You’ve done it. After approximately sixteen hours spent perfecting your app profile, three months subtly stalking their Instagram, and a couple of very near misses with the private setting on LinkedIn, you’ve finally got yourself a date. There’s plenty of bars in London, but there’s always the risk they’re going to be too loud, too intimate, and too expensive when you’re at a potential risk of being catfished. That’s why we’ve made this guide. Whilst you decide whether blue really is your colour, we’ve got the destination covered.
Happiness Forgets is a great name for a first date bar. After all, you’re about to meet someone who’ll either make you very happy, or who you’ll immediately want to forget. It’s an intimate basement bar in Shoreditch, and it’s all about low-lighting and high-quality drinks. Granted, it’s a small spot, but you can reserve a table for two, and it’s open every night of the week.
If you’d rather feign tuberculosis, hide behind a ficus, or actually die alone than attend a first date, then Pop Brixton is for you. That makes it sound depressing, but it isn’t. This big, partly open air shipping container village has plenty of oxygen to combat that impending sense of doom. There are also plenty of cocktails in the main square bar area, as well as a rustic little wine bar, and the kind of chilled feel where you can trick yourself into thinking you’re just sharing a couple of highballs with a mate. Deep breaths. You’ll be fine.
You’ve been out of the game for a while, but now you’re back. Kind of. The prospect of meeting someone via an app who appears to have been born out of a witches pot full of cashmere and cheekbones is, frankly, terrifying. You need some Dutch courage and you need to be somewhere comfortable but cool, like The Compton Arms. Pubs are a safe bet and this little Islington one is a surefire winner. It’s a little bit hidden, it’s got a young crowd, and if all goes Pete Tong, it’s got the best cheeseburger around. And getting up close and personal with that is a result on any first date.
From the endearing knick-knacks, to texting ‘the flatmates’ for a reservation, to the board games scattered about the place, The Little Blue Door in Fulham is designed to feel exactly like your best mate’s place. You’re relaxed, you’re cosy, and unlike inviting someone to your actual mate’s, they won’t presume you’re a weirdo or someone with superior knowledge of Ted Bundy facts. On top of that, the cocktails are named after classic films, so you can test their cultural references and sense of humour straight off the bat.
Sage in the streets and wild in the sheets. That’s how you want to come across, right? Well head to Sager + Wilde and you’ll be off to the right start. The atmosphere at this Bethnal Green wine bar is 50% trying-to-be-refined-but-flirtatious glass swilling and 50% sharing a handmade pasta because it seems classier than suggesting a nightcap back at yours, stat. It’s a casual but classy vibe for any drink, but especially good for a first meet.
This is all about positive associations. Quality wines, quality space… quality person. That’s how it works, right? Anyway, next door to excellent British restaurant Quality Chop House, Quality Wines is a little shop and lunch spot by day and a cosy, candlelit hideout in the evening. The people that work here really know their wine, so it’s a good call if you’re going on a date with someone who name drops a bottle of Pouilly-Fumé in their dating profile.
Bars? Never really trusted them mate. They’re just pubs with fewer food options, serving beer with higher prices. If that sounds like you, then The Pineapple should be on your first date radar. This pub in Kentish Town has all your classic ales, lagers, and spirits, but has just the right amount of character to make it feel romantic. You’ll usually find a bunch of merry locals at the bar, but if you venture out back to their conservatory, then you have all the quaint charm of Richmond Park without having to risk a long trip on the District line. Kind of.
They look the same in 85% of their pictures, they know the difference between a schnauzer and a beagle, and, by god, they like to watch Bob Ross re-runs when hungover too. When this is a high stakes date, it calls for Lady Of The Grapes. This little wine bar in Covent Garden is kindling for romance. Candlelight? Check. Over 100 types of natural wine to try? Check. Just the right kind of ambience for a little ‘so what’re you up to this weekend’ without it feeling even a little try hard? Absolutely. And just in case that online profile was a little deceptive, there’s plenty of by-the-glass options so you don’t have to commit to a bottle.
Your date has a business card that involves the letters ‘PhD’, but you’re still not sure whether green clothes go in the washing machine with the lights or the darks. That’s okay, when you’re venturing on a date where you need to convince the other person that you’re, err, ‘sophisticated’, The Gibson has got your back. This small bar at the quiet end of Old Street has a nightly pianist playing prohibition-esque tunes and seriously creative cocktails. Honestly, we challenge any two people on the planet not to at least share a smile over a cocktail served from a metallic frog with pearls, or out of a coconut complete with a mini fan and pool inflatable. See, sophisticated. And a good laugh. All rolled into one.
If you’ve been known to start chatting about your parent’s divorce on a first date - or relay a ‘really interesting’ fact about the Industrial Revolution to fill any and all silence - then this one’s for you. The Winemaker’s Club is a lovely candlelit wine bar situation inside a series of old arches under the Holborn viaduct. Everything from the exposed brick cellar walls to their huge selection of wines make this place seriously grown-up, and as long as you don’t burst into your rendition of Sexual Healing whilst you’re waiting for the bill again - your date will be properly charmed.
Gin might have got you through the best, and the worst, of your singledom, but, this gin bar underneath Flour And Grape has G&T tasting sessions that are perfect for two. You can pick between three different ‘tasting flights’, from one focused on gins brewed in London, to the Orient Express, with gin from India and Sri Lanka. Basically, you try each of them with some top tonic water, and guess which is which before opening up your sealed envelope to see who guessed right. It’s a great spot with a slightly vintage, fashionable lumberjack feel, and completely sets you up for asking if they’ve tried the roasted pork shoulder tortelloni upstairs if you’re fishing for a second date.
You’re an enigma. A sexy, sexy enigma. At least, that’s what you want your date to think. And when you first ask them to go for drinks at The Breakfast Club in London Bridge they’ll probably be all ‘ooh, first date pancakes, you maverick’, and that’s before you even tell the waiter ‘I’m here to get lucky’ (we know, bear with us), and they smuggle you through the kitchen to a speakeasy. Sure, this place looks a little like Hawaii threw up over a wartime bunker, the floor’s a bit sticky, and your date might question the merits of the ‘spin for a shot’ wheel, but underneath all of that, this place is charming and entirely fun. Kind of like you.
In London there’s a high probability of dating someone with their own IMDB profile, merch of their own face, or a family connection to Prince Philip at some point. And, when that day comes, it’s good to know about Scarfes Bar in The Rosewood Hotel. There’s red leather, live jazz bands, plenty of character, and it feels upmarket without being too pretentious. Sure, the cocktails are pretty steep, but they’re also entertaining (hello, the Zingy Stardust and Ali-G inspired Booyakasha), and the menu comes with celebrity drink introductions that are funnier than they sound.
You know that scene in Titanic where they go to that lower level dancehall, Rose gets all Common People, and everyone’s just having a great time. That’s exactly what you want for your first date. Except maybe with less dancing. And fewer icebergs. Luckily, this small speakeasy beneath the old Discount Suit Company sign in Spitalfields has a banging atmosphere and feels like one of London’s best kept secrets. It’s lively, the staff really know their liquor, and there’s a range of grown-up cocktails starting from around the £8 mark. To avoid any last minute disasters with a bar this small, you should probably book a table for two in advance.
Last time you went on a first date, you decided to throw some culture at the situation and invite them to that hit new play. But how could you have possibly known about all that full-frontal nudity beforehand? Don’t worry, The Arts Theatre Club still makes you sound like you read the culture section of The Guardian. There’s plenty of booze and the option to leave before an interlude if they seem terrible. We’d go for one of their cocktail teapots, find a spot on one of their plush pink sofas, and start dropping charming facts over how this place has been open since the prohibition. How cultured are you.
Alright, the jig is up. This date is a farce. Maybe you just can’t face it, or maybe you’ve discovered someone on Tinder who seems like an absolute nightmare, but they also work at Netflix, and you figure that extra £8.99 a month would really come in handy. The point is, Hamilton Hall is the very grand ex-ballroom of The Great Eastern Hotel, and, crucially, one of the nicest JD Wetherspoons in London. There are pints for less than a fiver, it’s partially inside Liverpool Street Station so you’re covered for that inevitable early exit, and cheap burgers in case all that deception makes you peckish. Enjoy.