The best bars in London theatres to visit
March 8, 2022 11:44
London theatres aren't just home to many of the world's finest plays, musicals and comedies. These amazing venues are also great places to meet up with friends or simply hang out, thanks to their welcoming bars, restaurants and cafÃ© spaces - and some are real hidden gems. The city has everything from historic buildings hosting afternoon tea or serving up Champagne to funky modern venues dishing up local favourites and vegan fare.
Even better, you get to support an arts institution while you're tucking into a drink or snack, and you're in a building with stagey vibes and a great atmosphere. It can also be the solution to finding a meeting spot in central London without paying insane prices - and theatres are increasingly welcoming in people during the day as well as at night. That means it's a perfect partner to a matinee or evening show, making your outing even more special.
So, whether you're looking for a romantic date spot, a fun place for big groups, or just somewhere quiet where you can read your programme and sip a coffee pre-show, we've got all the best theatre haunts in our handy guide. Read on for foodie inspiration!
London's trendiest theatre, run by Kwame Kwei-Armah, is renowned for its must-see new plays, starry revivals and diverse crowds. Situated on the South Bank, just minutes from Waterloo station and a short walk from the Tate Modern and National Theatre, it's in a vibrant district with great transport links and plenty of surrounding bars and eateries.
But the Young Vic more than holds its own in the culinary department. The Cut Bar & Restaurant is a light and airy spot where you can get playful, organic fare. Think beetroot marinated salmon with smoked salmon mousse, mushroom and truffle patÃ© with quince jelly, spicy crab arancini balls with tonkatsu sauce, superior charcuterie boards, and vegan gingerbread sticky toffee pudding.
The bar is always buzzing thanks to The Cut's excellent selection of classic cocktails, allpress coffee and craft beer, plus a strong wine list. On busy nights, it's definitely worth pre-ordering your drinks for either pre-show or interval consumption to save queuing up.
The iconic Bankside venue, a reconstruction of the original 16th-century wooden playhouse, gives theatregoers the chance to experience a play as it would have been staged in Shakespeare's time. The Globe is also a terrific spot to eat and drink thanks to the Swan Restaurant. Situated right on the Thames, it has majestic river views towards St Paul's Cathedral, and you can sit outside in good weather.
It's the perfect place for a traditional, and wonderfully indulgent, afternoon tea: a glass of Champagne alongside smoked salmon sandwiches, Clarence Court egg and truffle sandwiches, English Breakfast tea, and orange blossom and cranberry scones with clotted Devonshire cream and Bermondsey Bramble jam.
The a la carte menu features British seasonal staples like Cornish crab salad, saddle of Highland venison and winter berry trifle, plus there's a well-priced pre-theatre menu. And, for an extra Shakespearean treat, the Swan does themed dishes to reflect its shows - like Italian specialities and bespoke cocktails to match Romeo and Juliet.
There's no better place to enjoy the summer months than London's parks - and tucked away in north London's idyllic Regent's Park is this magical open-air theatre space. You can settle into its raked outdoor auditorium to enjoy everything from Shakespeare and Chekhov to musicals and children's shows, with the light falling during an evening performance to create a spellbinding atmosphere.
But the show is just part of the pleasure of the trip here. Many people bring a hamper with them to picnic in style on the lawn, or meet early at the marvellously long theatre bar - which twinkles with fairy lights at night - to sip a glass of wine or Pimm's.
You can also get delicious hot food at the theatre: The Grill serves up homemade burgers, The Pizza Oven has superior fresh pizzas, and the Covered Dining spot on the terrace does themed menus for each show. It's al-fresco wining and dining at its most pleasurable.
The country's leading theatre hosts significant plays and musicals on its three stages: the Olivier, the Lyttelton and the Dorfman. Its inaugural production was Sir Laurence Olivier's Hamlet, starring Peter O'Toole, and it has since debuted numerous iconic shows - including The History Boys, War Horse, and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.
The Southbank building is also hugely welcoming outside of its productions. The massive entry hall features comfy seating in front of floor-to-ceiling windows, and visitors can wander into its popular shop. Plus there are several enticing food and drink spots, such as the Atrium CafÃ©, which serves artisan coffee and snacks like fresh pastries, sandwiches and salads.
The National has recently joined forces with KERB, the independent street food pioneers, to showcase their offerings at bar The Understudy, and cafÃ©s the Atrium and the Espresso Bar. That means a range of products like Elephant and Castle Hej coffee, spirits from East London Liquor Company and beers from Gipsy Hill - all served up in this lively venue.
The home of new writing, the Royal Court is where you'll find the most provocative and daring contemporary work. It has nurtured exciting playwrights like John Osborne, Caryl Churchill, Martin McDonagh, Sarah Kane, Roy Williams and Jez Butterworth, and many of its productions have transferred to the West End - such as Posh and The Ferryman.
That output is juxtaposed somewhat with its genteel Sloane Square setting. But it does create an inviting meeting spot in this picturesque part of London, and the Royal Court's Bar & Kitchen is both stylish and - thankfully - much more affordable than the surrounding area. In summer, you can also sit out in the square.
The drinks menu is a good selection of craft gins and beers, fun cocktails, wine and soft drinks, and the ambience is particularly enjoyable: a constant buzz of conversation, but you can also find a nice table tucked away in a corner for a private chat. The kitchen is currently closed due to Covid, but will hopefully be dishing up its delectable bistro cuisine again soon.
One of London's newest and sleekest arts venues, it's so named because it is situated right next to the capital's iconic Tower Bridge (and the view from the Bridge, to paraphrase Arthur Miller, is jaw-dropping). This ultra-flexible theatre space is mainly home to new plays by a range of artists, programmed and occasionally directed by Nicholas Hytner - the hugely successful former head of the National Theatre.
But that's not the only reason to visit the Bridge. The building has a gorgeously decorated and impressively large timber-lined foyer space lit by 500 eye-catching copper light fittings. The long bar serves up a curated list of wines and local beers by acclaimed London restaurant St John, which also provides tasty morsels (although not currently, due to the pandemic).
In fact, the Bridge became renowned early on for its freshly baked madeleine cakes, which create a mouth-watering aroma on arrival and can be pre-ordered for the interval. You can also enjoy a range of sweet and savoury pastries with a coffee or tea during the day.
The historic Drury Lane - which has had a theatre on that site since 1663, making it the oldest in London still in use - has been restored to its former glory following a Â£60 million refurbishment. The Covent Garden landmark became particularly renowned in recent years for its grand hosting of West End musicals, and is currently home to Disney's Frozen.
The sumptuous interior of the Grade I-listed building is a show all of its own, and the refreshments are equally awe-inspiring. New all-day destination The Lane now offers afternoon tea by premier artisan baker Lily Vanilli in the Grand Saloon, so you can indulge beneath ornate ceilings and chandeliers.
The seasonal menu is constantly changing, but expect the likes of warm scones with whipped butter, cream and homemade jam, cannelÃ©s with goat's cheese and pickled beetroot, Rare Tea Company teas and Taittinger Champagne. You can also enjoy an espresso martini amidst the lush foliage of The Garden, select a crafted cocktail at the glamorous Cecil Beaton Bar, or sip Champagne beneath the Rotunda ceiling. Cheers!
This friendly hub for primarily new work was first converted into a theatre in the 1930s and, after a long dark period, was saved from demolition and reopened as the St James Theatre in 2012, then acquired by Andrew Lloyd Webber's company and renamed The Other Palace in 2017. Situated in Victoria, it features a main house and a cabaret-style studio, and has played host to the likes of AmÃ©lie, Heathers the Musical and Be More Chill.
Rivalling the creativity on its stages is the exceedingly hip bar, The Other Gin Palace, where you can relax in a leather booth and enjoy a coffee or tea from Vienna's Julius Meinl during the day while watching the world go by.
In the evening, there are more than 50 varieties of gin to choose from, plus fine wine, beer and Champagne, and - an especially pleasing touch - imaginative cocktails themed for the shows. Add in light bites like nachos, pizza and savoury muffins, and it's a heavenly spot.
Photo credit: The Garden at The Lane (Photo by Andy Paradise)
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