For years after I came to London as a twenty-something single person looking to date, I wondered what I was missing.
Where were all the classy, low-key bars where I could enjoy a proper conversation without needing to shout over the music? It seemed like a small ask, but the places I wanted to go on dates seemed to be nowhere to be found without spending an absolute fortune on some kind of private membership.
The truth was, all this was available to me – even on my budget. I just didn’t know where to look.
Years later, I know that London has loads of sleek and romantic bars, if you know how to find them. Nowadays, it’s never hard to find exactly what I’m looking for, even in a part of the city I’ve not visited before.
So, rather than simply write a list of quiet bars to visit (though I will mention a few here), I thought it’d be way more useful to explain how to scope out new places that will be a safe bet as good date spots, even if you’ve never been there before.
Here are 5 key things you can do to find quiet, romantic bars in London.
1. Switch from regular bars to wine bars
As someone used to young, studenty bars like All Bar One and Revolution, wine bars never crossed my mind. To me, these were places that well-off folks went to sample obscure vintage wines that – I assumed – were way out of my price range. And even if I could afford it, weren’t wine bars stuffy and old fashioned?
The truth is, there are wine bars for just about every taste and type of person. They’re almost always far more chill than regular bars, with better seating and gentler music. As for price, the cheapest bottle in most London wine bars is normally about £25-£35, so not Tesco prices but not exactly extravagant. Of course, if budget is an issue, check the menu online before going. But overall, you might be pleasantly surprised.
2. Find cafés and restaurants that double as cocktail bars
A great strategy for finding date locations where you can seamlessly transition from day to night is to find restaurants and cafés that also have a bar.
London-based coffee chain Grind is one example – besides the original Shoreditch branch which has more of a hipster vibe, their newer locations are a perfect midpoint between coffee house and bar. The Hoxton Grill is another favourite of mine (a hotel / restaurant / bar that’s also a popular co-working space – proof that it rarely gets loud) plus the bars at Gaucho Tower Bridge and (another of my favourites) Brasserie Zedel are heavenly.
Looking for cafés and restaurants that also serve alcohol can be an excellent option for when you’re going on a first or second date and you want to keep things relatively casual, but are still open to the possibility of continuing the conversation into the evening.
3. Try some dedicated events
One of the mistakes I made as a London newbie was being too reluctant to go to events where there was any entry fee at all. For some reason, I’d happily spend £30 on drinks in a bar I didn’t like, but spending half that on an event ticket to be able to enjoy an evening in a great venue seemed excessive.
If that sounds familiar to you, give the events a go. Check out Eventbrite, Meetup and similar websites for Valentine’s nights, singles mixers, festive parties and more. Look for events where the whole venue is booked out for the purpose (rather than just taking place at a regular bar in a designated table, for example).
4. Go to hotel bars and theatre bars
A lot of hotels don’t require you to be a guest to have a drink at the bar – but because fewer people know of them, and because of the way these places market themselves (or don’t), you’re likely to have a much more relaxed time there.
The same is often true of theatre bars on less busy nights. Check beforehand if you need to buy a ticket to use the bar – but this isn’t always the case.
5. How to avoid places which are too quiet
You’re probably here because you want to avoid bars which are too loud and busy. But I actually recommend checking Google for busy times for the opposite reason as well: if you follow most of the tips on this list, you’re going to find some places where almost nobody goes sometimes. This can be especially true of some wine bars and hotel bars on weeknights. This can actually be lovely, especially if you’re comfortable enough with your date that the silences aren’t so awkward. But the perfect date spot (in my opinion) has a bit of a ‘buzz’, just enough to provide comfortable background noise and not make you feel self-conscious as the only guests in the place.
Here are some ways to avoid bars which are too quiet:
- Look for restaurant bars which are in a semi-open space and/or are not too far away from the dining area
- Places which have live musicians featured on certain nights, indicating that the venue has some traffic – jazz nights are normally a safe bet
- Scope the area out on Google for a busy-but-not-too-busy time to visit.
What are your favourite romantic bars in London? Let me know in the comments – I’d love to hear from you!