Seeking out the best drop-in live music venues in London where you can soak up great atmosphere, drinks and discover bands, artists and performers before you’ve heard of them (and maybe before anyone else too)? We’ve done the legwork for you, so you can just have all the fun and tunes…
When you’ve hosted live music for over 7 decades, you’ve earned your reputation as legendary on the London live scene: the 100 Club has an open-minded policy, welcoming artists as diverse as The Sex Pistols, Muddy Waters, Hugh Masekela, Lee Konitz, Oasis, Lonnie Donnegan, Jimmy McGriff, Travis, The Clash and The White Stripes. The bigger names will occasionally play pseudo-secret or low-key unadvertised gigs here, relying on word of mouth to fill the 350-capacity space.
100 Oxford Street, Soho W1D 1 LL
If you’re hoping to uncover tomorrow’s Franz Fredinand, The Barfly might well be your next ground to stomp. Having launched their careers as well as those of Coldplay, Blur, Oasis and The Darkness, Barfly is renowned as a venue for rock, alternative and indie music. Barfly’s policy of nurturing new music continues to this day, so it’s a good place to spot the stars of tomorrow.
49 Chalk Farm Road, Camden
The Lexington is a live music venue and lounge bar in Islington. Set over two floors, it regularly hosts a mix of riotous rock ‘n’ roll upstairs, while toning things down with some laid-back but classy blue and jazz downstairs. Serving food as well as drinks, it’s an award-winning little star find of a place which is worth a visit in its own right, even if you’re not in luck wit the bands.
96-98 Pentonville Road, St Pancras
The 12 Bar Club is one of the most famous live music venues in London for blues and country music as well as putting on some highly memorable folk, pop, rock and acoustic sets. A small, scruffy, low-ceilinged but highly-reputed gin-joint still standing its ground among the increasing Soho gentrification, the 12 Bar Club is an independent, atmospheric club to come and listen to music played like it really means it.
26 Denmark Street, Charing Cross WC2H 8NN
Having fostered and fed Madness for most of the 70s, Camden’s The Dublin Castle has since helped launch Britpop and become a haven for the indie kids of London. Up-and-coming bands play seven nights a week, and many have proved themselves here before moving up the bar-food-chain of London gig venues. It’s not the most elegant club you’re going to find in the capital (pretty far from it in fact) but it’s one of the most iconic for the area and something of an experience in itself.
94 Parkway, Camden NW1 7AN
Proud Camden is housed in a 200-year-old Grade II Listed former Horse Hospital in the Stables Market, Camden. Converted into a beautiful, cutting-edge live music and cabaret nightclub, it’s the place to be snapped in as something of a rock royalty and celebrity hang-out. You can even book your own private stable for a more intimate soiree, or receive your spot on the outside terrace, plus they offer dinner earlier and superb acoustics later on.
The Horse Hospital, Stables Market, Chalk Farm Road, NW1 8AH
A symbol of London and the home of British Jazz since 1959, Ronnie Scott’s is nothing short of one of the most respected jazz clubs in the world. Some of the greatest names in music have performed on this historic stage – from Stan Getz, Buddy Rich and Donald Byrd to Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis and Art Blakey. Originally opened by the British saxophonist Ronnie Scott in 1959, the legendary Soho institution was famously the first to host American jazz musicians in the UK. As well as welcoming the biggest names on the jazz scene (Zoot Sims, Johnny Griffin, Lee Konitz, Sonny Rollins, Sonny Stitt) it’s also made room for other artists that fit its unique vibe – Tom Waits, Elkie Brooks and even Mark Knopfler have all performed here.
47 Frith Street, Soho W1D 4HT
The Blues Kitchen Camden is an American diner/jazz joint full to the brim with soul and blues. A little haven of creativity and welcoming sounds offering some respite from the sometimes hectic Camden High Street, it offers booths, BBQs, murals and faded prints of jazz musicians. Also on offer are free harmonica lessons, bourbons in ready supply and basic good times and tunes are pretty much guaranteed here.
111-113 Camden High Street, NW1 7JN