Get your game on without losing valuable cocktail time
Got an insatiable competitive streak, but also like a good night out on the cocktails? Well, you no longer have to choose between a night at the local squash club and a drink with your mates! Work your way through our pick of the capital's finest activity bars.
Bloomsbury, Islington, Shoreditch, Victoria
These venues, in Bloomsbury, Islington, Shoreditch and Victoria are marketed as ‘Social Darts’, as if regular darts is an endeavour of athletic prowess performed in sterile sports clubs.
But Flight Club does manage to take the sport into a more boozy environment by eschewing the crusty, beer-trodden carpets and Scampi Fries normally associated with darts and replacing it with design-led bars offering brunch socials with bottomless pizza and extensive cocktail lists.
The City & West End
Both Swingers venues offer a trip back to the roaring 20s - The City branch in the shadow of The Gherkin recreates an English countryside golf club, while the West End branch by Oxford Street lays out a quintessential British seaside town.
Whichever you choose, you’ll be greeted with crazy golf on steroids. Huge ferris wheels, helter-skelters, lighthouses and windmills are amongst the obstacles you’ll have to navigate if you want to hit par.
Cocktail lists follow the course themes, with The Happy Giilmore, Mulligan Mule and Ferris Sour being our picks.
Where Swingers opted for quintessentially British themes, Junkyard Golf went full Hacienda for their courses and put the crazy in crazy golf. If you’ve ever wanted to combine a round of golf with a rave in a disused fairground, this is the place for you. Their London courses are - rather inexplicably - named Dirk, Bozo, Pablo and Gary, and take in an abandoned warehouse, dystopian tropical wasteland and disco-tinged scrap metal shop as well as the aforementioned fairground.
The disco lights that signal your successful putts will put you in the mood for a drink - and cocktails like the Bubblegum Sunset and Tropics and Ting are as subtle as the rest of this wild venue.
Cafe Kick and Bar Kick
Exmouth Market & Shoreditch
Table football is the great leveller, as can be seen at both Kick venues, where men and women, young and old can be seen frantically clutching at handles while screaming “no spinning” at their opponents. Cafe Kick in Exmouth Market was a frontrunner for the games-bar trend, opening way back in 1999 - two years before its Shoreditch sister-venue. Both use mismatched wooden furniture, pleasingly washed-out colour ways to create the feel of a European cafe, and menus offering jersey oysters, bagels and charcuterie boards (Cafe Kick) and burgers with craft beer (Bar Kick) have helped these venues to stand the test of time.
The O2 Arena, Greenwich Peninsula
Surprisingly, TOCA Social is the first venue to have brought the world’s most popular sport into the nightlife realm, and they’ve done so with a hefty dose of fancy technology. Players aim for targets on a screen, splitting atoms, uncovering their opponents’ faces by smashing away blocks and racing against the clock to score points. The food here is ‘created by a Michelin trained creative chef’ - though we’re not told who - and themed cocktails include the Wred Card, Mezzi, Lionel and The Floor is Guava.
Hackney & Waterloo
There’s no doubting the fact that Draughts is a Mecca for board game lovers. It’s as much a library of games as it is a bar to hang out with friends - they currently have over 1,000 games on their vast shelves - and if you don’t find something you like, well… you can’t be that much of a board games fan.
Their two venues (Hackney and Waterloo) boast kitchens serving pleasingly hipster fare including a smorgasbord of tacos, Korean Fried Chicken, halloumi fries and loaded nachos, plus Hackney, Brooklyn and 3 Weiss Monkey beers, and you can even dive into their cocktail list while plotting your next Pandemic move.
For the London history buffs amongst you, the Hackney venue is well worth a visit, if only to snoop around the former F Cooke's Pie and Mash Shop building which became its home. The owners moved from arches in Haggerston to the splendour of their new gaff (pictured), after promising to retain the Grade II listed building for future use.
Tanuki Gaming is adjoined to the brilliant Badger Badger in Deptford, which triples up as a bar, restaurant and workspace - so if you really want to convince the boss that you’re working from home, you can always tag yourself in next door before browsing the shelves for your next board game fix.
It’s not quite as extensive as Draughts, with 400 games to choose from, but they make up for it in laid-back cool and delicious Yakitori food from the kitchen.
Joining the bulging market for boozy crazy golf courses is Puttshack, from the people behind Flight Club. They claim to be tech-infused mini-golf, which relates to their actually-quite-clever ball-tracking sensors that create and track bonus points in each game and also keep your score automatically, which is of increased importance after a cocktail or two. Speaking of which, the courses have drinking stations at every hole. Special offers here include Brunch Club, which gives you a 2 course brunch, mini-golf and bottomless bubbles. See, we told you automatic scores were a good idea.
Proving that there’s no game in the world that can’t be improved with a bit of electricity, this is where you’ll find Electric Shuffleboard. For the uninitiated, shuffleboard is effectively curling without the need for ice - players send ‘pucks’ down a polished wooden table towards a scoring zone, where different sections win varying points. The electric element of this offering is mostly just screens and sensors tracking the game, rather than the gameplay itself, but it’s a wildly addictive game that anybody can play.
Both the London Bridge and Canary Wharf venues offer industrial sci-fi vibes, so you’ll get the added bonus of feeling like you’re playing in a Star Wars film set.
If you’re not up for shuffling, tables are available just for food and drinks, and both are worth your attention; big sharing platters and a lengthy cocktail list make Electric Shuffle a great destination for a get-together with friends.
The Four Thieves
The Four Thieves offers up a relatively sane Tap Room for beer-lovers, an all-weather Gin yard out back and a menu of sourdough pizzas that are worth the visit alone, but it’s the thoroughly insane Moonshine Raceway that earns them a space on this list. The neon-lit racetrack allows up to ten drivers to control cars using full-sized steering wheels, resulting in a raucous demolition derby where it’s acceptable to laugh at people’s terrible drunk driving. If you’ve ever harboured a desire to become a professional race driver, this is a great way to see if you can handle the pressure in front of a baying mob of onlookers.
Old Street & Farringdon
Ping pong, once limited almost exclusively to child-friendly all-inclusive resorts in Spain, gets a new lease of life courtesy of Bounce. There are plenty of traditional tables for the purists amongst you, but just like many others in this list, the Bounce head honchos have enlisted the help of technology to reinvent this game for a new, late night audience. Projectors with sensors turn the tables into high-tech computer games for ‘Wonderball’, and players can choose from a list of different challenges.
If you’re on a party vibe, then fear not: Beer Pong players get special tables of their own.
Fulham & Fitzrovia
The quaint, genteel sport of cricket gets a late-night makeover at Sixes, which claims to be the world’s first cricket/entertainment venue. It’s no surprise that this cricket experience launched in the well-to-do area of Fulham (expanding to Fitzrovia soon after), and you’re probably more likely to witness a boarding school reunion here than a raucous stag do, but that doesn’t make it any less fun.
Step into the nets, pick your skill level and get swinging against a robot bowler. The comforting thwack of willow on leather is accompanied by the aroma of BBQ meats, which can be washed down with the kind of cocktails you’d expect from a cricket venue - expect Yorkshire Tea, Tanqueray Gin, Belzasar Rosè vermouth, champagne and English garden herbs to make appearances.
London Shuffle Club
The London Shuffle Club offers a more classy, relaxed setting than the steampunk industrialism of Electric Shuffle; with deep blues and pinks covering the walls and hanging baskets surrounding the playing area, you’d be forgiven for mistaking this for a fancy members’ club.
This venue boasts two kinds of shuffle - the table top game and ‘lanes’ (which is played on the floor on a larger scale, even more like curling) - so there’s plenty of action for the players amongst you. If the sun’s out, try and grab one of the two outdoor lanes to get your tan on while playing. Even if you’re just there for socialising, this place has it all: A sun terrace, covered outdoor seating, pizzas, cocktails and even a Bottomless Shuffle Brunch.
Shoreditch Balls takes the whackiness down a peg or two from its crazy-golf competitors, and it’s not entirely unwelcome to be able to play without feeling like you’re in the midst of an acid trip.
Here, the ‘grass’ is green, the pins are flags and the zaniest obstacle on the course is a loop-the-loop, which feels pleasingly reassuring and calm.
Elsewhere in the venue, expect Shoreditch to do exactly as Shoreditch does: exposed brickwork, distressed walls and the obligatory neon sign or two.
Shoreditch Balls feels more like a cocktail bar with a golf course than a place dedicated to hardcore putting.
If your WhatsApp group has descended into arguments about what sport to play, there’s a simple option: Head for Roof East, where there’s something for everybody. Baseball batting cages, archery, crazy golf, lawn bowls, corn hole AND ping pong all get their own, dedicated spaces at this whacky rooftop venue that really comes alive when the sun is shining. Some are free to play (Jenga, cornhole, beat the bar and ping pong), while others are premium offerings that might require booking in advance, and there’s a host of street-food offerings to keep you fed and watered while you wait your turn.
Boom Battle Bar
For those south of the river who want it all, Battle Bar in Wandsworth won’t let you down. Set in a cavernous venue with enough neon lights to give you a winter suntan, Boom boasts no less than SEVEN different activities to see you through the evening.
The Bavarian Axe Throwing is understandably an alcohol-free affair, but once you’ve flung some deadly weapons across an enclosed space, you can settle in to a night of gaming-with-grog. Ping Pong, Beer Pong, Shuffleboard, American Pool, AR Darts and Crazier Golf are on offer here, and all of it comes with a hefty dose of booze if you so wish.
Have we missed your favourite? Let us know in the comments below!