Posted: 05 Aug 2012 03:00 PM PDT
Slip around the city unnoticed, enjoying hush-hush drinks in hidden pubs and dining away from watchful crowds at these 10 discreet venues extracted from a new Clandestine London guide. A desire for privacy is not limited to those engaged in illicit or nefarious activities, there are times when even the purest of heart may wish to avoid the scrutiny of passers-by. Whether you are planning a surprise party or passing state secrets, rekindling romance or auditioning safe-crackers, you will find here 10 places in which to do it, from pubs with easy exits to bars with hidden alcoves. Of course, in this crowded metropolis the danger of a chance encounter with an old acquaintance is ever-present – you have been warned.
Fino’s Wine Cellar, Mayfair
Whole gangs of conspirators could devour pizza, guzzle valpolicella and plot sedition in one of the multitude of hidden alcoves in this family-run wine bar and restaurant. It’s more Bond than Bourne, with a gleaming copper bar and white-washed brick. Fino’s old-fashioned charm draws loyal regulars and tourists, but it’s all but ignored by most fickle Londoners.
• 123 Mount Street, W1, 020-7491 1640, finos.co.uk, Mon-Fri noon-11pm
The Seven Stars, Holborn
One may assume that the other drinkers here – judges, lawyers and a few hardened boozers – have access to far tastier scuttlebutt than your trivial affairs, making this pub almost gossip-proof. The truly paranoid can make a beeline for the room to the left of the bar, which has a seat that hides its occupant from the rest of the pub. Dark Star and Wandle ales should aid in the extraction of secrets.
• 53-54 Carey Street, WC2, 020-7242 8521, Mon-Sat 11am-11pm; Sun noon-10.30pm
The New Evaristo, Soho
Among the last of Soho’s hideaways, accessed through an unmarked door, along a corridor and down carpeted stairs. From the mid-1940s until quite recently the club’s core clientele was of Italian and Spanish descent, taking a break from their restaurant jobs in the surrounding streets. It’s now a slightly more open place, with cab drivers, fashion students, policemen and a sprinkling of West End faces crammed into its modest space. Proprietor and bar staff are friendly but no-nonsense, discretion is guaranteed, bad behaviour will not be tolerated.
• 57 Greek Street, W1, 020-7437 9536, daily 5.30pm-1am
The Bridge Coffee House, Shoreditch
Prepare for sensory overload at this boudoir-cum-coffee shop, which is filled with photographs, lamps and garishly-upholstered furniture, making it a happy counterpoint to the pared-down aesthetic so prevalent in the city’s eastern districts. Head upstairs, where seats are arranged in close groups to encourage whispered secrets and indiscretions.
• 15 Kingsland Road, E2, The Bridge on Facebook, Mon-Wed noon-12.30am; Thurs-Sat noon-2am; Sun noon-11.30pm
A low-key exterior, with net curtains and firmly closed door, behind which lies a very good tapas bar in the front and a Spanish restaurant in back. It’s convenient for Stockwell tube, and also for MI5 and MI6, one of whose operatives allegedly left a briefcase here after going a patatas bravas too far.
• 169 South Lambeth Road, SW8, 020-7735 6388/020-7582 8089,rebatos.com, Mon-Fri noon-2.30pm, 7pm-10.45pm; Sat 7pm-10.45pm
The Cittie of Yorke, Holborn
There are numerous reasons to visit this historic pub, not least to see its wonderful vaulted ceiling, but those wishing to converse unheard should make their way to the rear bar (through one of two entrances) where ornate wooden booths are purpose-built for just such an occasion.
• High Holborn, WC1, 020-7242 7670, Mon-Sat 11am-11.30pm
Louis Patisserie, Hampstead
Old Hungary lives on in a small corner of Hampstead; not much has changed in this patisserie after almost 50 years in the same location. Silver service, studded leather seats, wood panelling, and the last survivors of NW3’s wartime refugee population successfully transport the visitor to a different time and place.
• 32 Heath Street, NW3, 020-7435 9908, Mon-Sun 9am-6pm
India Club at the Hotel Strand Continental
Enter through a small doorway next to a convenience store and ascend a narrow staircase, where you will find the hotel reception. Shared rooms are just £25 a night, singles from a very reasonable £55. In addition to offering discreet lodging, this is home to the 75-year-old India Club, which has a bar on the first floor, and offers modestly-priced Indian food in the restaurant, up one more flight. A true time warp, with polite staff, fair prices, and a lived-in atmosphere. It is probably as close to (Graham) Greeneland as we are likely to find in central London.
• 143 The Strand, WC2, 020-7836 4880, strand-continental.co.uk, daily noon-2.30pm, 6pm-10.50pm
Stroll into the Centrepoint Food Store as if your sole desire is a bottle of soy sauce or a packet of noodles, then defy your pursuer’s expectations by ducking up the stairs to the in-house Japanese restaurant. Excellent sushi and also high-backed booths, some with a view of the street below, make this one of the West End’s more pleasant places to hide out.
• 20-21 St Giles High Street, WC2, 020-7379 3369, cpfs.co.uk, Mon-Sat noon-3pm and 6pm-10.30pm
The Market Cafe, The City
There’s seating outside and counter space on ground level, but for more privacy head up the stairs to a low-ceilinged room with wood veneer panelling, scarred tables and chairs, and a window that affords a view of anyone entering. A whirring fan helps mask conversation. The atmosphere is canteen-like: suits and high-visibility vests sit side by side, tucking into plates of baked beans and toast.
• 38 Leadenhall Market, EC3, 020-7626 6235, Mon-Fri 6am-4pm; Sat 6am-11am