The Bars Of Tooting Market

A tour of the bars and purveyors of alcohol to be found in Tooting Market

If, like me, you require a pretty compelling reason to travel to a non-local part of London on a day off, I would offer Pakistani restaurant Dawat as ample reason to make the trek to Tooting.

Vinyl and sweets under the same roof…

Dawat’s entire menu is outstanding, but their butter chicken is so good it could be described as a spiritual experience, unless you are a vegan of course, in which case it would be repellent. As with all things in life, reality is pliable and the true nature of a curry depends on what you bring to it.

Metaphysics aside, Tooting has two other jewels in its crown: a beautiful lido (the largest in the UK, in fact), and a covered market that was established in the 1930s. Tooting Market has changed quite a bit in the twenty-odd years I’ve lived in or around the area, and that change accelerated as gentrification shoulder-barged its way South down the Northern Line stops. In truth, I used to think the market was a bit grotty and would nip in to buy whatever I needed from the stalls and then get out again, sharpish. It certainly wasn’t a place I would go to hang out.

All of that has changed however, and over the past five years or so Tooting Market has transformed into a food and drink destination. It’s always busy, I suppose its immunity to the weather helps in that regard, and the eclectic mix of traders (food, booze, vinyl, vintage clothes, jewellery, antiques, to name a few) means the market is now very much a place to go and hang out for a few hours, which is especially pleasing on a rainy day.

The food on offer is as you’d expect in such a place, with lots of street, artisanal, organic, gluten-free, and vegan dishes available to eat-in or take out. It’s food Instagrammer nirvana, and a quick Google search will give you plenty of hits, so instead of getting into that, I’ll give you a rundown of the bars and booze you can find in Tooting Market.

Secret Bar

Secret Bar
My only gripe with Tooting Market is that being under cover, it gets a bit hot and humid sometimes. Happily, Secret Bar is tucked away next to the always-open side entrance of the market and is generally nice and cool, even on warmer days. Secret Bar has been around for 13 years, and its name makes sense when you realise that when it opened in 2011, fewer people viewed the market as a hang-out spot, so the bar was something of a local’s secret.

I would describe Secret Bar as straddling the line between dive and neighbourhood bars, with a menu that features old school, mainstream classics – Long Island Ice Tea and Screaming Orgasm sit alongside Espresso Martini and Daiquiri. The bar, and a couple of restaurants in the market, are owned by a couple, Louis and Mina, who moved to the UK from Portugal 20 years ago, and the most interesting thing about Secret Bar’s drinks offering is that all the wine and draft beer it stocks come from Portugal.

While you won’t find bleeding edge Lyaness-esque cocktails at Secret Bar, it’s cool and quiet, and the service is excellent and very friendly – A great place to sip beer or spirit and mixer.

Boom Bap Burgers & Bar

Boom Bap Burgers & Bar
Boom Bap, for the uninitiated, refers to 90s era sample-based Hip Hop (Dilla, Gang Star, etc) and while Boom Bap Burgers & Bar project an association with the genre in their music playlists and graffiti-inspired design, I reckon the bar’s name is really a floury bap pun. I haven’t eaten at Boom Bap yet, but as I sat chatting to its manager, Hanesh, I saw some plates come out and the burgers looked and smelled very good.

The bar sits on an island facing one of the market’s open seating areas, so despite being enclosed, drinking here feels quite ‘airy’ and makes for an excellent people-watching spot. Boom Bap’s menu is quite B@1-y, albeit much smaller. I watched a few drinks go across the bar and would have happily drunk any of them, and service was fast and efficient. Being so central within the market, Boom Bap’s bar tips over into high volume on weekend nights, with Rum Punch being the most popular serve, according to Hanesh. Personally, something about the American-ness of the joint made me want to order a Jack and Coke, but on this occasion I stuck to a bottle of beer because it was 2pm and I don’t drink Jack during the hours of daylight.

We Brought Beer

We Brought Beer
The shop-part of We Brought Beer (WBB) is tiny, with one wall entirely covered with chiller cabinets inside which you will find craft beers from all over the world. The manager, a very knowledgeable chap called Will, described WBB’s mission as finding and stocking the sort of high-quality brews you won’t find in supermarkets and high-street offies.

WBB has a few beers on tap, and a massive selection in bottles and cans, along with a little area for sitting and supping, but in truth it’s probably a bit cramped to become your regular beer session venue. Instead I think WBB is probably set up to be a discovery venue – spend some time talking to Will who will recommend brews based on your preferences, sit and taste a few, then buy a batch of your favourite to take home.

Unwined In Tooting

Whenever I see a business or brand with a name like this, I wonder how long it takes for the owners to regret being lumbered with the pun (Boutique-y, I’m looking at you). Unwined is a wine bar and shop, which people presumably visit to become ‘wined’, rather than ‘unwined’. Unless ‘unwined’ refers to the customers’ state before visiting, rather than after? Who knows, and why am I still going on about it?

Unwined is co-owned by Laura and Kiki, who met while working at Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen back in 2007. The bar and shop came to Tooting Market in 2015, and much like We Brought Beer, aims to offer products of a sort that can’t be found on supermarket shelves, with a focus on unusual grape varietals and ethically sourced and responsibly produced wines. Supervisor Hannah, who was working during my visit, was extremely knowledgeable and also very keen to offer samples of anything I thought looked interesting, which was nice. Unwined has a very pleasant space to sit and sip, making it a genuine wine bar, not just a tasting hub and shop, and it’s great to find a wine business of this calibre in a local market.

Graveney Gin

Graveney Gin
In short, I have no idea. I visited the market twice (being careful to check bar opening hours) to research this piece, and Graveney Gin was closed on both occasions. According to their website, Graveney operate a local distillery that produces several gins, some of which can be found on the back bars of Soho House.

I planned to visit Graveney Gin’s bar last, and round off my tour of the market with a Martini. No such luck, but I shall try again and update this story accordingly…

You can find a full list of Tooting Market traders here, and follow the market on Instagram here.