High 5: London’s secret venues

June 17, 2013

Books like Enid Blyton’s The Famous Five and The Secret Seven spawned a personal obsession with secret passages, bookcase doors and hidden rooms. The children’s adventure series were the reason I would knock on walls in my parents’ and friends’ houses. I loved the idea that I could sneak from room to room without anyone knowing how I got there.

I’d like to say I grew out of this… but now I’ve simply turned my attention to hidden bars and restaurants. Luckily for me, London has plenty of them. Here are my favourite five:

The Breakfast Club, Spitalfields
Kitted out in colourful 1980s kitsch – including a neon sign printed with the words ‘Sex, drugs and bacon rolls’ – this is a must for brekkie-fiends who love nothing better than syrup-soaked pancakes and epic fry-ups. But the best bit by far is the white Smeg fridge at the back of the cafe. Just say to a staff member, ‘I need to see the Mayor’ and you’ll be transported through the fridge-cum-portal into a retro cocktail bar with moose heads and a mirrored disco ball!

Callooh Callay, Shoreditch
There’s a hint to this place’s hidden secret on its web page. On a side street in East London, this cocktail bar has more to it than quirky decoration, delectable bar snacks and yummy cocktails. Step into the Narnia-esque wardrobe at the back and you’ll find a secret room for those in need of a quieter evening, tucked away from the buzzing bar.

Upstairs, Brixton
You could walk past this terraced house several times and be none the wiser about its delights. But, by its non-descript buzzer, you’ll spot a tiny little sign for ‘Upstairs’. Ring the bell and you’ll soon find yourself in a lovely little French restaurant, with a very tasty menu that changes every fortnight.

The Key, Marylebone
This new speakeasy bar in Marylebone has an intriguing entry policy – first you need to actually find the deli bar it’s situated in, and then you need a key. Tweet the bar and, once you have a secret password (which changes regularly), you’ll have to find your way to the deli’s bathroom to discover a large 1920s-decorated venue adorned with chandeliers and complete with a secret garden.

La Bodega Negra, Soho
Tucked behind the facade of a sex shop in Soho, many would miss this Mexican restaurant. Follow the bright neon sign that says ‘Come’ and a downward pointing arrow, and you’ll discover the unique underground bistro, serving Tequila, quesadillas and lamb tacos.


Laura Manning