The East End of London is arguably the nightlife hub of the entire capital, which has so much to offer across a diverse spectrum. There’s the character-filled pubs with many a story to tell, artisan cocktail bars carving out their own niche, and multi-purpose arts venues offering diverse cultural programmes with top-notch hospitality as part of the experience. Look out for the odd rooftop and terrace, too.
Read on for our top recommendations, and check out our other East London city guides: how to plan a weekend in East London, plus restaurants and attractions.
The Golden Heart
You can’t miss The Golden Heart in Spitalfields thanks to the flower baskets hanging cheerily outside. It’s a bohemian sort of boozer, frequented by artist Tracey Emin and her YBA gang in the Nineties, and local artists Gilbert and George. In fact, Emin’s artwork hangs on the glorious 1900s wood-panelled walls, alongside a sign proclaiming ‘Stand Still and Rot’. Landlady Sandra Esquilant is something of a local legend and has been pulling pints here for more than 30 years so has plenty of tales to tell. To drink – beer of some kind, as it’s said to serve the best pint of Guinness in London, and there’s Adnams and Leffe on draught.
Address: 110 Commercial Street
Contact: 020 7247 2158
Nearest tube: Liverpool Street
The Night Jar
For a late-night drink, this speakeasy-style bar is straight out of the Prohibition era, not least because of its nondescript location and lack of signage. Find it (near Old Street roundabout) and discover a low-lit, vintage-style bar with a tin roof, wooden floors, exposed brick and darkened corners with leather booths. The rose-tinted mirrors and Art Deco liquor cabinets add to the atmosphere. It’s all about the live jazz music and cocktails – served at your table by lovely staff dressed in glamorous 1920s garb. Try the Filipino, with Bathtub gin, fresh snake fruit and ‘coconut smoke’.
Contact: 020 7253 4101; barnightjar.com
Nearest tube: Old Street
Netil House/NT’s Bar
Netil House, in a monolithic 1960s building on London Fields, is home to studio spaces for local creatives as well a number of cafés, bars and restaurants. The Netil 360 rooftop bar is the place to be, popular with Hackney locals in the summer, and there is another rooftop hideaway in NT’s, a loft-style cocktail bar and café, with an exposed brick bar, huge windows and industrial fixtures. From the heated terrace you can enjoy far-reaching views of the capital’s skyline. Look out for DJs and special nights at the weekend.
Ruby’s, on Stoke Newington High Street, lies beneath an old-school cinema sign beckoning you in for a fun, retro drinking experience, and dancing, too, if you go to the lounge bar next door. The main bar is low-lit and cosy with (intentionally) peeling walls, a tiled fireplace and various vintage bric-a-brac. Owner Tom Gibson knows how to show people a good time, with Friday nights described as ‘1980s Brooklyn but Dalston’ and a focus on piña coladas – try the chocolate one. The rhubarb sour and blackberry mojito are also popular choices.
Contact: 020 7923 3966, rubysdalston.com
Nearest station: Dalston Kingsland
Sager + Wilde
The definition of a modern wine bar, Sager + Wilde’s flagship Hackney Road venue is the perfect date spot because who wouldn’t fall in love over delicious-and-intriguing wine paired with cheese toasties? The wine list changes every day ‘depending on what new and crazy stuff we are into’ and with more than 30 wines to try by the glass, it’s a great opportunity to discover new varieties. Wine bar can be taken quite literally since behind the reclaimed glass brick bar-top is a giant wine rack displaying the goods. It’s intimate, with a slightly industrial feel from the raw bricks and slatted blinds. It’s the ideal place to get cosy.
The Sun Tavern
Run by Andy Kerr, Stephen Thompson and Alastair Tatton (who also run the hip basement bar Discount Suit Company), this small pub near Bethnal Green station specialises in local ale and experimental Poitín cocktails. Poitín is a specialist Irish spirit, once popular as a type of moonshine. Located within an 1850s corner house, this former Victorian pub has the feel of a Brooklyn joint – expect a long wooden bar with red leather stools (to match the red leather banquettes at the back), exposed brickwork, industrial lighting and marble-top tables. As well as the craft ales and cocktails you could try the potent house punch with a side of pork pie.
Contact: 020 7739 4097, thesuntavern.co.uk
Nearest tube: Bethnal Green
Coupette, meaning ‘cheeky one’, is a petit piece of Paris on Bethnal Green Road. And it’s a happy meeting of Parisian and East End cultures, with bar manager Andrei Marcu and team creating a menu that celebrates the liquors and liqueurs found behind the bar at French bistros (eg apple brandy, Calvados) woven with character-full cocktails and atmospheric storytelling linked to East London’s past that you can access via QR code from the menu – all very inventive and interactive. The space itself is cosy and chic, with burnished steel low lighting and raw brickwork with artfully placed shelves to show off the various tipples. So what drink to try first? The Bitter Quarter, with a combination of gin, Vermouth, Campari and carrots is a sharp drink said to emulate the ‘gritty realism’ of Coupette’s environs. We’re also fond of the champagne Pina Colada, which is basically fun in a glass. Francophiles will appreciate the wine list dedicated solely to French producers.
The Palm Tree
If you fancy a cockney sing-song of a Saturday night then the character-filled Palm Tree is the pub for you. Standing solitary on the towpath of Regent’s Canal between Mile End and Roman Road, the building may look abandoned from the outside but venture indoors and you’re transported back in time – the main room is covered in a chintzy gold wallpaper with simple wooden benches and tables, red velvet curtains and a trademark red glow. People don’t come here for the quality of the drinks so much as the old school East End atmosphere, and the octogenarian jazz band that plays at the weekend.
Address: 127 Grove Road
Contact: 020 8980 2918
Nearest tube: Mile End
St John’s at Hackney Brewery
The aptly named Bohemia Place, under the railway arches in Hackney Central, is becoming a hotspot for food and drink venues (such as roving nightlife destination Night Tales). Sitting alongside it is St John at Hackney Brewery, a brewery and bar named after the church it sits opposite. The space has an industrial feel – exposed brick, concrete floors – but borrows from the church with pew-like seating and an altar-like metal bar. The made-on-site brews are focused on American-style beers, including pale ale, lager and IPA. They also have a good selection of wine and simple mixers such gin with rhubarb and Demerara rum with ginger beer.