Cheers! No. 1: Secret Drinking


This occasional series about fine places of refreshment starts off with a nod to secret drinking. London is particularly fond of hiding its more interesting establishments away from casual eyes, with cocktail bars protected by passcodes and hidden messages and odd names for speakeasys like The Mayor Of Scaredy Cat Town. Even a few pubs do it; The Somers Town Coffee House is not a coffee house but a pub and restaurant. Go to the back, though, and press the bookcase to find a secret staircase and four hidden rooms.

The Vault of Soho bar is hidden behind a bookcase in Milroy’s whisky shop in Soho. Hackney Road’s The Natural Philosopher is hidden in the converted storeroom of a Mac repair shop, and there’s nothing to indicate that it’s even there. There are tailors and grocery shops that hide booze joints, but they’re not hard to find – they want customers, after all!

Over in Barcelona, tucked away in the back streets of the old town, the Paradiso appears to be a local tapas bar run by a lone chef. But go to the left of the shop and get inside the fridge. In there you’ll find an amazing speakeasy that specialises in truly outrageous cocktails. And inside one of the bathrooms you’ll find a way to open another trick door that leads to a VIP lounge – but I’m not telling you how to get in there!


Maybe this is why I hide so many bits of off information in the Bryant & May books – I love things that are hidden in plain sight…

NB A propos nothing in particular but yesterday’s blog was the first I’ve ever posted in flight. It felt terribly modern and in about three months’ time will feel terribly passé.


8 comments on “Cheers! No. 1: Secret Drinking”

  1. Wayne Mook says:

    Not all the hidden bars are so glamorous, there are a few I can think of that still have 70’s décor, artex anyone, I still know a bar that has it. Even these bars though still have a charm and life of their own.


  2. John Howard says:

    I can’t claim to have been anywhere as interesting as all the above but I have been to the oldest bar in the world, in Ferarra. No spirits or beer sold. Just wine and lots of it.

  3. Helen Martin says:

    What’s the point? Europe didn’t have dry laws so why hide the drinking joints – or am I as usual missing something. Like that drink in the pseudo pipe and the ceiling feels like the inside of a whale.

  4. Martin Tolley says:

    Helen, in the UK we weren’t dry as such, but “licensing laws” (designed during WW1 when allegedly, munitions workers were behaving dangerously around high explosives) meant that pubs and clubs had to close during the afternoons. And in Scotland bars closed at 10pm at night and all day on Sunday. Relaxation of these laws didn’t happen in England until about 2005 or so. We didn’t have drink available in supermarkets and the like then either so carefully constructed “dens” were relatively popular – and I think blind eyes were turned. I even remember in the ’70s folk in Glasgow getting on trains to London in the afternoons just because you could get a drink from the buffet on board.

  5. Helen Martin says:

    I’d forgotten about the licensing hours – must have turned off my brain. Thank you, Martin.

  6. Wayne Mook says:

    On the border of Manchester and Trafford there was a pub, The Talbot on Stretford Rd. (it was one of 3 pubs close by, The Platford and across the road The Three legs of Man, which is the only one to remain.). When I say on the border it actually went through the pub, on Sunday licencing laws in Trafford for Sunday evening was 7 to 10pm, Manchester was 7.30 to 10.30. The bar on the Trafford side would open first, but close at ten with the shutters coming down, we would then move round the corner of the bar and be happily served until 10.30 in Manchester. It was odd really. In Salford next to the market the pub had different opening times, much earlier then others, and with the lock-in, AKA private party (the till was closed so we would give the exact ‘tip’ for the round which was placed on the bar.)

    How to bend rules, the old fashioned way. The old licencing laws were odd.


  7. Ian Luck says:

    We had a pub in the area of the docks in Ipswich, called ‘The Ship Launch’ (not a pub any more sadly), that opened and shut to a strange logic. The landlord would change money for mariners, and once, when I was having lunch there with my dad, two Canadians came in. The landlord, who was also chairman of the Licenced Victualler’s Association for the area, didn’t have the Canadian exchange rate to hand, so he told these guys to order whatever they wanted, and went to his car, and drove off. About 20 minutes later, he returned with a bit of paper in his hand – he’d been into town and got the rates from several different places. He gave the paper to the Canadians, and said words to the effect of:
    “Pick one you like, and we’ll take it from there.” That sort of thing was always happening. I was in there at about midnight, playing pool with my dad, – there were a lot of people in there, too, and two policemen walked in. It went dead silent, as you’d expect.
    “As you were” said one copper “We only came in for a cup of tea and a cheese roll.”
    Not enough of that sort of boozer existing nowadays. A sad affair indeed.

  8. Helen Martin says:

    Perhaps I should turn off my brain more often. There are some wonderful stories told in those moments after my gaffes.

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