“East London, love the place. My dad grew up in a shoe in Canning Town. That’s right, born and bred. Now it’s all £30 pints of bitter, of course!” – gentrification rants are fresher than they’ve ever been. But the complainer still probably wouldn’t approve of Brilliant Corners, despite the reasonable prices. It’s a bar that doubles as a music venue and a Japanese izakaya – the cocktails and tunes are consistently great, and it’s somewhere you can make a night of it. A fantastically smooth white port and tonic is only £6.50, and a killer negroni can be yours for £7.
No, a night on the tin-can mixers doesn’t have to set you back a number on par with Newcastle’s local authority budget, and we have the Covent Garden spot to prove it. Down a staircase near Seven Dials, Freud is a no-frills cocktail bar with drinks starting at £5.50 and topping out at a still-reasonable £8.60 for a Holy Negroni. Try the Holy Freud Lemonade, a perky blend of lemonade, lychee and elderberry spiked with vodka, and if you’re ever in Oxford, swing by the old church they call their second home.
Gone are the days of necking jugs of Purple Rain outside the back of Wakefield ‘Spoons, but that needn’t mean a final goodbye to no-frills, sugary concoctions. This is the Dalston fixture based on the unlikely idea that a tiki bar/ski-lodge mash-up makes for a solid evening out. Every cocktail on its succinct list is a barely-believable fiver, and while there’s nothing too adventurous here – the ginger mojito is our go-to – it’s difficult to care when you’re five drinks deep and braying along to I Want To Break Free.
Nowhere seems to rival Brixton in its ability to magic something from something else at walloping speed. An Esso transformed into a WWE speakeasy under cover of night? Not just yet. But the likes of Seven can pop up with minimal fuss and provide one of the most reliable nights south of the river. There’s a great crowd and even for the £5–7 range, drinks are made with care – we like the Portside Out Starboard Home, a sweet concoction that expertly blends Santa Teresa rum with aged port, fig jam, lemon and sugar.
The ultimate Bumble-friendly venue, perfectly calibrated to give first-date you an air of mysterious opulence despite the week-from-payday jitters. Coppa Club, a swank-looking bar overlooking Tower Bridge and the Thames, is far more affordable than outward appearances suggest. A classic Bellini is only £6.95, while a Mula de Fresa – combining strawberry liqueur, Cuervo Tradicional tequila and lime – is a bargain (for London) at £8.45.