London’s Worst Bars For A First Date

I was originally going to call this ‘The best bars to go on a first date’ (admittedly for SEO reasons). But then I thought, no, actually you only want to take a first date to an average-to-good bar, because if it doesn’t work out (and it probably won’t), then that’s somebody else who knows about your hidden gem. Also, they might starting taking their first dates there, which would be an absolute bloody disaster.

The Folly in London Bridge is a good first date bar. It’s nice but not too nice, conveniently located, big enough to always get a seat and not wildly expensive. But it is not, objectively, a good bar. It’s sort of aggressively fine, like Snow Patrol, or lettuce.

So this isn’t a list of bars to take people you don’t know, it’s a list of bars to take the people you do. I’m always looking for new places to go though (bonus points if you can actually hear yourself think), so tell me about your favourites on Twitter.

68 and Boston, Soho
Price range:
£
Reservations: Yes, but they book up fast on weekends.

Bloody love this place. Boston is the fancyish cocktail bar on the first floor, 68 is the wine bar on the ground floor. Nine times out of ten you’re going to want the wine bar, which is notable for having forty wines by the glass. Ten of these are £20/bottle, ten £25, ten £30 and ten £35. They have a few other more special bottles too but HELLO, decent wine in Soho, for £20? Yeah, exactly.

Murder Inc,
Price range:
£
Reservations: Sort of.

Bloody stupid name, but Murder Inc is a great little underground cocktail bar just off Tottenham Court Road. If you like your drinks full of smoke and fire then their take on a Rusty Nail is a thing of beauty, and they also have a happy hour with £6 cocktails until 7pm. The website says they don’t take reservations (because ‘Fuck that’, apparently), but last time I went a bunch of tables had reservation tags on them, so maybe they changed their mind. Dress in layers because it’s absolutely boiling down there.

Unwined, Waterloo
Price range: £
Reservations: Yes.

Until very recently, Waterloo was a cesspit of mediocrity. If you wanted something decent to eat or drink, you had to walk across the bridge or get the tube to somewhere else. This was unfortunate as I have quite a few pals who live in Surrey, so Waterloo is the ideal meeting-in-the-middle spot, which is why I am SO EXCITED to have discovered Unwined. It’s a lovely little wine bar with a patio, a couple of resident calicos and all sorts of interesting bottles to try, plus a rotating kitchen residency that always pushes out very good small plates. Plus, between 3-6pm they do 50% off all their wines on tap (including prosecco), which means you can get 500ml for £11 (!)

Discount Suit Company, Shoreditch
Prince range: £
Reservations: Yes.

My housemate James, whom I have lived with for nearly ten years, was this year allowed to organise his own birthday party. Alas, he accidentally made the reservation for Tuesday 2nd April instead of Saturday 2nd February. How we laughed when we descended en masse on this relatively tiny basement bar, formerly a old tailor’s shop, only to be told our reservation wasn’t for another two months…

Anyway, it’s owned by the same people who own The Sun Tavern in Bethnal Green, which is also worth a visit, and it’s a wonderful intimate speakeasy-type cocktail bar. It’s tiny and very warm and all the cocktails are £8.50.

East London Liquor CoHackney
Prince range: ££
Reservations:
No.

ELLC started by distilling gin but now makes its own demerara rum and, uniquely among London distilleries, rye whisky. It also has an INCREDIBLE on-site bottle shop with some really unusual bottles, including whiskies from Los Angeles’ Lost Spirits. Pop in to the airy onsite bar around the corner from Victoria Park for a couple of cocktails or an exceptional G&T.

The Vault, Soho
Prince range: ££
Reservations: Yes.

If you’re not absolutely sick to the back teeth of the ‘speakeasy’ trend, The Vault is for you. Hidden below a Soho whisky shop behind a fake bookcase, it’s all exposed brickwork and Edison light bulbs, but it is cosy as hell. It specialises in more ‘experimental’ cocktails (though will always be happy to make you a classic), and drinks sit around the £10 mark.

TT Liquor, Shoreditch
Price range: ££
Reservations: Yes

What I like about TT Liquor is how hard it tries. It’s an amazing bottle shop as well as a fantastic bar – you know, the kind where you can tell the bartender what kind of thing you like and she’ll magic something up for you. They also do really VERY reasonably priced cocktail classes, educational spirit tastings and movie screenings in its own little 52-seater cinema, though you’ve got to be organised because everything sells out very quickly.

Vagabond, Fitzrovia
Price range: ££
Reservations: Yes

Vagabond gets a mention because it has over 100 wines by the glass, which is perfect if you like experimenting with more unusual wines, or if you’re going out with somebody with totally different tastes to you. You can also try fancier wines than you normally would because they’re available in smaller quantities. Wines are stored in self-serve oenomatic machines, so you’ll need to load credit onto a special refundable card before you can start your ODYSSEY OF DISCOVERY (which sounds much classier than just getting pissed on Pinot).

B’acino, Shoreditch
Prince range: £££
Reservations: Yes.

Another reliable wine bar because god knows I’m an absolute slag for one, B’acino (‘little kiss’ in Italian)  is a cosy little bolthole in Shoreditch that, crucially, has a resident dog. Most wines are around the £30-40 mark so it’s a bit swankier than the others, but it’s dead romantic and also has little pizzas.

Swift, Soho
Prince range: £££
Reservations: Yes (downstairs) and no (upstairs)

From the same people as Nightjar and Oriole – both very good bars but with live music that always, always require an advance reservation – Swift is in that weird hinterland between Soho, Leicester Square and TCR, along with the Harry Potter theatre and the Mexican restaurant disguised as a sex shop. Downstairs is a whisky bar with over 250 different drams and live music on Friday and Saturday nights; upstairs is walk-ins only and more the kind of place you pop into pre- or post-dinner…if you’re lucky because it is, naturally, always rammed. Drinks range from £10-13 (plus service).

Cahoots, Soho
Prince range:
£££
Reservations: 
Yes – recommended!

My absolute favourite place to take out-of-towners, this Blitz-themed bar disguised as a disused tube station just off Kingly Court will delight almost anyone, but especially Americans. It’s all very kitsch and honestly a bit gimmicky to be a regular hang-out, but the attention to detail is amazing and the cocktails are actually pretty good (they are £13-15 each though, so it would be truly outrageous if they weren’t).

Author: Emily Gibson

Emily is an urban adventurer, blogger and glutton foodie on an epic quest to uncover the best things to eat, drink and do in London. She lives in East London and loves ceviche, cycling and magic shows. Lifelong nemeses include beetroot, beards and wine served in tumblers.