All over the UK, there’s something stirring behind closed doors. The ‘speakeasy’ bar is back in business, with floods of secret bars making their presence not-so-known in every corner and crevice of the UK.
But since the prohibition era of 1930s America is ancient history now, why is the concept of drinking in secret becoming increasingly popular on British shores?
Shyam Lakhani, Director of The Bottle Club suggest's that: “In a world dominated by social media stories and online advertising, many are drawn to the idea of exclusivity. Providing what the consumer craves through secrecy and rarity, the ‘speakeasy’ drives our deepest desire to uncover the mystery, discover the story for ourselves and be part of a premium experience, all at once.”
We at The Bottle Club wanted to find the best-hidden gem bars from around the UK. But with so many bars doing their best to stay secret, this took some extensive research, both online and on the ground. However, several large drinks later, we uncovered the best ‘mystery’ bars that 25 of the UK’s most vibrant cities had to offer.
For each ‘speakeasy’ to qualify as one of the UK’s most mysterious bars, each bar was ranked against five important factors, for a score out of ten for each factor:
- Secrecy: How good is each ‘speakeasy’ at keeping its secrets, based on its number of Instagram followers.
- Creativity: How well does each bar disguise its entrance, how difficult is to get inside and how interesting are the interiors?
- Cocktail Range: Taking into account both the quality and the quantity of the cocktail choices.
- Cost: How affordable are the drinks? What are the cheapest, most expensive and average prices of cocktails?
- Google Ratings: How well-rated are the bars online… by the people who managed to find them at least.
Get ready to be guided behind every red curtain, down every secret staircase and through every nonchalant nook and cranny in the UK as we reveal the most mysterious bars in the UK.
Mapped: The best mysterious bars in 25 UK cities
From the big city to the countryside, there’s probably a handful of bars you’ve never visited, which you’ve been meaning to tick off your checklist. If you happen to reside in one of the 25 major UK cities included in our index, you may discover a whole host of watering holes that you’ve never even heard of.
Unsurprisingly, with it being the most populated city in the UK, London tops the list with the most mysterious bars. According to our research, England’s capital city boasts fifteen of the best ‘mystery’ bars, perfect for spending an evening sipping spirits in secret.
With something intriguing happening in every corner of the city, London’s ‘mystery’ bars have to get creative with the appearance of their entrances. Take the Natural Philosopher for example, this herbal medicine themed bar boasts an array of extravagant beverages inside, but on the surface, resembles an Apple Mac repair shop. Those turning up to get their laptop fixed might be disappointed when they’re presented with a floral Rambutan cocktail.
London couldn’t possibly do ‘mystery’ bars without having a few masquerading as Underground tube stations, and four different establishments delivered on this concept. Just North of the city, you can grab a drink at the Ladies & Gents Cocktail Bar in Kentish Town, head to the Strand to find the cabaret themed Cellar Door, or set off to Shoreditch where you’ll find the glamorous Night Jar, or even try a cocktail on an actual repurposed tube train at Cahoots situated in Soho.
London can be notoriously expensive, but which of the big smoke’s secret bars boasts the most expensive cocktail, and which offers the cheapest?
The priciest cocktail in the capital city is found in Chelsea-based speakeasy Barts and is valued at £17. On the opposite end of the spectrum, London’s cheapest cocktail is found in tube-themed Cahoots, at just £7, saving you a whole £10 compared to the most expensive cocktail. On average, the cheapest ‘mystery’ bars in London are the Natural Philosopher and the Discount Suit Company, with each bar offering up every single one of its cocktails at £9 each, for an average cocktail price score of 8.3 out of 10.
The vast majority of London’s ‘mystery’ bars are completely free to enter (just as long as you can find them first). However, there are some establishments that will charge you an entrance fee to step into their secret location. The Night Jar has a whopping £20 entrance fee making it one of the most exclusive clubs in town, while the Natural Philosopher charges guests £6 to see behind the guise of the Apple Mac repair shop.
The rest of London’s best-kept secrets go by the names of The Blind Pig, Disrepute, Nine Lives, Opium, Swift Shoreditch, Bourne and Hollingsworth and 69 Colebrooke Row.
The race to be the next best UK city for mysterious bars saw a battle between two North West heavyweights in Manchester and Liverpool. Research has revealed six hidden bars in each city, crowning them as joint second-best cities for mysterious bars.
Liverpool’s best performing mystery bar with an overall score of 43.1 out of 50, The Oracle, boasts an enormous drinks menu consisting of a mind-blowing 62 different cocktails, with prices ranging from £7.50 for the cheapest and £14 for the most expensive drink.
By comparison, Manchester’s best performing ‘mystery’ bar is Science & Industry, an experimental and eccentric cocktail bar sandwiched secretly between a Tiki bar and a rib restaurant in the popular Cane & Grain, scoring 36.7 out of 50 overall. This sophisticated secret bar offers a range of 21 cocktails on their menu for an average price of just £9.20.
Both cities deliver in the unusual entrances department, doing their best to disguise their most secret bars from the man on the street. In Liverpool, you will find the entrance to the vibrant Ex-Directory bar behind a classic bright-red telephone box. Not to be outdone, Manchester’s The Washhouse is kept hidden behind a seemingly ordinary laundrette.
Other hidden bars in Liverpool go by the name of 81LTD, Clockworks, Abditory and the Motel Bar. While the rest of Manchester’s secret and mysterious bars are called The Daisy, Wood and Company, Bunny Jacksons and One Eight Six.
Finally, Cardiff is the next best place to be, with our research uncovering three ‘mystery’ bars in the Welsh capital. Cardiff’s best performing ‘mystery’ bar, Lab 22, managed to score a commendable 33 out of 50 overall. Lab 22 is appropriately themed around a scientists laboratory and serves up all kinds of experimental cocktails from its chemistry set, and is nestled discreetly below a Greggs pasty shop. Cardiff’s two other top rated ‘mystery’ bars are Pennyroyal and The Dead Canary.
Ranked: The top 10 most secret bars in the UK
One of the biggest rules a secret bar should stick by, is actually staying a secret. Online presence is typically the most essential way for establishments to make themselves known to potential customers. With that in mind, we have crunched the numbers on the ‘mystery’ bars with the fewest Instagram followers to see which speakeasys are best at keeping their secrets.
The Maven in Leeds is officially the best-kept secret bar in the UK, with just 406 Instagram followers, it truly is a hidden gem. The Maven is a classic prohibition-era inspired cocktail bar located close to the Leeds Corn Exchange behind an unlabelled black door. Not only is this bar well hidden, it is also relatively inexpensive, with cocktail prices ranging reasonably between £8 and £10.
It can be hard staying a secret in the capital city, but London’s Opium bar makes it look easy with just 422 Instagram followers, despite its bustling Soho location. Opium’s secret cocktail bar is located behind an ominous red curtain at the back of a Chinatown dim sum parlour of the same name. Also located in London, the Natural Philosopher, The Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town and the Cellar Door each make an appearance in the top ten, with just over 1,000 Instagram followers each.
Compare this to one of London’s most famous, ‘instagrammable’ bars, Tonight Josephine, which has over 67 thousand followers.
Another ‘speakeasy’ doing a great job of staying secret in a busy city centre is The Washhouse in Manchester. Despite its ideal location between Manchester’s Arndale shopping centre and the ever-popular Northern Quarter, The Washhouse has kept its Instagram follower count down to a modest 1,006 followers. Even The Washhouse’s website is cunningly disguised to make it look as if the business is a functioning laundrette. Two more of Manchester’s ‘mystery’ bars make the top ten most secret list with Wood and Company (2,074 followers) in ninth place and Bunny Jacksons (2,728 followers) in tenth place.
More bars that make the cut are the Mango Cocktail Club in Southampton, which ranks third, and Blind Tiger in Peterborough in eighth place. The Mango Cocktail Club’s tropical paradise themed bar is hidden beneath a Thai restaurant and has only 683 Instagram followers. While Peterborough’s Blind Tiger’s true intentions are a little discrete, the cocktail bar is simply located in the back room of a well-branded high-street tap house and restaurant, this cocktail club possesses just 1,297 followers.
Ranked: 20 of the most mysterious bars to visit in the UK
We compared over 40 ‘mystery’ bars from all over the UK against five factors, to determine which of the nation’s bars are truly the most mysterious.
Research reveals that The Oracle in Liverpool is officially the UK’s most mysterious bar. This dimly-lit, magical bar where nothing is at it seems, is discretely located behind a signless door that looks as if it leads to an ordinary house. The Oracle scored impressively in almost every category, with a nine out of ten score for secrecy and a perfect ten for cocktail range (there are 62 to choose from), helping to prop up The Oracle’s overall score to 43.1 out of 50.
There’s something about Liverpool's mystifying nature that complements speakeasies, as the city takes us on a magical mystery tour around four secret bars which make it into the top six. 81LTD finishes in second place with an overall score of 40 out of 50, with Clockworks scoring 38 for fourth and Ex-Directory in sixth with 37 points. Liverpool also boasts another bar in the top twenty with Motel Bar’s overall score of 35.5 ranking the karaoke hotspot in thirteenth place.
You’d have to travel outside of England to find any non-Liverpool ‘mystery’ bars that rank in the top five. The Blind Pig in Dublin bags third place with an overall score of 38.4 out of 50. Ireland’s only entry in the top twenty is a classic prohibition-era speakeasy, hidden behind a secret door in a restaurant posing as a simple bookcase. The Blind Pig scores especially well in the creativity category, with a deserved perfect ten score for its combination of enigmatic entrances, interesting interiors and themed drinks.
Secretly flying the flag for Scotland is Edinburgh’s Panda and Sons, which places fifth with an overall score of 37.2 out of 50… Scotland’s other appearances in the top twenty come from Aberdeen’s 21 Crimes which scores 36.1 out of 50 for a tenth place finish. Plus there’s Edinburgh’s Hoot the Redeemer which comes in at twelfth with an overall score of 35.6 out of 50.
Elsewhere in the top twenty, London has five entrants, with Natural Philosopher being the most mysterious bar the capital has to offer with an overall score of 36.2 out of 50. Meanwhile, Manchester also has five entrants in the top twenty, with two of them even making it into the top ten. Science & Industry and The Daisy finished in seventh and eighth respectively, with closely fought overall scores of 36.7 and 36.4 out of 50.
The final mention in the top twenty is York’s Hi Ho Club with an overall score of 35.1 out of 50. This 1940’s New York-inspired bar has a secret entrance via a fridge-freezer in Charlie's Pizzeria. Arcane scored handsomely in the cocktail price category (9.3 out of 10) and creativity category (7.5 out of 10), establishing it as the UK’s sixteenth most mysterious bar.