angel
Best for: a slice of Louisiana in London
Plaquemine Lock is a true Islington hidden gem ¨C the sort of place you could wander past many times without ever quite making it inside. Once you do, you¡¯ll wish you hadn¡¯t waited so long. This buzzing, brightly decorated pub on a leafy green street next to Regent¡¯s Canal somehow captures the feeling of a relaxed night out while away on summer holidays. The food menu has a strong Southern leaning, with the Creole jambalaya ¨C a hot, tangy plate of rice, chicken, shrimp and home-made andouille sausage ¨C and the fried green tomatoes being standout dishes. On Wednesdays and Sundays, order a heady Boulevardier (a bourbon-based Negroni) and settle in for a night of live jazz or blues. On the night we went, the band had the whole crowd merrily singing along ¨C no mean feat for a Wednesday.
Address: Plaquemine Lock, 139 Graham Street, The Angel, London N1 8LB Website: plaqlock.com Telephone: +44 20 7688 1488 Live music: Wednesday evenings and Sunday afternoons (live jazz bottomless brunch from 1pm) Cover charge: Free entry
Scarfes Bar, Holborn
Best for: a cosy night of jazz and conversation
Scarfes Bar has the feel of a gentleman¡¯s club ¨C grand but relaxed, like a (very nice) living room with shelves lined with leather-bound books, large wingback chairs to melt into, and a fireplace that roars in winter. There¡¯s live jazz every night of the week which, in keeping with the thoroughly civilised setting, is just loud enough to be appreciated without drowning out any possibility of conversation. The cocktails here are as delicious as they are cheeky. Each is named after a famous figure and the menu comes with illustrations by famed caricaturist Gerald Scarfe. Our favourite is the Zingy Stardust ¨C a well-balanced and refreshing vodka, lemongrass and lime tribute to the legendary Bowie.
Address: Scarfes Bar, Rosewood London, 252 High Holborn, London WC1V 7EN Website: scarfesbar.com Live music: every night; Monday-Wednesday 8.00pm-12.00am, Thursday-Saturday 9.00pm-1.00am Cover charge: free entry
Best for: local talent in a cool, off-the-radar dive bar
This tiny dive bar in Hackney is a characterful spot with bare brick walls, fairy lights, red velvet curtains and a small jungle of potted plants. There¡¯s a jazz night on Thursdays followed by a mixed bill of acts throughout the weekend with a rosta of as yet undiscovered local talent. Folklore has an association with Bulgaria¡¯s musically-diverse and stunningly-located Meadows in the Mountains festival so you can be sure every act will be high calibre and exciting. As for the drinks, they¡¯re simple but effective ¨C lager, ale, and basic but punchy homemade cocktails.
Address: Folklore, 186 Hackney Road, London E2 7QL Website: facebook.com/186E2 Live music: Thursday-Sunday Cover charge: free, some events are ticketed
Best for: an old-timey setting and lively jazz
Few bars pull off the speakeasy-style as well as Nightjar. This Shoreditch institution, and one of the best bars in London, is hidden underground, not far from Old Street roundabout, is full of dark, cosy corners, wood panelling and antique trinkets. The drinks list spans decades and celebrates cocktails revived from as far back as the pre-Prohibition era. There¡¯s live music every night from 9.30pm ¨C a varied roster of some of the best jazz acts in the city who rarely fail to rustle up an atmosphere that¡¯s pure, scintillating fun. There¡¯s a no-standing policy, but that doesn¡¯t mean people won¡¯t be up and dancing in the aisles.
Address: Nightjar, 129 City Rd, Hoxton, London EC1V 1JB Website: barnightjar.com Live music: every night 9.30pm-11.30pm (plus late set 12.30am-1.30am on Fridays and Saturdays) Cover charge: Monday, Tuesday ¨C free; Sunday, Wednesday, Thursday ¨C ¡ê5; Friday, Saturday ¨C ¡ê8
Upstairs @ Ronnie¡¯s, Soho
Best for: diverse music tastes
Ronnie Scott¡¯s is one of the most legendary jazz clubs in the world, but those in the know head upstairs to find one of the best bars in Soho. While the main club downstairs focuses on world-class jazz, here, you¡¯ll find a broader range of sounds, including everything from jive to R&B ¨C and all without the strict no-talking-during-the-show rule. The famous red interiors are similar, but with the addition of leopard-print accents that highlight the less-serious atmosphere. To drink, there¡¯s a wine and cocktail list extensive enough to keep any London barfly happy.
Address: Upstairs @ Ronnie¡¯s, 47 Frith St, Soho, London W1D 4HT Website: ronniescotts.co.uk Live music: 6pm-3am most nights Cover charge: from ¡ê6
The Slaughtered Lamb, Clerkenwell
Best for: acoustic folk music
While at ground level The Slaughtered Lamb appears to be just another fairly standard London pub, with old-fashioned wooden tables and distressed-leather couches, it hides in its basement a snug, low-ceilinged (and therefore acoustically pleasing) live music space with one of the best folk line-ups in London. There are gigs nearly every night of the week, and while they can be booked ahead, most nights you can just turn up and buy a ticket on the door. To drink, there¡¯s an impressive range of craft beer and an even more impressive range of spirits that can be mixed any way you like. We¡¯d recommend asking for the silky-smooth Japanese Nikka Coffey gin with your tonic.
Address: The Slaughtered Lamb, 34-35 Great Sutton St, Clerkenwell, London EC1V 0DX Website: theslaughteredlambpub.com Live music: most nights Cover charge: free, events in the basement are ticketed
The Parrot, Aldwych
Best for: the chance to see an intimate performance from a big-name act
Co-founded by actor Idris Elba, The Parrot is a smart new addition to London¡¯s cocktail scene. Despite all the hype about its celebrity clientele, one of the biggest focuses here is the music. A dedicated house band plays three sets of singalong pop and theatre hits every night to an intimate audience in a setting that¡¯s all midnight-blue velvet, metallic accents and exotic greenery. Some nights, you may luck out with a surprise performance from a big-name act, or Elba himself taking a turn at DJing. On the drinks menu, there¡¯s a selection of sweet and boozy signature cocktails, alongside all the classics.
Read our full review of The Parrot in our round-up of London¡¯s best bars.
Address: The Parrot, Waldorf Hilton, Aldwych, London WC2B 4DD Website: theparrotldn.co.uk Live music: every night 6.30pm-7.30pm, 9pm-9.45pm, 10.15pm-11.00pm Cover charge: free
The Social, Fitzrovia
Best for: a party
The Social is a funky, unassuming spot tucked away in an unlikely corner of Fitzrovia. It was set up by a record company in the 1990s, so it comes as no surprise that a major priority of this bar is to provide its guests with great music. Upstairs, you¡¯ll find leather booths, a cheerfully affordable drinks list, and walls covered in work from local artists. But the real party is in the basement, where a seriously impressive list of musicians, from Jack White to The Chemical Brothers, have played. You¡¯ll find anything from club nights to rock bands here ¨C but all guarantee a wild time.
Address: The Social, 5 Little Portland St, Fitzrovia, London W1W 7JD Website: thesocial.com Live music: most nights Cover charge: free, some events are ticketed
Jack Solomons Club, Soho
Best for: eclectic music and whiskey
To get to Jack Solomons Club you need to find an entrance hidden behind a butcher¡¯s kiosk, which is fitting, given it¡¯s in the basement of Sophie’s Steakhouse. The cavernous space used to be a boxing gym (owned by the bar¡¯s namesake ¨C a prominent boxing promoter in the 1950s) but has been dressed up with a series of green-velvet curtained booths and a sprinkling of low-lit tables with comfy red leather chairs. The music here is eclectic and you could find yourself listening to anything from a guy on a keyboard to a full jazz ensemble. Whatever¡¯s on, enjoy it alongside one of the many signature pricey-but-punchy whiskey cocktails on offer ¨C we¡¯d recommend the Fen Tiger, a warming concoction of whiskey, ginger liqueur and lemon.
Address: Jack Solomons Club, 41 Great Windmill St, Soho, London W1D 7NB Website: jacksolomons.com Live music: Wednesday-Saturday Cover charge: free
Jane Jimenez for Sofar Sounds
Sofar Sounds, various locations
Best for: something unexpected
This one isn¡¯t a bar per se, but a live-music event team that organises gigs at secret locations ¨C sometimes bars, sometimes shops, sometimes someone¡¯s living room ¨C around the city. Tickets are given out by lottery and the location revealed to winners the day before. At a typical show, you¡¯ll see three up-and-coming acts who¡¯ve been selected for their different styles ¨C this could be anything from spoken word, to soulful R&B, to country rock. It¡¯s easily one of the best ways to discover new music in London.
Address: Sofar Sounds Website: sofarsounds.com Live music: most nights Cover charge: events are ticketed and cost from ¡ê12-17
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The Slaughtered Lamb
Scarfes Bar, Holborn