Ain’t Nothin’ But
This small but notorious venue is probably the home of blues in the UK, and has music on every night in its authentic, American-feeling setting on Kingly Street (near Oxford Street). Attracting bands from the USA, as well as a great amount of locally sourced talent as well as boasting a late license (something of a rarity in this area), this is a great night out for blues lovers and those who are on the fence about rock, blues and jazz. The schedule of music is really varied, but there are weekly events, such as acoustic jams and a house band jam night, and the rest of the time you’ll be entertained by some of the world’s best. The blues paraphernalia that’s everywhere and the black and white illustrations of big blues artists add to the authentic, home-spun feel of this venue.
Now with two venues – Camden and Shoreditch – these restaurant/bars do try quite hard to achieve a deep-south authenticity, and don’t always hit the mark; but in terms of live blues, you’re unlikely to find better in London. The venue often require visitors to book a table rather than turn up on spec, but we recommend doing so as the food is good and the music is at the top of its game. Acts are regularly imported from the US, and the biggest and best of UK blues is represented here. Most bands are also followed by DJs, allowing the party to go on well into the night.
Billing itself as a “jazz and blues” bar, and taking its name from the famous jazz standard by Thelonius Monk, this place evokes everything one might expect of a blues venue: dark lighting, an intimate stage and lots of people wearing pork pie hats. Situated in Angel, Round Midnight offers good, regular music from reputable (and often extremely noteworthy) acts as well as the standard jam night for local and visiting musicians. Drinks are reasonably priced, and whether you’re there for music or not, it’s a lovely intimate venue for a loud night!
Churches and cathedrals are often the best place to see classical music for very discounted prices, particularly choral music, and one of the most versatile venues is the beautiful Southwark Cathedral on Borough High Street. The church choir regularly perform well-known and contemporary choral works as well as original compositions from amongst their congregation, and there is often orchestral support or dedicated orchestral concerts. Tickets are usually very cheap, and a quick search will let you know what’s on. Around Christmas is a particularly good time to visit, as the carol concerts are divine.
Royal Academy of Music
The RAM is the UK’s oldest musical conservatoire and trains the highest calibre of musicians in the world. You can assume, therefore, that even the most simple of student performances are going to be of the world’s highest standard. They are based in the heart of Marylebone and have performances of some description every night. They have also recently introduced a musical theatre course, meaning that there are also theatrical performances available. Moreover, they will also get visiting performances from world class professionals. Amazingly, most of the performances are free, and those that are ticketed are highly discounted. Similar performances can be found at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and the Trinity College of Music.
Situated on the historic and sleepy Red Lion Square in Holborn, Conway Hall holds a strong place in UK history. In the early 30s, the venue was named after anti-slavery advocate Moncure Daniel Conway and has since hosted lectures, talks and performances of a wide variety. The classical offerings here are generally free for under-25s and about £10 thereafter. One of the main virtues of this venue is that the music is not run-of-the-mill classical, but not so bizarre as to alienate. It’s a series of concerts that offer interesting composers and great performers.
Ronnie’s is, without a shadow of a doubt, the London jazz venue. Once upon a time, it was a casual place, where Monty, the enormous bouncer, would know visitors by name and the smoke-stained walls littered with pictures of jazz artists played host to the most eccentric and progressive names in jazz music. Since, it has been taken over and turned into two venues: the main, downstairs bar and the upstairs rooms. The downstairs still plays host to the world’s biggest names in jazz, while the upstairs have jam nights with some of London’s hottest up and coming artists. The downstairs is not cheap, however. Prices for acts have more or less remained the same – usually about £26 – but the drinks are over-priced and the food an unnecessary addition to this London insititution.
Whilst not a jazz venue per-se, this historic pub on Kingsland Road has had a number of different incarnations over the years. These days, it is an iconic pub amongst locals every night of the week, having pizzas for under a tenner and a great atmosphere. It makes our live music listing, however, due to its Sunday night jazz. From 11pm to 3am, the renowned Alan Weekes band playabsolutely top-notch jazz that brings a huge crowd. If you’re there for the live music, best arrive early; as it can turn into a queuing event (at midnight on a Sunday no less) due to popularity.
With venues in Pimlico, Bishopsgate and Canary Wharf, there are plenty of opportunities to see what’s going on at these jazz venues. Jools Holland is their collective patron of music, so you can expect a discerning eye when it comes to booking the best of the best acts, and while it’s not the cheapest venue to go to, the music is undoubtedly some of the best jazz available in London. Ticketing is mandatory as gigs sell quickly, and sometimes a completely curve-ball act will slip under the radar (like next year’s ABBA tribute in Canary Wharf). The restaurant is Scottish, and while it’s not cheap, there is a great deal of Highland charm to their many tasting rooms and cigar balconies.
The Oval Tavern
A little out of the way, in the south London suburb of Croydon, is the Oval Tavern; a pub that has some of London’s best jazz for free every Sunday, between 12 and 4. Enjoy a great roast dinner while you watch, too. And it’s all affordable, what with the highest quality jazz being put on for free. Acts change every week, and while there are a few that return time and time again, mostly you’re going to be treated to someone new every time you go. There is an expansive beer garden, so when the sun comes out, there’s no better place south of the river to enjoy some world-class music.
Cecil Sharp House
Cecil Sharp House calls itself the heart of English folk, and it’s not wrong! Since 1930, English Folk Dance has had its home in this impressive building, and its many, warren-like downstairs rooms host all manner of folk from around the British Isles and further afield. The cavernous main hall of its Camden location hosts a bi-weekly Ceilidh (traditional Scottish dancing) event called Ceilidh Club, but there’s also tango, 19th century French dancing, live music in the little downstairs bars and all things folk. It’s a fantastically inclusive venue, and an amazing place to meet new people.
Gypsy swing’s title as either jazz or folk is hotly contested; but that doesn’t really matter, and its London home is Le QuecumBar on Battersea High Street. It’s a Parisian themed trip down memory lane, hosting fantastic gypsy jazz and Django Reinhardt/Stefan Grapelli inspired music from all over the country. There are some regulars, and the restaurant/café/laissez-faire atmosphere means that you can spend hours here, soaking up the sounds of 20s Paris and the buzzing fun of contemporary London. It’s bright, airy, and masterfully devoid of the gimmicky tack that often comes with nostalgia bars. Music’s on every night, and you don’t need to book (but diners get preferential seating).
Taking its cue from jazz’s famous “blue note”, the Green Note café hoes after a more contemporary feel whilst offering folk and world music of all varieties.As one might suspect from the name, the venue is also a vegetarian café, and the almost nightly music covers a very broad spectrum of sounds; so it’s always a good idea to check ahead and book if there’s something you really want to see. If you’re a folk fiend, then the Green Note attracts some very coveted players, so checking out their calendar and getting yourself a vegetarian lunch at the same time satisfies most tastes!
Brixton is synonymous with reggae music and a very culturally diverse make-up, so it should come as no surprise that it is also home to one of the biggest reggae venues in the UK. The large stage room can fit a fair few people and some pretty loud bands in it, while the extensive garden (complete with BBQ) provides that extra bonus of fresh air. Expect big names in reggae here, as well as ska, Afrobeat, Cuban and more. There’s food every night, but the menu changes almost nightly (perhaps meaning you ought to go at least once?) as well as sports matches and comedy nights.
The Electric Ballroom is one of those rare bars that has a firm place in the annals of London’s cultural history, dating back as it does over 70 years. Having hosted music of an extremely diverse range of styles, for the last couple of decades it’s mainly been rock and alternative music, and its location in Camden meant it was closely affiliated with the punk movement of the 70s and almost every alternative and progressive movement since then. Most of the biggest names in alternative pop and rock music have played there, and many acts have (sometimes disturbing) stories linking them to the venue. It’s well worth a visit, and if there’s a gig you’re interested in, then book quickly; it sells out fast!
While not a dedicated rock or metal venue, the Macbeth in Hoxton offers one of the more bizarrely eclectic musical sets of any London bar. Its strength, however, is certainly in the heavy music realm, where the cosy venue becomes awash with moshing and beer. During the day, it’s a relatively sedate and friendly pub, but once the music starts, it’s one of the bounciest places around. There is also a good representation of hip hop, RnB, and alternative music from local and national bands on the rise.
With entertain on every night and covering a whole range of styles, it’s unlikely your taste won’t be catered for at this expansive venue. During the day, visitors can get a meal and check out the venue by day, including the setting in an old hospital and the converted stables. But Proud really comes alive at night, with the stables being individual seating areas and the larger space being a pumping club venue. This club is slap bang in the middle of the eponymous Camden market, so you can feel very much a part of Camden’s close relationship with hedonism and alternative culture. The music is typically on the heavier side, but not always, and DJs represent more than enough to get your feet moving.
Over three spaces – a restaurant, lounge bar and club – Shaka Zulu is a sizeable venue giving you ample opportunity to have a great time! What really sells this place, however, is its décor. It is London’s largest dedicated South African restaurant (unsurprising, given the name) and the walls are impressively done with swathes of carved wooden figures, with matching ceiling and surfaces – indeed, the restaurant in particular is about as fascinating as any interior décor can possibly get, and more detailed. The venue enables you to have a meal of Spring Bok, then a SA inspired cocktail in the lounge bar, followed by a night on the tiles in the club. A really unique night out, and a setting not to be missed.
The Old Queens Head
Both pub and club on Upper Street, the Old Queens Head is a well-priced, no-frills club offering the best of UK Garage and live music. Other styles offered at pumping volume on Friday and Saturday nights are house, disco and club classics. The venue has its own karaoke room for when the mood takes you, and their party nights promise debauchery and fun. Doesn’t sound like much could go wrong, eh? The main attraction of the Old Queen’s Head is its lack of pretention; this is a good, old-fashioned party venue offering the best of what old-fashioned party venues should. Sundays offer relaxing board-games, live bands and well-made Sunday roasts.
Ministry of Sound
Ministry of Sound is perhaps London’s most famous club venue, with parties normally going on until sunrise. The venue regularly has the world’s biggest DJs on tour from Ibiza and elsewhere, however tickets to such big events don’t come cheap, and this is without a doubt something to save up for and book in advance. The club itself is enormous, and queuing to get in is likely. Acts here have historically included the biggest names in the dance industry, and are playing host to acts like London Grammar and Wretch 32 in the near future.
In Brixton’s party-hardy centre, Dogstar is the inexpensive alternative to much bigger and more expensive London clubs. On a billed night where a big-name DJ is playing, the cover charge can nudge £20, but on a normal night, cover is minimal and drinks are reasonably priced. The venue itself is over two floors with three main rooms and plenty of space to get your groove on. Moreover, there’s usually a themed night going on, where the whole venue is decked out to suit the party, which makes for an interesting night!
Duke of Edinburgh
Perhaps more pub than club, this huge Brixton venue has a Friday/Saturday late license and ends up having that club crossover feel that is so rarely found in London. The beer garden is gigantic, offering its own potential for summer parties, and we’ve included it as there’s rarely a cover charge (if ever), and tables and chairs are still out even after the music’s turned up and people are dancing. So if you like a late night and a lot of socialising, but don’t like to be forced to stand or dance for the whole night, get yourself down to Brixton.
A nightclub is just one of the many, many things the Oval Space can be – others including an art gallery, theatre, live art space, cinema and quasi-restaurant. The club nights host some big name DJs and other musicians, and go on late. There are also amazing views from the balcony out over the nearby industrial buildings of Bethnal Green. One of the drawbacks of this venue is its versatility; unlike other clubs, you can’t just turn up expecting a club night – you’ll need to check in advance what’s going. The venue is recently new, but still recently hosted Nero; so they’re doing alright for themselves!
The Big Chill
Despite the cover charges, the Big Chill is arguably East London’s best party venue, largely on account of its atmosphere. There’s no pretence to this venue; it is entirely a party place, with resident DJs, a large beer garden, lots of room and cocktails. The Big Chill’s DJs are second to none and you can guarantee yourself a night of easy-going partying. This is a fantastic venue for backpackers wanting to sample the best of London’s nightlife, but it isn’t London’s cheapest and it’s worth checking in advance what the cover is for a specific night.
The Book Club
If the name “The Book Club” puts you in mind of slightly more sedate activities than clubbing, you’d be right on one level. This chic bar is dedicated to running events other than mere drinking and chatting, offering classes on a host of “cultural” activities, from book readings to music to furniture building classes. The fact that, thrown into the mix, are also club nights and excellent DJs means that this club is going to have something fun to offer customers, whatever the night, and if you’re in the market for something a little unexpected, then get yourself along to Leonard Street to take in the vibe. With a 2am license most nights and later on others, you’re in the spicy heart of London’s “cool” district, so either ending up here or popping in are both good ideas.
The Chelsea Prayer Room
The misleading title of this secret speakeasy might give visitors the impression that it’s a quiet, introspective place. Fortunately, that’s not the case at all. Located above Goat DINE, a restaurant in Fulham, this members-only speakeasy serves drinks without labels; so you can’t rely on ordering your usual without a little excitement. To get around the membership part, you can phone in advance for a temporary membership. It’s less of a pumping-music type club, but it still has good music (jazz and electro-swing) and a late license. This is a great venue for a fun-loving date.
We couldn’t compile a list of London clubs without including something dedicated to pop and cheesy music. Loop Bar is such a place. Located near Oxford Circus, this is an expansive, four room club that caters very well to groups and visitors. The music is harmlessly fun, there’s a lit-up dancefloor in one of the rooms, drinks are averagely-priced but the cocktail list is long (if a little basic). This is not a hard-clubbers venue; it’s a great introduction to the London nights out. If you have a group of friends then this is a great place to take them, as well as meeting new people. A great venue for backpackers in need of a fun night out.
Notting Hill Arts Club
Offering club nights every night of the week, the Notting Hill Arts Club is a bijou nightclub that gets full quickly but is jam packed full of fun. The club celebrates artistry in all its forms and attracts the hip, young arts crowd of west London. Similarly to the Notting Hill Carnival, diversity is celebrated and well represented here; and it’s a welcome relief from the heavily moneyed and celebrity-focused clubs that fill up the rest of west London. The DJ line-up is fantastic and covers almost anything you could want from a club night. Check out what’s on to get the best idea of what’s for you, then get yourself down for a dance and a drink.
Fabric is the London club, having had acts from Daft Punk to Justice grace one of their many stages. The club is, for want of a better word, ginormous, having been voted the best club in the world many times by many people. There are three main rooms, all with independent sound with different DJs pumping out hundreds of variations on the dance theme, and one of which sporting a vibrating floor. This is not the place to meet people – indeed, stay close to your friends in the melee – but it is the pinnacle of clubbing in London and any clubber worth their salt can’t miss a chance to sample its heady delights. Entry can be expensive, but if you’re going for a blow-out, then this is your one.
It may seem a little cheeky to list an entire section of London rather than a single club, but you’ll understand once you’ve found your way there. There are hundreds of late-night clubs in the area, all housed in unassumingly small frontages but opening out into large areas. G-A-Y is a particularly good night, and any straight person with qualms about going into the UK’s best-known gay club should lay them to one side, as it caters to all tastes and attracts some of the land’s best DJs and live acts. Queuing is likely here, but if you wanted simply to roam the streets, it is impossible that you won’t find something open late and full of dancing. Soho isn’t a large area, so if the atmosphere seems quiet, then you’ve left Soho at some point.
It’s a little clichéd, but Carwash is the famous retro club that’s been going strong for decades, offering dolled-up partiers all manner of attractions, from drinks offers to foam parties. You’re required to come dressed in fancy-dress from the 70s to 80s (they’re not hugely strict, but you might feel silly if not). It’s worth booking before showing up in order that you don’t have to queue for ages, and there are great discounts to be had. It’s not the cheapest club, but equally it’s not the most exclusive either, and partiers can expect a huge dance-off in London’s most iconic retro-club venue. Tunes suit the retro feel, with club classics from the 70s, 80s, 90s and today keeping the groove going on late, and the huge dancefloors and many rooms give visitors plenty of opportunity to mingle in all the fun.