What to see in London, England – Blues Bars, Pubs, Jazz Clubs
Millennium Bridge and St Paul’s left. Browse all UK and IRELAND articles
Wondering what to see in London, England after the sun goes down? How about live blues or jazz at the best London bars? Where do we start? There are plenty of great jazz and blues bars in London, including West End and Soho blues clubs, as well as London pubs and jazz bars. In this article, we’ll visit a few of them, including Ain’t Nothin’ But, one of the best London blues bars, and we’ll also suggest what to see in London when you’re not checking out the blues scene. But first you have to get there.
Most major overseas airlines land at Heathrow. Getting into town from LHR is easy — it’s either the Paddington Express or the Tube. The Tube takes a bit longer, and is less comfortable — indeed, it can be quite a crush (particularly at peak times). But it is cheaper, and can sometimes get you closer to where you really want to go – close to the best London bars in Soho – pubs, jazz clubs and of course, London blues bars. See London For Less with a London Pass
Another common point of entry to the UK is Gatwick (LGW). The London Gatwick Express takes you directly to Victoria Station. So, when in London, I often stay at the nearby Georgian House Hotel, a perfectly situated (and moderately priced) base of operations from which to explore the town. From there, you’ll have no problem getting to and from the best London blues bars and jazz clubs. Staying near a major public transport hub is the ONLY way to go in London, especially on a quick trip. Train, Tube, bus, or taxi — always an easy, safe trip home — at any time of day or night. For example, try the London Travelodge, an affordable, modern hostelry directly across the street from Euston Station. Browse more London hotels, or consider renting a central London apartment.
Outlying venues notwithstanding, blues music in London is all about the West End and Soho — and the 1950s and early 60s — when pioneer English bluesmen like Alexis Korner, Cyril Davies, Long John Baldry, and John Mayall performed along with electric bands like the Yardbirds and the Rolling Stones. Some of those great London blues bars still exist. The 100 Club (100 Oxford Street W1) — open since 1942 — is one of only two local establishments remaining in continuous operation since that era. The other is Ronnie Scott’s jazz bar, albeit now situated at a different address (51 Frith Street).Ain’t Nothin’ But
The Ground Zero of London blues bars in Soho these days has to be Ain’t Nothin’ But . . . a shoebox-shaped drinking establishment tucked away in Kingly Street W1, just around the corner from Carnaby Street, Hamley’s toy store, and the Palladium. There you can find live blues music, the cream of London’s current young crop — seven nights a week, twelve months a year. Regulars include King David and his Trio Deluxe, The Ian Seigel Band, Gentleman Jim and the Contenders, and Jimmie C and his Bluesdragons.
I’ve played this London blues bar several times. The pay is shit, but it’s tons of fun — as close to a genuine hole-in-the-wall Chicago blues joint that you’ll find anywhere in the world — America included. The crowd is very international, and trans-generational too. Typically it’s hyper-crowded, particularly on weekends. Better to try Mon-Thurs, or anytime before 8:00pm.
ANB is a Murphy’s bar (ie: no Guinness). But the area is soaked with traditional London pubs, like the Clachan (34 Kingly Street) Check out Donzuko Japanese restaurant (a few doors down) for the best in cold sake. And there’s a great Chinese fast-noodle place right next door.
The Blues Kitchen, on Camden High Street, is also a worthy blues destination, serving up authentic blues since 2009, along with authentic southern BBQ and Bourbon.
The Bull’s Head, a fondly revered jazz club of long standing, is located on the riverside in the heart of leafy Barnes Village. The food menu ranges from standard English pub grub to Thai cuisine ordered from an adjacent restaurant. Finding the place can be a bit difficult, typically involving some sort of train, tube, bus, and on foot solution.
For more great London blues bars, jazz clubs and pubs, see our blues bar, jazz club and pub directory, and please let us know if we’ve left out your favorite London blues bar!
One thing I like to do when staying at the Georgian House Hotel in Pimlico, is visit both Tate Galleries in one single swoop. From the hotel’s front door, turn right and head down to the river, then left (east) along the embankment. Eventually you’ll bump into the Tate Britain — an absolute treat for anyone who loves great art. Linger for a while, maybe even have lunch in the café. When done, just walk across the street to the river dock – Millenium Pier - and catch the water bus down river to the Tate Modern (follow the blue London Transport signs). It’s a great art gallery two-fer, and by far the best way to see the city — from the Thames. If you want, you can stay aboard and go all the way down to Greenwich — all for the cost of a bus ride (use your London Tube Day-Pass to save money). See London For Less with a London Pass
On the return trip, cross back to the the north bank using the Millennium Footbridge, passing by stately St. Pauls on your way home to Victoria Station via the the Tube (for a nap, shower, and change before heading out for dinner and an evening of blues at Ain’t Nothin But, or one of the other great London blues bars.
By Lindsay Mitchell