London is a roost for every bird,” wrote Benjamin Disraeli, twice Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, in his book Lothair in 1870. How true it is even today. Culture and sightseeing apart, London, with its hundreds of pubs, bars, and nightclubs is a great place to party. There is something for every taste, however outlandish it may be. If you don’t plan it right though, a night out with drinks, dinner, club entry fees and a taxi ride back home, could leave a sizable dent in your wallet. Here are some hacks to help.
Of the different genres, the underground house and techno club scene in London is probably the biggest. Its mecca is the Ministry of Sound, which stretches across three dance floors and four bars, and attracts the most legendary DJs in the world. However, drinks are quite expensive here—a vodka-Red Bull or gin and tonic can cost you about £12/Rs1,100 and a bottle of beer £6/Rs540. The one thing to watch out for at Ministry and other clubs are the bouncers. They decide whether you go in or not, and they don’t need a real reason to refuse entry. Be as polite as possible and do all you can to keep them on your side. As a last resort, some extra cash is known to open closed doors, but bear in mind that there are CCTVs everywhere. Some clubs are quite strict about entry and use sniffer dogs to clamp down on drug use.
If you’re a couple of girls partying on your own, steer clear of clubs such as Egg London in York Way or the after-party clubs in Vauxhall that can get a bit rowdy or have a higher ratio of guys. Another place to avoid would be Infernos in Clapham. Good underground clubs to visit are XOYO in hipster Shoreditch and KOKO in Camden. The latter plays hip-hop, house and future beats and has hosted Coldplay, Madonna, and Prince. Corsica Studios, one of London’s first warehouse venues, stylishly sprawls over two railway arches and belts out techno, electro and disco, but often incorporates dubstep and drum and bass. Oval Space, Phonox, Village Underground and The Steel Yard are good bets too.
For a night out in London I err on the side of caution. While the U.S., especially New York, is more forgiving of casual attire, you might be refused entry to many clubs, even restaurants, for ignoring the dress code stated on their website. I recently went to the Ritz for a meal with someone who left their jacket at work. They were whisked away to the cloakroom, had to pay £50/Rs4,500 for a deposit for a jacket and tie before we were escorted to the dining area. At another high-end restaurant, a patron was asked to swap his shorts with a pair of trousers.
West End clubs that suggest a smart casual or a smart sexy dress code refuse entry to guests dressed too casually. Plenty of celebrities have been turned down at the door, including One Direction who were rejected from 5 Hertford Street club in Mayfair because of their attire. The number one rule of thumb is to avoid trainers at all costs. Canvas shoes, London’s equivalent of sports shoes, are all right only at clubs that allow comfortable clothing. Ditch those scruffy or baggy jeans.
Cocktails in London range from £10-20/Rs900-1,800 while beer can be anywhere from £4.50-£8/Rs400-750 for a pint. Depending on what your aim and budget for the night are, predrinking might be a good option. If it’s a sunny day, buy a six pack for £6/Rs550 from the supermarket and take it to a park. Summers in the city bring out the friendliest best in Londoners, and you might just strike up a nice conversation with some locals. The golden rule to predrinking, however, is to not look like you’ve had a lot to drink—it’s the number one reason for not being allowed entry into nightclubs.
You haven’t experienced the Great British Summer if you haven’t tried the Pimm’s Cup, a cocktail made with a gin-based liqueur infused with herbs and spices, and loaded with fruits. The best way to drink it is to order a whole jug and share it with friends or buy the ingredients (the liqueur, lemonade and fruits like strawberry and apple) and head over to a park. Summer days in London are splendid and long—it’s daylight until almost 10 p.m.
Cider is another popular drink in the summer alongside the perennial lagers. If you happen to be there in colder months, definitely try the warm, spicy mulled wine that most pubs and bars would serve. Head over to The Ship Tavern, one of London’s oldest pubs, or The Trading House whose blend is made with mulling syrup, orange juice, wine, orange and lemon, cinnamon, star anise and cloves.
In recent years, pubs have also amassed an impressive variety of the slightly bitter and hoppy India Pale Ale or IPAs. They were brewed by the British for the long journey to India in the 18th century, and are now in vogue in London as much as in India. Much to the amusement and horror of many, ales in the U.K. are not served chilled, but just about cold. Whether you opt for lager, ale or cider, know that a British pint is 568 ml—much larger than the average beer servings in India. Select a couple from the tap and ask the bartender for a wee taste. Most would be happy to help or provide recommendations. Gins too are making a comeback. I recommend MrFogg’s Gin Parlour with their 150-plus varieties of gins, or The London Gin Club with some fantastic tasting menus. To try the good ol’ gin and tonic, pick Hendricks, Sipsmith or Brockmans gin. If you head over to a posh bar, try a few cocktails. They can be quite expensive, so start a bit early and catch happy hours in a bar like Be At One or The Covent Garden Cocktail Club. Many places have happy hours on weekdays till 7 or 8 p.m. Try the Lychee Martini or the Cuban Zombie at Be At One. The Cocktail Club usually has exciting flavours of the month. The Vieux Kir champagne-based cocktail at The Zetter Townhouse in Clerkenwell is another favourite.
London is a great place to eat and you should not settle for anything short of amazing. Most old-style English pubs will have a menu brimming with excellent British classics. Try fish and chips with a side of mushy peas, or a steak and stilton pie. Some of my favouritegastropubs are Harwood Arms near Chelsea and The Anchor & Hope near Southwark. Nightclubs typically don’t offer food—for post-party hunger pangs, kebab shops near most nightclubs are your best bet.
London is usually a safe city, especially in the central parts where most tourists are likely to go. But as always, don’t go anywhere that is not well populated by nightlife. During the day, be careful with your phone. Phone snatching by moped gangs is very common, especially in Shoreditch, Liverpool Street, Islington and Camden.
Pubs in London tend to close at midnight. You’ll know that last orders are being taken when the bartender rings a bell or the manager blinds you by switching on all the lights. Very few bars have licenses to operate after midnight, except on certain special nights of the year. Bars in five-star hotels, 24-hour bars and nightclubs are your best bet if you want a late drink. The Hippodrome Casino with six bars, a steak house and plenty of games tables is a good choice if you plan to be out all night. If you’re out clubbing, most parties would end by 6 a.m. with some that go on till 7-8 a.m.
Partying in London has changed dramatically in the last few years with Uber and, more recently, the Night Tube. Uber is very affordable if there is no surge and the Night Tube now runs a 24-hour service on Fridays and Saturdays on five of the main lines. The tube is always fun to take back at unearthly hours: it’s cheap and a great way to feel the vibe of the city as it’s full of young people barely able to stand or keep awake, people singing or even pole dancing—sights that you would never witness during daytime.
If you want to go clubbing for your favourite DJ’s gig, get the ticket beforehand or you might be stuck in a long queue only to learn that it’s house-full or you can’t get entry for some reason. This is especially helpful if you’re a bunch of guys without any girls. Also, turn up in a state that you can have a proper and polite conversation with the often impolite bouncers. Most places ask for a photo I.D. so it’s useful to carry your passport.