London is famous for its bountiful pubs, but in recent years, there's another type of watering hole gaining traction in the city. With the disheartening decline of live venues and clubs in the UK and a fair bit of turbulence among the government over grassroots music funding, many of us are being drawn to hi-fi bars. These headsy institutions serve up a different type of musical experience, ushering in vinyl lovers and audiophiles for a late-night pint backed by a decent soundtrack.
Also referred to as listening bars, there's been a variety of these nightspots coming and going in London over the years, but in the past 24 months they've been notably trending upwards. A strong selection of new venues have popped up in the capital, catering for changing nightlife habits and a love for high-fidelity audio. Quality listening bars are an alternative to buzzy clubs with space for DJs to hone their craft in a more intimate setting, and wax enthusiasts to purchase records on the fly.
From hidden gems in the heart of the city serving up delicious food on the side to moody cocktail bars with chest-rattling soundsystems, we’ve put together a list of all the best hi-fi bars in London you should check out in 2024 (in alphabetical order).
Hackney Wick, East London All My Friends
Hackney Wick attracts music heads like moths to a flame, so what better place to build a listening bar with soundsystems as stacked as its line-ups? From the team behind The Cause comes All My Friends, a multi-floor bar, record store, and restaurant perched on the River Lee. Initially opened in October 2022 as a pop-up venue, All My Friends has far outlived its initial three-month stay in Hackney Wick, bringing the type of no-nonsense, DIY energy its sister venue is known for, and a high-fidelity soundsystem worth shouting about. All My Friends serves up cocktails, local craft beers, and pizza, claiming to be more than just a listening bar: “It’s an ecosystem”, the team tell Mixmag. “Home to a DIY soundsystem, an independent record shop, as well as a meeting place to eat and drink and have a bit of a dance with our extended family, friends and the wider music community - All My Friends is a laid-back extension of everything we started with The Cause."
All My Friends is open from Wednesdays to Sundays. Check it out here.
Hackney Central, East London Behind This Wall
With its vintage soundsystem and commitment to speciality audio gear, Behind This Wall has long been tipped off as one of London’s best hi-fi bars. Opened in 2015 inside a former Turkish men’s club hidden beneath the Narrow Way in Hackney Central, following a successful run as a pop-up down the road in Bethnal Green, Behind This Wall bills itself as a “lo-fi bar with hi-fi intentions”, bringing talented disc jockeys through the door and into its cosy basement each weekend. The soundsystem was put together “like a well-loved home stereo”, according to the team, starting with a pair of speakers and working backwards to add complementary amps, pre-amps, and a deck. The venue's most unique feature, however, might be its lack of a menu, encouraging guests to create their own 'choose-your-own-adventure' cocktails. “It's about finding your favourite drink - every visit can go off on a different adventure,” says the venue’s founder, Alex Harris. “A bit like a good DJ set, I guess? It's an evolving curation!”
Behind This Wall is open from Wednesdays to Saturdays (and occasionally Sundays). Check it out here.
Dalston, East London Brilliant Corners
Pairing an acoustically-treated room with corner-to-corner high-fidelity speakers and a bespoke valve mixer, Brilliant Corners is at the pinnacle of good quality audio here in London. The bar itself is an intimate space with low lighting, quality drinks, and non-stop music from DJs and record collectors seven days a week. As the venue has evolved and flourished in Dalston over the past decade, it’s spawned a number of side missions including fortnightly GIANT STEPS parties in Hackney Wick (and its own stage at Houghton), a new live music venue and Japanese restaurant named mu, and a wine and music shop on Columbia Road, Idle Moments. “Brilliant Corners has now been welcoming guests for over 10 years and I think what’s special is the community that has grown around it,” says the venue’s co-owner, Aneesh Patel. “This year we’ll be doing more late-night house parties with special guest DJs.”
Brilliant Corners is open seven days a week. Check it out here.
Hoxton, East London Equal Parts
In keeping with its name, this hi-fi bar is equal parts audio quality and drink quality, ensuring that “neither overshadows the other”. Equal Parts is primed for selectors with a floor-to-ceiling stack of records, most of which can’t be found digitally, personally curated by the venue’s co-funder, Michael Sager (of Sager + Wilde). “We exclusively play full LPs to provide the purest representation of an artist's body of work, and our bartenders have the privilege of selecting the next record to be played,” Sager tells Mixmag. Flaunting a “diverse range of music” from original releases to new records and reissues spanning hip hop, Afro, psych, Caribbean, and an “extensive collection” of Cumbia, all of which is played through a top-tier soundsystem from Audio Gold, Equal Parts offers “an immersive bar experience where drinks, music, and service harmoniously come together”.
Equal Parts is open seven days a week. Check them out here.
Peckham, South London Jazu
You’ll find plenty of hidden gems south of the river in London, and Jazu is one of them. Located in Peckham, it serves coffee by day and cocktails by night, described as a new-age hi-fi bar “with antiquated values”. In just under a year since it first opened, Jazu has become a Peckham staple, boasting a custom-built hi-fi system made from elm wood and a huge 18” driver for its ceiling-hung centre-piece subwoofer, as well as a stripped-back DJ booth featuring two turntables and a rotary mixer. “Simplicity is key”, they tell Mixmag. “The DJ booth is part of the bar and so all the DJs are in the thick of the action during a busy service.” This year, Jazu will welcome in artists including Donna Leake, Tash LC, and DJ Tracksuit to have a spin, promising: “We really wanted to be a place that represents local South London record collectors and not just DJs. We focus a lot on the world of “live” music, including jazz, funk, and reggae, with a large majority of it not being quantised - beat matching doesn’t have to take priority.”
Jazu is open for coffee seven days a week and for cocktails from Tuesdays to Saturdays. Check it out here.
Tottenham, North London / Peckham, South London MOKO / JUMBI
Rhythm Section founder Bradley Zero and The Colours That Rise producer Nathanael Williams are the brains behind two of London’s most talked about listening bars. JUMBI and MOKO are sister venues running in the south and the north of the city respectively, offering high-quality audio with their bespoke soundsystems and custom-built vinyl shelving (featuring some of Bradley’s own records) for the music communities of Peckham and Tottenham. Both venues mirror each other in look and feel, stocking food inspired by the Afro-Caribbean diaspora with kitchens from Well Fed Naz and Sisterwoman Vegan. “We try to honour that diaspora and legacy in everything that we do, collectively,” says Rudi Minto de Wijs, the Cultural Programmer across both venues.
In 2023, JUMBI was granted a 2:AM licence just a year after it first opened, while the pair’s more recently opened MOKO also runs with a late-night licence hosting parties on a weekly basis. “We’re conscious of maintaining relationships and working with the local communities consistently,” says Rudi. “Whether that's jam sessions, EP launches, poetry readings, dining with us or a no-nonsense party, we work as much as we can with local communities to create a space for them.”
London Bridge, Central London Nine Lives
There aren’t enough audio-forward venues in Central London, but Nine Lives is a gem that shows there’s appetite for it. “Our music is as obsessed as our drinks,” says the team behind the London Bridge-based listening bar. “The Nine Lives Soundsystem was custom built for us by our friends at Wave Research for high-fidelity music playback - it features four WR 322 full-range speakers, providing quadraphonic audio.” Featuring a “subterranean basement” under dimly-lit lighting, Nine Lives is said to be “the perfect spot for after-dark listening” with an extensive cocktail list and tacos courtesy of Tigre Tacos. “Book a table in the centre, order a Moby Dick, and sit back & sip, safe in the knowledge you’ve bagged the absolute sweet spot,” they tell Mixmag.
Nine Lives is open from Tuesdays to Saturdays. Check it out here.
Shoreditch, East London Seed Library
Down in the basement of the One Shoreditch Hotel you’ll find Seed Library, a moody hi-fi bar designed with mid-century furnishings. Primed with great acoustics thanks to its past life as a nightclub, Seed Library now softens the sound - and dims the lights - to create a high-end drink and listening experience right in the heart of Shoreditch, running for a little under two years. Founder Ryan Chetiyawardana (also known as the famous bartender Mr Lyan) says that music is a “key part” of all Lyan bars, “but with Seed Library, we wanted the warmth and fuller sound to be much more apparent”, with a focus on vinyl and “not so overly polished production”. Fitted with a Bozak rotary mixer and tunes courtesy of Diggers Dozen every weekend, Lyan explains that its roster of DJs “lean into the analogue feel of the bar”, making it the perfect place to fetch a late-night drink if you’re in the mood for quality sound.
Seed Library is open from Wednesdays to Sundays. Check it out here.
King's Cross, North London Spiritland
2024 marks a decade since Spiritland first opened as a pop-up in Shoreditch, with the time since leaving room for more activity in the world of audio and the creation of its iconic King’s Cross venue of the same name. With its own café, bar, and radio studio in Coal Drops Yard and two additional venues that have now sadly been shuttered - one a dedicated headphone shop in Mayfair, the other a restaurant and bar in Southbank's Royal Festival Hall - Spiritland makes a fuss of its sound, striving for “a unique approach to music and the culture around it.” Founder Paul Noble explains that it has a “deep and rigorous approach" to its soundsystem and programming "that’s since spun off into talks, parties and pop-ups”, with an entirely bespoke system built by Living Voice. “Every day at our King’s Cross venue you’ll find a DJ playing from the heart in whatever genre they’re exploring,” Paul says, noting the venue’s expansion into Lisbon with a series of warehouse parties headed up by the likes of Leon Vynehall and Alexis Taylor.
Spiritland is open seven days a week. Check it out here.
Covent Garden, Central London Stereo
Stereo turned some heads when it first took the place of beloved dive bar Roadhouse in the centre of London back in 2022, but in keeping with its formerly grungey DIY atmosphere and live music offerings, Stereo’s founders have repurposed the space and treated it with the same music-first approach. “When we first visited the site, developers said they were going to axe it,” says Stereo’s Xavier Padovani. “I was like, ‘no, it has a music licence which these days, in London, is really rare’”. The Covent Garden-based 600-capacity live venue and listening bar operates with a late-night licence to host DJs spanning every genre, from Chloé Caillet to Louie Vega, equally providing a platform for “young and up-and-coming musicians”, Xavier explains. “We wanted a simple cocktail bar with good food, good drinks, not too expensive, something everyone can afford.”
Stereo is open from Wednesdays to Saturdays. Check them out here.
Highbury & Islington, North London System
If you’ve ever had a hankering for meat and music at the same time, you’ll be pleased to know there’s a place for both just north of Highbury & Islington. Perhaps the UK’s most unique listening bar, System is located a stone’s throw from Newington Green inside an operating butchers, brandishing a tannoy soundsystem from 1976 and a roster of local DJs each weekend. Sadly, System is due to close at the end of January after a short and sweet 18 months in North London, so you have just two weeks to get down and check out this intimate hi-fi bar. “The aim of the project was to do something different in terms of music programming and atmosphere, lots of dance and electronic music gets played here and it ends up like a party most evenings,” says founder Jojo Mathiszig. “The idea was born when there was a lack of these spaces in London and it's great to see more popping up across the city now!”
System is open from Thursdays to Saturdays. Check them out here.
Brixton, South London The Shrub & Shutter
Brixton has a new hi-fi bar in town, The Shrub & Shutter, operating since July as a wine, cocktail, and tapas bar with high-fidelity sound. “Myself and my partner bought it in the summer and tried to put forward something that Brixton and the south of London doesn’t really have,” says the venue’s founder, Alfie Torres. “I’m an ex-recording studio owner from Liverpool, so I brought a lot of my speakers and equipment in and installed it to make sure the venue sounds good first and foremost.” Featuring four Genelec 1032a speakers in the restaurant at the back of the venue and an Allen & Heath XONE:92 Rotary Conversion mixer (thought to be the only one in the country), The Shrub & Shutter also provides quality cocktails and food on top of its all-vinyl setup.
The Shrub & Shutter is open from Tuesdays to Saturdays. Check them out here.
Gemma Ross is Mixmag's Assistant Editor, follow her on Twitter