Such a hit since it opened just five years ago, the whispered ecstasy of those who have fallen hard for hidden speakeasy Night Jar in Soho is proof that sometimes ease of access is nowhere near the top end of the scale of importance. But Nightjar is simply a fantastic bar, which is the main reason all Londoners have come to love it so fast. Beautifully designed, low-lit and with comfy seats that encourage you to linger on once you do manage to get in, the cocktails are masterfully mixed and the bands that play later are mainly jazz and blues, very befitting of the throwback setting.
Also harking back to gentler times and open since 1930, the Cecil Sharp House is a stately red-brick building purpose-built as the home of the English Folkdance and Song Society (and named after its founder). Hosting a musical selection inspired by the Society’s mission to ‘preserve and promote English folk dances in their traditional forms’, the roster here is packed with barn dances, ceilidhs, traditional folk luminaries and the occasional ukulele shenanigan. More unexpected acts such as Goldfrapp and Sigur Rós have played here in recent years too, but they’re very much the exception to the cultural heritage-based bill – it’s dancing distance from Primrose Hill and Camden Town too, making it a great place to head to let your hair down after a day of stomping around town.
Just round the corner, the Blues Kitchen is a Texan-themed diner/jazz joint bursting at the seams with soul. A bouncing bar of creativity and fun that offers a little light respite from the sometimes hectic Camden High Street, the Blues Kitchen does drinks, music, food in booths, murals on the walls and faded prints of jazz legends. It’s bourbon, barbecues and blues in here, with live artists virtually every night of the week, with things starting off gently with Monday acoustic nights, Swinging into Tuesdays, helping you through the Wednesday Blues and letting it all loose from Thursday onwards.
Just North of King’s Cross in Highbury and Islington stands the Union Chapel, a Grade I-listed, gothic wonder completed in 1877 that is still used as a working place of worship and help-centre for London’s homeless. In the evenings, the Chapel plays Good Samaritan too a different tribe of Londoners – those in search of uplifting, unbeatable acoustics from live jazz, soul and rock gigs to soul singers and indie sessions come to find their saviours in one of the most picturesque locations in the city. Less lofty to look at but just as high-minded on music is the Notting Hill Arts Club. Specialising in niche genres and dubstep/hip-hop/grime acts, the NHAC is a down-to-earth, easygoing basement bar with an intimate stage, comfy sofas and an underlie dance-floor, plus super friendly bar staff and very reasonable cocktails – come here to learn something new and forget old habits.
As Amba Hotel Charing Cross is so centrally located in the very heart of London, all these venues and hundreds more are only minutes’ travel from your bedroom door.