London’s reputation as a hub for music is well established. Ever since the ‘60s, the world has looked to the capital as a barometer for culture. But while boundaries are broken in the city’s clubs, there’s a cluster of smaller, more intimate bars where live music comes with a side of effortless style and an expertly mixed cocktail. From the stylish surrounds of our own Bassoon Piano Bar to the speakeasy ambience of the Nightjar, via classic venues like Ronnie’s Bar, we map out the best live music hotspots in London.
With its musically inspired décor designed by David Collins Studio, intimate ambience and expertly mixed bespoke cocktails served in a replica set of Queen Victoria’s glassware, Bassoon is a piano bar that pays attention to details. The same care is evident in their nightly music programme: their Signature Sessions showcase performances by a number of breakthrough acts. Indeed, Scissor Sisters and Lana Del Rey both played here before going stratospheric. Worth remembering if you want to catch the next big thing.
There’s no shortage of speakeasy-style live music bars in London, but few capture that illicit ambience quite like The Nightjar. Billing itself as a hidden slice of old world glamour, the vintage spirit menu and Art Nouveau interiors may say prohibition America, but the grandstanding, molecular cocktail menu is strictly contemporary. Live music takes many forms, but generally doesn’t stray too far from rhythm & blues, jazz, and swing. But you guessed that.
For those who like their bars petite, Cellar Door might well be the ideal haunt. Located in a tiny underground space in Aldwych (the venue fits 60), this purple-hued bar does a fine line in high-end cocktails, some of which are served in porcelain teacups. Each night they manage to make enough room for a live performance, with jazz, soul, pop and cabaret acts all stepping onto the small stage. A chic, somewhat secret spot, the fun runs late into the night.
An upscale neighbourhood surrounding a hilltop park, Primrose Hill is one of the trendiest villages in London. In the ’90s, it was home to celebrities including Jude Law and Kate Moss; nowadays, it’s noticeably calmer but just as desirable. Rows of millionaires’ mansions (owned by the likes of Jamie Oliver) surround the park, and from its grassy pinnacle visitors can discover some of the best panoramic views of the capital. Back at ground level, the Regent’s Park Road area is filled with trendy eateries, independent art galleries and upscale boutiques.
Chelsea is an affluent area that has been highly coveted for hundreds of years, long before the television show Made in Chelsea hit the country’s screens. The neighbourhood, which borders the River Thames, is notoriously exclusive and features rows of magnificent white townhouses and a magnitude of excellent restaurants and bars. As the former heart of the swinging sixties, it’s also full of shopping potential.
If you have the time to venture north, make sure to visit Highgate. The stunning hilltop neighbourhood is filled with quintessential English cafés, historic pubs, gorgeous parks and giant mansions owned by affluent Londoners such as Sting and the late George Michael. Highgate also houses one of England’s most picturesque burial places, Highgate Cemetery, where hundreds of influential people have been laid to rest. Far from spooky or macabre, the grade I-listed site is a beautiful nature reserve with some of the finest funerary architecture in the country.