London's best venues to hear live music

Crowd-surfing anyone?

So who wants to be able to hear whatever your fellow pub-goers are saying, anyway? Let's face it, they're probably talking about work, Claire getting up the duff or some general moan about the tube.

So it's lucky for you that you don't stand a chance of hearing anything more than the truly awesome music being belted out from the PA system at these top London live music bars and clubs.

Welcome to a world of plastic pint classes, getting your bits felt as you crowd surf and, ultimately, tinnitus.

Totally worth it though.

The Boogaloo
312 Archway Road N6 5AT
Region: Highgate
Nearest Station: Highgate (0.1 miles)

AIL Says: From the murals in the back yard to the dive bar interior, everything about The Boogaloo screams authenticity. And while the phrase ‘too cool for school’ gets muttered about the inhabitants on occasions, well maybe that’s just because they were too cool to go to school? And they can’t help that. It remains a great North London spot for thrashing rock and jingly jangly guitars.

  • OUR REVIEW 8/10
  • USERS 8/10
The Stags Head
55 Orsman Road N1 5RA
Region: Islington
Nearest Station: Haggerston (0.4 miles)

AIL Says: If it weren’t for The Stag’s Head, there would be one less East London pub in which you could hear excellent garage rock, rockabilly and contemporary girl groups – and that would be a bad thing. It feels a little DIY but that’s the fun of it.

  • OUR REVIEW 8/10
The Old Blue Last
38 Great Eastern Street EC2A 3ES
Region: Shoreditch
Nearest Station: Bethnal Green (0.1 miles)

AIL Says: Say what you like about The Old Blue Last; just don’t say it doesn’t know how to pick a band. The likes of The Black Lips, The Horrors and Best Coast have all played it, and that’s why it still rules.

  • OUR REVIEW 8/10
  • USERS 7/10
Shacklewell Arms
71 Shacklewell Lane E8 2EB
Region: Shacklewell
Nearest Station: Rectory Road (0.4 miles)

AIL Says: The Shacklewell Arms is the staging area for London bands on their way to getting big. But it’s not just local bands. Europe, America and Asia have all inspired great nights in the Dalston back room, which comes complete with a rather charming bar to boot.

  • OUR REVIEW 8/10
  • USERS 7/10
Ain't Nothin' But Blues Bar
20 Kingly Street W1B 5PZ
Region: Soho
Nearest Station: Oxford Circus (0.1 miles)

AIL Says: This place does exactly what it says on the tin. It’s all blues and it’s allllll good. The tiny bar off Carnaby Street packs them in and knocks them out with some of the best RnB, soul, blues and bluegrass in London. The open mic on Sundays sees the stage shared between musicians whose talents verge on insane. See it, and then believe it.

  • OUR REVIEW 8/10
  • USERS 10/10
The Victoria
451 Queensbridge Road E8 3AS
Region: Dalston
Nearest Station: Dalston Kingsland (0.3 miles)

AIL Says: If you stumbled on The Victoria unaware of what’s inside, you’d be in for a big treat of live rough and tumble. The large pub has been taken over by new bands bringing energy and excitement to another East London venue that’s hard to ignore. It’s basic but the music is anything but.

    The Lexington
    96-98 Pentonville Road N1 9JB
    Region: Islington
    Nearest Station: Angel (0.2 miles)

    AIL Says: With that Americana theme it’s got going for it, The Lexington has a bit of a swagger. Evidently the promoters agree and get their best bands to play upstairs in the Islington hot spot whenever they can. See anything from anti-folk to surf-pop with the likes of (our faves) Sonny and the Sunsets playing in the past.

    • OUR REVIEW 8/10
    Cafe Oto
    22 Ashwin Street Dalston E8 3DL
    Region: Dalston
    Nearest Station: Dalston Kingsland

    AIL Says: The English and Japanese husband and wife team that who run Café OTO have established something of an avant-garde live scene in their Dalston space. Synth-punk, no-wave, and electronica: you will hear all music weird and wonderful at OTO.

    • OUR REVIEW 8/10
    The Windmill Pub
    Blenheim Gardens SW2 5BZ
    Region: Brixton
    Nearest Station: Brixton (0.6 miles)

    AIL Says: There’s a reason The Windmill in Brixton took off. But was it the cheap beer, the intimate candlelit atmosphere or the customers? No, it was the finely curated musical lineups that the bar cum club put on to please a particularly clued up crowd. Go hard or go home…

      12 Bar Club
      22-23 Denmark Place WC2H 8NL
      Region: Covent Garden
      Nearest Station: Tottenham Court Road

      AIL Says: It’s not just the location on the legendary Denmark Street that makes the Twelve Bar Club so highly regarded. It’s the bands and the tunes they play. An eclectic lineup from rock and roll to skuzzy garage rock graces the intimate bar from night to night and rarely disappoints.

      • OUR REVIEW 7/10
      • USERS 7/10

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