Maybe you’re a night owl, maybe you’re jet-lagged, or maybe you’re a Londoner who is stuck in a rut of watching Netflix in your pyjamas and you need to get out! Well, lucky for you, there are plenty of ways to experience London at night ranging from themed bars to board game cafes, and cool gigs to late night eats, so today I’m giving you a few reasons to get out and enjoy London’s one-of-a-kind offerings!
Hop on the underground for a ride back to the 1940s
Cahoots is set in 1940s London and it’s also themed like the Underground; the walls are covered in maps of the stations, the tables are set up to look like you’re riding the tube, and drink pay homage to the post-war era. In other words, this bar is about as close as you’re going to get to time travel!
But finding Cahoots requires a bit of a watchful eye. To reach the entrance you’ll have to walk down a narrow little lane where the only clue is a sign that reads “to the trains”. You’ll know you’re there when you spot two bouncers in suspenders, rolled up sleeves, one with a poor boy cap and the other with sleeked back hair standing at the door. Hipsters? Perhaps, but I like to think they’re chaps from the 40s who hold the keys to the past.
They’ll show you the entrance to the underground, where you’ll have to descend a set of stairs with tiled walls, and at the bottom, you’ll turn left where you’ll likely meet a girl sporting Victory rolls and bright red lipstick. She’ll take you to your table and hand you a newspaper to browse – this is your drink menu.
On the night I visited, The Femmes were playing. They sang tunes by the Andrews Sisters and a few ‘futuristic’ tunes from the 80s and 90s tracks, and it was a grand ol’ time! Their songs had me tip-tapping my feet and snapping my fingers as I swung along to the music.
Address: 13 Kingly St, Carnaby, London
Sip on zodiac drinks in a secret den
Speaking of secret themed bars, let me tell you about Opium!
This bar is located in Chinatown, but finding it isn’t that easy! The entrance is located behind an unmarked jade-coloured door, and it’s such an unassuming and residential-looking entrance, that it’s really easy to miss. The only clue is a small gold plaque to the left of the door with the name Opium on it, so keep your eyes peeled.
Once you’ve found the door and been admitted, you have to climb several flights through a burgundy staircase. A white sign in English and Chinese characters indicates to keep climbing, so just follow it to the very top. Here you’ll find yourself in a poky attic space that’ll throw you back to London’s opium dens heydey. The ceilings are low, the floors uneven and creaky, and the whole place has a speakeasy vibe.
And you know what’s the coolest thing about Opium? They serve up drinks based on the 12 Chinese zodiac signs. How intriguing! It’s okay if you’re not too familiar with your sign because a quick flip through the menu will help you find your drink based on the year of your birth. I’m a 1987 baby, which means I’m the Year of the Rabbit.
When my drink arrived at the table, it was in a glass shaped just like a white-rabbit, which I thought was a really fun touch. Some of my friends had also ordered drinks based on the year of their birth, so we had goats and rats at the table.
However, if there’s one drink that’s the piece de resistance, it would have to be the Year of the Dragon. This drink is set ablaze and fire flashes before your eyes for a millisecond, before it is snuffed out and you are presented with your drink. Talk about a spectacle!
Oh, and did I mention that Opium is also a dim sum parlour where you can order up har gau (king prawn dumplings), siu mai (pork and prawn dumplings), char siu bau (barbecue pork buns), and more! It makes for a memorable night out in London, that’s for sure.
Address: The Jade Door, 15-16 Gerrard St, London
Try your hand at darts in a pub-themed bar
If themed bars are your thing, I have another one for you: Flight Club! This bar puts a twist on your traditional English pub and it also adds social darts into the equation.
How it works is that you book an area called an ‘oche’ where you can enjoy multi-player games with friends. The whole system is computerized, so all you have to do to set it up is snap a silly selfie at the beginning, add your name, and then the points are tracked for you – kind of like bowling!
Oh, and fun fact: they recruited someone who used to work at NASA to help them build this system so that players could focus on enjoying the game and not have to worry about doing math like with old-fashioned darts.
Now I’ve never played darts before, but I really got into it and I even managed to come in second in one of the games. Not bad for a first-timer! I’d also like to mention that they serve some pretty good thin crust pizza here! After a few rounds of games and drinks, we were starting to get a bit hungry, so we got a few of their pizza paddles to share.
Address: 55 New Oxford Street, London
Play some board games in cozy cave-like cafe
If you’re looking for something a bit more chill, London has that too!
I’m all about going to themed cafes, so I was more than a little excited to visit Draughts, a board game cafe that boasts over 800+ games.
The cafe is set in a railway arch in the heart of Hackney, which makes it feel super cozy – almost like you’re hanging out in your very own cave. At the back of the room, they have a library of sorts where you can choose a game, though that’s easier said than done when you have so many options. That’s where the staff comes in; they know their catalogue like the back of their hand and they’ll also teach you how to play any of the games they have!
That’s how I ended up playing Hive, a strategy game that’s all about trying to trap your opponent’s queen bee. Even though the game looked a bit like dominoes on the table, it was actually quite similar to chess in terms of its strategy.
After playing an analytical game, we switched things up with a dexterity game, and that’s how Riff Raff came into play. The premise is that you set up the pirate ship with its teetering mast and beams, and then each player has to take turns adding pieces to this shifting structure while trying to keep the previous pieces from toppling over. Similar to Jenga in a way!
Draughts was a lot of fun and I loved that it was a low-key place where you had a mix of couples, families, and friends, and I also liked that you had the option of enjoying a beer or just sipping on a hot cup of tea. How very English!
Address: 337 Acton Mews, Hackney, London
The Blues Kitchen
Live music in Brixton every night
Now moving on to music, catching a gig in Brixton should also be on your list. This is a super-lively neighbourhood with a Caribbean feel, and you can see bands pretty much any night of the week.
I went to The Blues Kitchen where the tagline is “Blues, Bourbon & Barbecue”. Seeing as I had just had dinner at PopBrixton just down the street, I opted out of the barbecue and bourbon, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying the music.
Broken Brass Ensemble was playing that night – they’re a band from the Netherlands that plays New Orleans brass with a fusion of funk, jazz, hip-hop and soul – and they had the crowd on fire that night.
Address: 40 Acre Lane, Brixton, London
Chow down on late night salted-beef bagels
And in case you experience some late night food cravings long after the restaurants have shut down, allow me to introduce you to Beigel Bake.
This bagel shop is located in Brick Lane and they specialize in salt beef bagels that will satiate the biggest of appetites.
You can order a few different pastries and bread rolls, but the salted beef was so good, you may as well forget the rest of the menu. Add a pickle and some mustard, and you’ve got yourself some magic.
And yes, they are open 24 hours and you’d be surprised by the lines at 4 in the morning!
Address: 159 Brick Lane, London
So there you have it – a few fun and unusual ways to experience London at night!
What are some of your favourite ways to enjoy London at night?
I visited London in partnership with Visit London and Visit Britain, but as always, all opinions expressed here are my own!