The 12 Dive Bars Every Londoner Needs To Know

What makes a good dive bar? For us, it’s all about the ambience, a steady stream of repeat customers, a healthy dose of character — and of course, a large variety of beer and cocktail options. And, even if we could afford to go to Morton’s in Mayfair every night of the week, we wouldn’t choose to. Because sometimes, you just need a little grit.
In selecting our favourite dive bars in London, we’ve steered clear of the overly flashy and trashy. Some of the places that made the cut, like the George Tavern, have been whetting the whistles of thirsty Londoners for several hundred years. Others, like Birthdays in Dalston, have been open for less than 12 months and face stiff competition for the affections of the city’s booze enthusiasts. And although we’ve had a tipple (or four) in quite a few bars around town, this list is by no means the final chapter in our dissertation on dives. Our research on the subject is never done — and cheers to that.
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The Dolphin
Hackney’s most notorious dive is about as seedy as it gets. Think: East London’s answer to the Inferno in Clapham. The “dirty” Dolphin has everything you could ever want from a late-night dive: a karaoke machine in the wall, a snooker table, and lots of carrying-on by the bar’s devoted patrons. Plus, you know you’ve made it as a dive bar when the Internet offers up a parody twitter account that’s more popular than your official one.

165 Mare St, London, Greater London E8 3RH
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The George Tavern
Sure, there are a lot of pubs in London, and many of those pubs claim to be as old as Shakespeare, but few have as authentic a claim to that sort of history as the George Tavern. Although it wasn’t mentioned in any of Shakespeare’s plays, Dickens, Chaucer, and Pepys have all given shouts to the George in their tomes. These days, the venue has undergone a renaissance, courtesy of Pauline Forster and her partner Toby Penrose, and has become a respected East London institution and music venue — but of course, first and most important, it’s a bar.

373 Commercial Rd London, Greater London E1 0LA
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Slim Jim’s Liquor Store
Sandwiched among the classic British pubs of Upper Street, Slim Jim’s seems a world away from the townhouses of Islington. Taking its inspiration straight from America’s heartland, this spot epitomizes the classic American dive, and offers one of the most comprehensive bourbon selections this side of the pond. Lord knows our inner Jersey girls love a bit of Springsteen on a jukebox.

112 Upper St, London, Greater London N1 1QN
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Chances are, if you’ve ever been in Dalston after 3 a.m., you’ve been to Efes. A prime destination for hipsters with a bad case of FOMO (that’s “fear of missing out” for those of you without Urban Dictionary to hand), Efes is the place you go for “one last drink” before calling it a night. Recently, there’s been some concern surrounding Hackney Council’s threat to revoke the snooker hall’s liquor license. As it stands, however, Efes is thriving — and will live to serve another Red Stripe.

17B Stoke Newington Rd, London N16 8BH
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A two minutes’ walk away from Farringdon Station, Lazybones is the latest venue to offer the area’s office workers refuge after a long day in their cubicles. The bar’s specialties are falafel and craft beer — a winning combination if you ask us. And Lazybones’ quirky interior, dominated by sunflower yellow accents and graffiti, is sure to put a smile on your face even on the dreariest of Mondays.

Unit 5 Cowcross St, London EC1M 6DU
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‎Nestled on a regal block of Chelsea flats in SW3 is Barts, a hidden gem of a cocktail joint. With eclectic décor that ranges from stuffed animals to a hipster Mona Lisa (she sports a moustache and a pair of headphones) Barts puts the “Shoreditch” in “Sloane.” Part of a family of bars that includes Maggie’s and Bunga Bunga, Barts is a slightly less niche affair than its sister venues, and is perfect if you like your cocktails risky but your peers conservative.

Chelsea Cloisters, 87 Sloane Ave, London, Greater London SW3 3DW
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The Chelsea Prayer Room
We can't speak to Made in Chelsea’s Spencer Matthews church-going habits, there’s a good chance you’ll spot him at the Chelsea Prayer Room. Located inside the Goat, an establishment that joined the ranks of Fulham Road’s gastropubs only recently, this super-secret dive has unbranded liquor and is only accessible if you know the magic password.

333 Fulham Road, London SW10 9QL
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Kiss the Sky
Tucked away in Crouch End, the north London neighbourhood also known as “London’s Creative Village,” is Kiss the Sky, the area’s understatedly quirky watering hole. The bar takes its name from the Jimi Hendrix album, and not only provides North London with some killer caiprinhas and DJ nights, but also offers a weekly trivia night called Quiz the Sky.

18-20 Park Rd, London N8 8TD
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Birthdays is Dalston’s newest dive. Granted, the bar (couldn't help it!) has been set fairly high by neighbours such as The Alibi and Efes, but that hasn’t stopped this new kid on the block from quickly rising through the ranks of E8 cool. It helps that it’s backed by the folks of Real Gold, one of London’s most successful collectives and branding outfits, and that the ground floor is occupied by Rita’s Dining, the mistress of the margarita.

33-35 Stoke Newington Road, London, N16 8BJ
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The Old School Yard
The Old School Yard celebrates all things poptastic and retro. Childhood nostalgia takes on new forms at this joint: The walls and ceilings look like children drew on them (hip!), the menus look like a comic book, and the bar offers a selection of classic arcade games. So, when the office bullies get you down, pop down to the playground at the Old School Yard where they embrace the young at heart. Disco lovers get extra hugs.

109-111 Long Lane, London SE1 4PH
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Trailer Happiness
Portobello Road’s decade-old lounge and Tiki bar recently came under new management, courtesy of the team behind Mahiki and the Hawksmoor. Rather than giving the place a massive overhaul, they’ve merely performed a facelift, and the bar has retained both its eclectic aesthetic and expansive selection of rums. The revamp might have left patrons missing the dive bar prices — Trailer Happiness’s signature cocktails will set you back around 8-12 quid — but drinks like the Mexican Headhunter and Don Zombie are real showstoppers, and well worth the extra sterling.

177 Portobello Rd, London, Greater London W11 2DY
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The Alibi
Word on the street (okay fine, the gossip at our hair salon) is that a certain boy band member celebrated his birthday at the Alibi earlier this year. We won’t name names, but here’s a hint: starts with “H” ends with “-arry Styles.” But, One Direction jokes aside: Since opening in March 2010, the Alibi has played host to some of the best club nights in East London, and it’s hard to match The Alibi’s taste in DJs and theme parties. And, if watching Dalston’s brightest young things spin the decks on the weekends isn’t your cup of tea (or tonic), you can always pop down on Mondays for their film club.

91 Kingsland High Street, Dalston, London, E8 2PB