Soho after dark: Exploring London’s late-night scene

Jul 03,2015

Forget everything you thought you knew about Soho. Today this vibrant London neighbourhood is less about seedy cabaret shows and more about hidden cocktail bars, jazz clubs and all-night cafes.

You’ve been planning your trip for months or have spontaneously booked a last-minute hotel deal, either way you want to make the most of every second you spend in the capital. While Londoners might traditionally head for bed earlier than their European counterparts, several late-night venues are busy bucking the trend. So what are you waiting for? Swap your pyjamas for party shoes and hit the town with our night owl’s guide to Soho.

Bar-hopping beyond bedtime

Indulge your inner celebrity and head straight from your luxury hotel suite to the stylish London outpost of Manhattan’s much-loved Milk & Honey – this discreetly signposted bar on Poland Street screams A-list. In fact, it’s members-only for much of the week, but it is possible to make a reservation before 11pm. Next, tickle your tastebuds with a tipple from the monthly changing menu at the Experimental Cocktail Club. Sitting pretty in a two-storey townhouse on Gerrard Street, the French owners serve classic drinks created at their Paris venue. Lastly, go underground at Cahoots. Located in Kingly Court, just seconds from fashionable Carnaby Street, this speakeasy-style bar takes drinking to a whole new level – quite literally. It’s a subterranean space channelling a 1940s tube station theme and wearing vintage clothing and taking part in energetic swing dance sessions are actively encouraged. Both are open until 1am to 3am, depending on the day of the week.

Jazz musician Christian Scott at Ronnie Scott’s. Photo by David Sinclair

Live music for a lullaby

Last orders are almost a thing of the past thanks to Soho’s open-till-the-early-morning venues. Promising an unpretentious evening of gutsy, gritty blues music, Ain’t Nothin’ But is a locals’ favourite and hosts a jam-packed schedule of live performances seven nights a week. It’s open until 2am on Friday and Saturday, with free admission before 8.30pm. Watch out for sultry burlesque performances and special acoustic sessions, too. For something a little more sophisticated, international jazz musicians regularly take to the stage at Ronnie Scott’s. What started as a small basement club opened by a saxophonist in 1959 is today one of the most sought-after tickets in town. If you don’t manage to bag a seat, the upstairs bar hosts DJ nights with an eclectic mix of genres gracing the turntables, from funk to flamenco.

Refuel and recharge

Fuel your late-night explorations with ‘dude food’ from Italian-American diner Spuntino. From sliders and macaroni cheese to cocktails in kettles and a retro popcorn machine, the grungy Rupert Street eatery from legendary London restaurateur, Russell Norman, is so cool it isn’t even signposted – just look for the number 61. When it’s time to rest your weary head, Millennium Hotel London Mayfair revels in the glamour of its Grosvenor Square Gardens address and is just a short stroll from Soho’s nocturnal haunts. But if you can’t wait until breakfast in your hotel room, head for Bar Italia for a caffeine fix. This family-run establishment prides itself on pumping out piping-hot espressos 24 hours a day.

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