James Kirkup
August 18, 2015

It’s been some time since Dalston was first declared the new hub of London’s party scene, but the wealth of nightlife venues concentrated in this East London district still draws crowds every weekend. The main action takes place on Kingsland High Street, colloquially dubbed “The Strip,” home to a wide array of basement clubs, gay bars and raucous pubs—of varying quality.

But an increasing number of places on and off the main drag now also offer a more relaxed drinking experience, with a concentrated focus on quality. Here, Mark Wilding, founder of The Dalstonist, a news and lifestyle site dedicated to the area, shares his favorites.

Berber & Q

Make your way to understated backstreet Acton Mews, just south of the main strip, where a stretch of railway arches is now home to some of East London’s quirkiest venues. You’ll find new arrival Berber & Q just past the Japanese ramen bar and board game cafe. Head inside for a menu that focuses on grilled meats and mezze, plus cocktails in Brooklyn-chic surroundings with a deep house soundtrack at weekends.

High Water

High Water blends shabby chic with the atmosphere of an Alpine ski lodge. Despite the potentially dubious decorative pairing, this bar offers a classier night out than some of its neighbors. Set up by two alumni of Milk & Honey, the bar and members club in Soho, the drinks are the main draw, and are served by a team of mixologists who prepare a pun-laden menu of cocktails with care and attention.

Pelicans & Parrots

Most of the basements in Dalston are now home to some kind of nightclub or bar, but only a few still offer the sense of discovery that came with visiting the area in its early days. By day, Pelicans & Parrots offers vintage home wares and fashion. But for a few nights every month, a secret door in the changing room leads to a beautifully decorated rum bar in the basement. Sign up to the store’s mailing list for details of openings.

Ridley Road Market Bar

Those in search of Dalston’s renowned party reputation need look no further than Ridley Road Market Bar (pictured), which draws a young crowd with kitsch tropical decor, cheap beer by the can, and giant cocktails. To get inside for your ginger mojito, you have to make your way through the debris left behind by the day’s market traders. Then hit the dance floor, where DJs spin party tunes ‘til the early hours. Arrive early if you don’t want to face long lines.

Ruby’s

Ruby’s is the original Dalston cocktail destination and played no small part in establishing the area’s reputation. A former Chinese takeaway has been transformed into a subterranean speakeasy complete with an eclectic collection of vintage beer mats and glassware. Choose from a seasonally changing selection of classic and contemporary cocktails, including house favorite the Chilli Apple Martini.

Emily Mathieson is on the U.K. beat for Travel + Leisure. Based in London, you can follow her at @emilymtraveled.

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