Bright, spirited and bursting with character, Brixton is multifaceted. A kaleidoscope of cultures collide in this lively London neighbourhood where a variety of African, Caribbean and Asian influences are celebrated in the district’s food, fashion and music.
Crowds mill through bustling streets filled with sights and sounds: incense, reggae music, markets and murals. A cosmopolitan frontrunner of the past, in the late 1800s Brixton drew crowds with its famous market, purpose-built department store, and lit-up avenues — it was the first to get street lighting in the entire city. Since then, the area held firmly to an independent spirit and had become something of a local’s secret, but in recent years, there’s no denying that Brixton is changing.
Transformation came hurtling into SW9, first with the takeover of Brixton Village (former 1930s Granville Arcade) in the early 2010s — to house independent shops and restaurants — and then with the arrival of Pop Brixton in 2015, both sparking the welcome growth of the area’s bar scene. As is the way, further regeneration — and accompanying gentrification — followed suit, so that today, Brixton is a tale of two cities, the old and the new, where longstanding stalwarts rub shoulders with contemporary new openings.
Heading out in Brixton used to mean bouncing around boozers like The Dogstar, Hootenanny, White Horse and Effra Tavern, tin of Red Stripe in hand. But change comes for us all: now there’s upmarket modern dining at The Laundry, crisp Martinborough Pinot Noir at Specialist Cellars, and the arrival of restaurant groups — both The Blues and Rum Kitchens are cooking here. From Parisian-style natural wine bars, to intimate and buzzy cocktail dens, Brixton seems to have it all at the moment — and it’s showing no signs of slowing down.
While these days it may be more cocktails and natural wines than cans of warm lager, there are still signs of the old days: Brixton’s got soul. Here are the places to rock down to on Electric Avenue, Coldharbour Lane, Atlantic Road and beyond.
Bottle & Rye
Bottle & Rye, a venture from Robin Gill, may be the relatively new kid on the row in Brixton Market, but the Parisian-style wine bar has quickly positioned itself as a local hot spot with its charming ambiance and sumptuous small plates and drinks. The quaint, 28-seat spot is fitted with characterful antique wooden stools and tables, a gorgeous curved bar that serves as the focal point of space, and a disco ball hung from the ceiling just in case some party vibes need to be served.
For a strong start after a long day, go for the well-executed martini made with Konik’s Tail vodka, Citadelle gin, vermouth, lemon and olive oil. The food menu rotates on a daily basis depending on what’s available (the space is so small that the bar has limited storage space, so fresh ingredients arrive daily). While menu dishes may be fleeting, the exquisite BBQ lamb rump with charred peppers and smoked, slightly acidified aubergine is an example of how a simple dish with skilled cooking and quality, fresh ingredients can yield a memorable bite. With each small plate, a low-intervention wine to pair is in order. From delectable skin-contact wines, to more familiar bottlings of vibrant and fruity Gamay, it’s tempting to taste your way through the entire menu. And, if you do, we definitely won’t be ones to judge, because Bottle & Rye is just that good. Perfect for a second date, too.
Ground Floor, 404-406 Market Row, SW9 8LD, bottleandrye.com
The Laundry is an all-day neighbourhood bistro by award-winning hospitality entrepreneur Melanie Brown, set in a former Edwardian-era laundry building, Walton Lodge. The Laundry offers relaxed, cosy banquettes alongside elegant bar and counter seating, providing the ideal spots for couples and solo diners, through to group celebrations in one of the two subterranean private dining rooms, accommodating up to 25 guests.
The food menu marries classical dishes and techniques with British produce that’s cooked with a contemporary flair; all of which has the perfect liquid accompaniment between the expertly curated wines and easy-drinking cocktails. The plaice meunière with brown butter, capers, parsley and lemon begs to be paired with the ripe and bright viognier, while the lamb rump prefers to tango with a jammy syrah. The wine selection is concise, with eight options served by the glass and roughly 50 old and new world wines to choose from in total should you prefer to go by the bottle, but there’s something for every diner. Cocktails and non-alcoholic drinks are also plentiful, with the palate-cleansing cucumber margarita being a standout from the list, and the savoury Seedlip Spritz being the best choice for those abstaining from the booze. For a laid-back evening filled with attentive service, well-executed bites and a crowd-pleasing selection of drink options, The Laundry is the move.
374 Coldharbour Lane, SW9 8PL, thelaundrybrixton.com
Three Eight Four
Cocktails and small plates on Coldharbour Lane in an industrial chic space, this neighbourhood gem deals in original drinks with seasonal twists, and, pleasingly, has a section of the list dedicated to locally-produced spirits. Look out for takeovers from the likes of Brixton Gin and Market Row Rum. Try something different with one of Three Eight Fours house innovations: smoked rum, walnut and chocolate, or keep it classic — they do a mean Negroni, a decent late-night espresso martini, or, if you’re feeling lively, take a tequila shot straight from the freezer.
384 Coldharbour Ln, London SW9 8LF threeeightfour.com
Hacha’s second location in the heart of Brixton Market Row is the ideal watering hole for agave-lovers. The bar rotates a focused list of 25 Mexican spirits — ranging from mezcal and tequila, to sotol and raicilla — in addition to some refined Mexican grub.
The must-try cocktail is Hacha’s award-winning Mirror Margarita. The sustainably minded tipple ditches fresh lime juice in favour of the bar’s proprietary craft sour mix, which renders the drink crystal-clear, almost like a viscous glass of water. Luckily, the flavour profile is anything but neutral: bursting with caramelised agave, clean citrus and notes of orange peel, this margarita sips like a martini on the rocks, but is as upbeat and lively as a classic marg would be. Hacha is worth a trip just for its signature drink alone.
12 Market Row, London SW9 8LD, hachabar.com
Wood and Water
Wood and Water is a reincarnation of Brixton’s all-day Jamaican café and rum bar Three Little Birds, a restaurant founded by former Miss Jamaica, April Jackson. The latest iteration of the space, Wood and Water, blends modern British fare with a Caribbean flair. Expect twists on familiar dishes such as ackee and salted cod and rum-filled cocktails like the Pimento Old Fashioned — a mix of Barbados rum, pimento dram and chocolate bitters. With a vibrant bar space fit with tropical-floral wallpaper, and a list of other delectable drinks such as the Stolen Fruit (Paranubes Aguardiente, Banks 5, Three Lime Cordial, watermelon), Wood and Water is ideal for those who fancy a fine cocktail and some bites to share.
412 Coldharbour Lane, SW9 8LF, woodandwater.uk
ABV is an eccentric cocktail bar housed within one of Pop Brixton’s converted shipping containers. Like its sister bar Wood and Water, above, sophisticated rum cocktails are the highlight on the drinks menu. Start with a dry daiquiri —a London-born modern classic — made with rum, lime juice, passionfruit, and Carpano bitter, beforing finishing with the beloved tiki classic, the mai tai. If you’re looking for an intimate and low-key space to bring a date or friend before dinner, ABV is the spot.
Unit SO1, Pop Brixton, 49 Brixton Station Road, SW9 8PQ, woodandwater.uk/abv
Shrub and Shutter
For creative drinks and flavourful nibbles to pair, head to this experimental spot. The Do Nut Tella Soul, a mix of Maker’s Mark bourbon, hazelnut syrup, chocolate bitters and orange oils, and the Mezcaliforniacation, which blends mezcal with passion fruit, lime and grenadine, are top picks on the playful cocktail menu. As a nod to the upbeat Caribbean culture that surrounds the bar, bites such as oxtail croquettes and ackee find their way onto the food menu, acting as the perfect sustenance for boozier indulgences. With a killer happy hour from 5—7pm where you can enjoy a selection of cocktails for £7, it makes its case for being the best place for a post-work drink in Brixton.
336 Coldharbour Lane, SW9 8QH, @theshrubandshutter
A hallmark of ‘new Brixton’, this airy multi-use all-day hangout space houses a bar, restaurant, pizza parlour, taproom, gin distillery and hot desking space all under one double-height roof. Freelancers patter away on laptops while sipping cold-brew by day, the space fills up with locals drinking wine on tap and tucking into pizza by night. Small-batch gin, cocktails, spritz and seltzers are also on offer, and things get lively in the evenings with DJs and occasional live acts. Open until 2am on weekends.
250 Ferndale Rd, SW9 8BQ canovahall.com
Prince of Wales
The ground floor pub of this buzzy local boozer on Coldharbour Lane is a decent no-frills spot for a casual pint, but the upstairs two-tiered roof terrace is the one that draws the crowds. A series of summer parties bring live music to the venue each week — expect everything from funk, soul and disco to heavier house and techno. It’s a raucous spot and can get spirited on weekends, though things are a bit more chilled during the week. Visit Tuesday to Thursday for a relaxed(ish) sundowner on the terrace (if you’ve a warm coat), or soak up the night on a Friday or Saturday when it’s open ‘til 3am.
467- 469 Brixton Rd, SW9 8HH pow-london.com/club-terrace
For inventive drinks and modern Indian bites under the rumbling railway arches, pop-into Kricket Brixton. The site is uniquely housed between two arches: beneath one arch is the main dining area, while under the other arch is a large, cavernous bar area which has views into the bustling kitchen.
A curated selection of beers and wines pair well with the spice-driven cuisine, but don’t sleep on the flavourful cocktails. The signature Negroni-style Ceylon Bay is a popular choice made with arrack — an Indian spirit made from the fermented sap of coconut flower — and is what you might call an English bitter aperitif with notes of rhubarb and orange, garnished with an Indian bay leaf. The Dark Matter, meanwhile, is made with chilli-infused rum, mango and pink peppercorn. Eminently drinkable, to say the least.
Don’t miss Kricket’s moreish Keralan fried chicken, either. Served with curry leaf mayo and pickled mooli to cut through the fat and salt, it’s the perfect bite to keep the conversation going and drinks flowing. The bar is open until 1am with a limited food menu on Fridays and Saturdays, so plan accordingly.
41-43 Atlantic Road, SW9 8JL, kricket.co.uk
Margaux Aubry and Joe Sharratt’s neighbourhood natural wine bar is a little taste of Paris on the edge of Brixton, with its convivial dining room, upbeat French hip hop blasting from the speakers and a definite hint of mischief in the air.
Bottles are of the ‘natural’ inclination and feature a selection of small-scale producers from across Europe, with particular focus on France, Italy and Austria — although you’ll have to actually engage with the team to find out what’s on offer as they’re far too modern for a printed list. Grab a glass of skin-contact orange wine, the pour-du-jour made by fermenting white wines on their grape skins until the juice picks up an amber hue, and pair with one of their small plates. You might as well surrender to the instruction scrawled on the chalkboard: “eat well and drink too much!”
28 Brixton Water Lane, SW2 1PE naughtypiglets.co.uk
With a dim sum parlour, late night cocktails, and cabaret, Courtesan brings a touch of artistic flair and early 20th century glamour to the Atlantic Road. The female-founded space hosts an artsy, alternative calendar of live performance in the basement bar, alongside a drinks programme that focuses entirely on wine and spirits made by women. With flavours from ruby red Morello cherry and rose liquor to dark and sensual lapsang souchong tea and chocolate cream, if the burlesque performances don’t seduce you, the drinks will.
69-73 Atlantic Rd, SW9 8PU, thecourtesan.co.uk