Bar-Italia-band

Bar Italia Serves the Spirit of Italy

bar italia soho london
 

BAR ITALIA SERVES THE SPIRIT OF ITALY

Bar Italia is an Italian café in Soho that has been making excellent coffee since 1949. You can also get paninis, pizzas, wine, and liquor as you watch football on the television at the back.

Bar Italia, 22 Frith Street, Soho, London W1D 4RF. Phone: 020 7437 4520

READ FERNANDO SDRIGOTTI'S STORY

And now it's morning
There's only one place we can go
It's around the corner in Soho
Where other broken people go

Pulp, Bar Italia

In the months leading to my daughter’s birth, conscious that I didn’t need the extra anxiety, I quit coffee. When I came back to the cup two years later, I did it in a caf in Dalston. This must have been mid-2013, and at the time I wasn’t familiar with the semiotics of dark grey walls and heavily tattooed — and heavily bearded — baristas. I didn’t make much of the ubiquity of Apple products in a given place. Nor did I pay much attention to a quirky WiFi password or the ’80s music blasting ironically from the speakers. When my coffee arrived, I was surprised by what food writer Jay Rayner would describe with grace and accuracy a year later: “The colour is right. It's coal black and across the surface is a fine, seashore foam of copper-coloured froth, the all important ‘crema’. The taste, however, is wrong. Very wrong.” I thought that my espresso was perhaps defective and sent it back. The second cup tasted very wrong too and I attributed the spiteful flavour to me falling out of love with coffee after a long hiatus. It took me several weeks to figure out this was a new kind of coffee: light roast was the name of the offending blend.

To this day, I would rather drink molten lead than one of these sour insults to the senses. Obviously, it is a matter of taste, yes. And in this matter of taste it is “heads of coffee development” in open plan offices that allow dogs, catering to well-off and caffeinated entrepreneurs of pop-ups and startups, and influencers of the world united in their terrible love for beans that taste like defecated tar who are in charge of deciding what good taste means. And so the sour coffee revolution keeps expanding beyond the confines of hip Dalston. Soon the whole of London — if not the world — will be Sour Coffee Hell.

To avoid the disappointment of this eye-squinting sour nonsense I have recently taken a radical decision: I only engage in caffeinated adventures in Bar Italia, Soho. No, it isn’t practical. And it obviously means I can’t drink coffee every time I fancy one. But at least I get to visit Soho more often.

bar italia soho london

Bar Italia stands in 22 Frith Street. It was opened in 1949 by the Polledri family, who borrowed the money to open it — £50 — from a fellow paesano. Seventy years later, the same family continues to own it. Perhaps as a testament to this continuity the bar looks pretty much as it would have in 1949, ancient till and espresso machine included.

Back at the time of Bar Italia’s birth, Soho was an area of London popular with the Italian community. Soho, with the famous Algerian Coffee Store just around the corner, was the go-to place for those after a good coffee. One and one make two, and the bar was a success from day one. Legend has it that, on the day of the opening, a party was organised on the street with the American comedians Abbott and Costello entertaining the attendees. Since then, it has continued in this trend, becoming a favourite spot for many famous Londoners and visitors: David Bowie, Francis Ford Coppola, Paul McCartney, among many others — including many jazz musicians from Ronnie Scott, just across the road — have patronised and continue to patronise this small café. Those more familiar than me with the world of theatre and television might be able to recognise a face or two in the place as well. Interestingly, this status as a ‘celebrity hotspot’ of sorts was perhaps sealed even before the bar was born: back in 1926, John Logie Bard — the television pioneer — demonstrated his prototype in his lab upstairs, as the blue plaque outside the bar reminds passersby.

bar italia soho london

Bar Italia’s deco and atmosphere really lives up to its name. From the Italian flags, football shirts, cycling memorabilia and pictures of celebrities to the chilli peppers and garlic hanging from the walls, everything is in place to hammer Italia home. The waiters are dressed in white shirts and black waistcoats, much like in your average Roman café. And it isn’t rare to bump into hordes of Italians watching the football on the telly at the back. And if the authentic feel isn’t enough for you, there is the opening to consider: the bar closes at 5 a.m. and reopens at 7 a.m., making it a favourite of late drinkers, early risers, and those who just stayed up all night, natural or chemically-induced insomniacs — a licensing miracle fixed for posterity in the homonymous Pulp song that opens this piece.

It is always reassuring to bump into a piece of London where history hasn’t been erased and replaced by the latest fad. Soho is an area under threat both by gentrification and the CrossRail development. Many of the places that gave it its aura have gone or will be gone soon. Bar Italia hangs on — heroically. May it hang for a long time. Or I will have to quit coffee again.

Photographs by Fernando Sdrigotti

 
Alexandra-Palace-band

Go Bananas At Ally Pally

alexandra palace
 

GO BANANAS AT ALLY PALLY

Perched on a hill between Muswell Hill and Wood Green in North London is the imposing Alexandra Palace, affectionately known as Ally Pally. It was built in in the late 1860s-early 1870s by the Lucas Brothers, who also built the famous and beautiful Royal Albert Hall in London at around the same time. The Great Hall and West Hall are today typically used for exhibitions, music concerts, and conferences. There are also activities such as skateboarding and boating for visitors.

Alexandra Palace, Alexandra Palace Way, London N22 7AY

READ MAHRUKH MCDONALD'S STORY

It was a hot day as we walked up the hill, stopping off on the sloping lawns to take in the view of the London skyline. Families had taken advantage of the beautiful sunny Sunday with picnics spread out on mats and kids running around playing.

Alexandra Palace was never a palace in the true sense of the word but a massive recreational centre designed solely for the enjoyment of the people – opera, musicals, plays, and all kinds of entertainment. It opened in 1873 but just 16 days later was gutted by a tremendous fire. However, it was quickly rebuilt and re-opened two years later.

In Victorian times, audiences were thrilled by actors seeming to appear and disappear into thin air and leap to incredible heights made possible by the under-stage machinery and traps. The theatre remains frozen in time, hidden away for more than 80 years, with much of the original décor and stage machinery still in place. Since 2016, a lot of work has been underway to bring the theatre back to life while retaining its original character. Excitingly, it is now open to visitors and not to be missed!

It’s a little forlorn through years of neglect, but Alexandra Palace is still an impressive building with an incredible alternative history. In the First World War, it was used as a refugee camp then an internment camp. Then, in 1936, the BBC leased the east wing to use as a production and transmission centre. It remained in residence for 50 years, but as other studios developed in and around London, the Ally Pally studios became outdated and eventually closed in the 1982, especially after the second massive fire in 1980 left a large portion of the building derelict. This wing also housed a Victorian theatre and, amazingly, both the studios and the theatre survived the fire. Today, it is the only surviving early TV studio in the world and is still used to exhibit historical television equipment.

alexandra palace

There are numerous events and shows taking place daily at Ally Pally, as well as activities like the indoor ice rink, outdoor skateboard park, boating lake, and the ‘Go Ape’ adventure park. At £36 per adult (£28 for children under 16), Go Ape isn’t cheap, but everyone inside seemed to be having so much fun that we bought tickets. We were in for challenging, blood-pumping action tackling high rope obstacles including Tarzan swings, a fun 79m-long zip line, and a 46ft sheer drop called the Plummet.

Kids are catered for in a separate Tree Top Junior specially designed for mini Tarzans aged between 6 and 10 years. They’re safely harnessed and taken around a practice run to ensure safety and comfort first. It is high, but the children loved it and staff were on hand to provide encouragement and support for not-quite-so brave.

There is also a 10-hole Pitch and Putt course open in the warm months and a picturesque lake where you can hire boats or ride in brightly coloured flamingo pedaloes. The indoor skating rink is open year-round, as is the Phoenix pub for drinks and food.

Our visit coincided with a Sunday morning Farmers’ Market at the bottom of Muswell Hill, and we walked through it, breathing in the aromas of fresh bread and home-made cakes and pastries. We ate at a French-Caribbean stall – a delicious Bokit’la, a pitta-style pocket bread stuffed with aubergine or salt fish, lettuce, avocado – so if you don’t want to eat at one of Ally Pally’s dining options you can always make a day out of it and grab a bite from one of the market’s offerings. With history, entertainment, and views, Ally Pally really has it all.

Feature photograph by John Bointon [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo 2 by neiljs [CC BY 2.0], via Flickr

 
Halcyon-Gallery-band

Discover Stunning Contemporary Art at Halcyon Gallery

 

halcyon gallery new bond street city of westminster london

DISCOVER STUNNING CONTEMPORARY ART AT HALCYON GALLERY

Halcyon Gallery was founded in 1982 and showcases modern and contemporary art from artists worldwide. It has three locations in London – at 29 New Bond Street (an intimate space), 144-146 New Bond Street (a space covering three levels), and in Harrods.

Halcyon Gallery, 29 New Bond Street, London, W1S 2RL. Phone: 020 7499 450

READ DIVYA SEHGAL'S STORY

In a city like London that is replete with world famous galleries and museums, it’s not often that one ventures to smaller, more specialist ones. But, over the years, Halcyon Gallery in New Bond Street has carved a niche for itself. Like the Tate Modern, it specialises in modern and contemporary art from emerging and established artists. Unlike the Tate Modern, which was founded in 1897, Halcyon Gallery is only 37 years old.

Because of the way shops are situated in New Bond Street – like numbered houses – when you walk into the gallery, it almost feels like you’ve entered the living room of a mansion with large paintings that line the walls and sculptures that dot the floors. Smaller galleries and museums have a more personal feel. There are usually fewer people, as these spaces aren’t as “touristy”, and you get to discover the best contemporary artists. The first time I visited Halcyon Gallery was to see the works of renowned glass blower Dale Chihuly, and I thought it was an apt space for his glass art.

If you want a taste of the art scene beyond the hustle and bustle of the popular, large galleries, Halcyon at 29, New Bond Street is where you should be. Just like its name suggests, it evokes serenity and tranquillity, which indeed is vital to appreciate art.

Feature photograph courtesy Halcyon Gallery

 

 
Old-Bailey-band

Witness a Criminal Case at the most famous courtroom in the world, The Old Bailey

old bailey
 

WITNESS A CRIMINAL CASE AT THE MOST FAMOUS COURTROOM IN THE WORLD

There has been a criminal court on the site of the Old Bailey since the 16th Century and a jail for over 1,000 years. Various fires and attacks have seen the court rebuilt time and time again; the famous domed Old Bailey as we now know it opened in 1907. Anyone can watch the proceedings of a court case from the public galleries without any bookings or fees.

The Old Bailey, London EC4M 7EH, United Kingdom

READ MAHRUKH MCDONALD'S STORY

Stepping into Court One at the Old Bailey, where the walls still echo with some of the most heinous criminal cases, can be an eerie experience. This courtroom has witnessed the country’s more notorious trials, including those of the Kray twins, who instilled terror throughout East London during the 1950s and ’60s; Dr. Crippen, whose wife’s torso was discovered under the basement floor in 1910; Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper, convicted in 1981 of the murder of 13 women and attempted murders of seven others; Dennis Nilsen, who murdered at least 12 young men in the 1980s; and Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in the UK, who was convicted of murdering her lover.

Ten minutes before the afternoon session was due to start, we rang the bell at the Newgate Street door and waited for a guard to invite us in for a security check. After going through security – no phones*, cameras, or large bags (including backpacks) are allowed in – we climbed three flights of stairs to a large waiting area with a prominent sign forbidding you from discussing cases in public areas.

Visitors have to stay for a minimum of 30 minutes for each case so as not to cause too much disturbance to the proceedings. That didn’t prove to be a problem for us at all –­ we got so caught up with the case, we ended up spending the entire afternoon there!

Some things have changed at the Old Bailey since the early days. Today, there are laptops and iPads where once there were inkwells and ledgers. Some things haven’t changed – all the court officials, including the judge and barristers, still dress in robes and wigs.

From the old oak public gallery, we had a bird’s eye view of the courtroom, including the accused – a young man accused of armed robbery – seated meekly in the dock. It was a fascinating experience with the barristers presenting their cases, calling witnesses to the stand, and the judge ensuring the legal validity of the claims made. We heard him many times state, “I have to, at all times, remain totally impartial so need to view all relevant information.”

old bailey

The accused had previous convictions that the jury was not allowed to hear, and they were asked to leave the courtroom a few times during the proceedings when this topic needed to be discussed between the legal team and the judge. We in the public gallery were privy to this information, which made it all the more exciting. Unfortunately, the case was not concluded in that session and was held over for another day, which meant we did not find out the fate of the accused.

The public galleries are open on weekdays from 9:55 a.m. to 12.40 p.m. and again from 1:55 p.m. to 3:40 p.m. Visitors are not allowed anywhere else in the building aside from the occasional open days or on paid tours when you can see the famous dome from the inside, but we will definitely return to the Old Bailey to witness another case.

Did You Know? These days, few people these days get to see “dead man’s walk” at the Old Bailey where, for hundreds of years, convicts were led out to be executed outside on the site of the old Newgate Prison. There was once a secret tunnel that ran from the church opposite to the Old Bailey so the chaplain could avoid crowds while visiting the Bailey to give condemned prisoners their last rites.

* We left our phones at the travel agents just a couple of minutes walk down the Old Bailey street for a small fee.

Feature photograph copyright a4stockphotos – stock.adobe.com
Building photograph copyright Alena – stock.adobe.com

 
RAF-Museum-band

A Guide To The Royal Air Force Museum

raf museum london
 

A GUIDE TO THE ROYAL AIR FORCE MUSEUM

If you have a love for aircraft and want to experience the thrills of piloting a jet fighter or experience what it’s like being a Red Arrow pilot, you cannot miss a visit to the Royal Air Force (RAF) Museum in north London. You can see up close aircraft from the World Wars such as the massive Lancaster bomber, the only Beaufighter (also known as the Whispering Death) in the UK, and the German Messerschmitt to more recent supersonic aircraft like the Phantom, the Tornado, and the Lightning. In addition to displaying over 100 magnificent aircraft, the museum also tells the story of the people behind the aircraft.

RAF Museum, Grahame Park Way, London NW9 5LL

WORDS BY MAHRUKH MCDONALD

Aviation History Timeline Wall & Support Vehicles

Located in Hangar 1, the wall is about 50 metres long and illustrates key events in world aviation from before World War I, when the Wright brothers completed the first ever flight in a powered aircraft, up to the modern age of flight.

In addition to aircraft, Hangar 1 also displays support vehicles such as ambulances and helicopters used in the World Wars. Don’t miss the Enigma machine that was invented by a German and used by British codebreakers to decipher German code during World War II. It is said to have curtailed the war by two years!

RAF During World War I

The exhibit is located in Hangar 2 and brings moving and inspiring stories to life. It includes many personal artefacts including medals, letters, and uniforms, as well as the finest collection of First World War aircraft.

World War II Aircraft

The collection of aircraft used during World War II is so enormous it needs not one but three hangars to contain it – Hangars 3, 4, and 5 are home to British, American, French, and German aircraft. This is where you will find the Messerschmitt, the Spitfire, Hurricane, Beaufighter, and many more.

Flight Simulators

raf museum

Hangar 1 offers a range of unique hands-on experiences, including interactive displays. You can design your own laser guiding bombing mission and even have a go at designing your own airplane and then seeing if it would actually fly. Very popular with kids!

The Gnat flight simulator is in Hangar 1, and you can also try on an RAF uniform. Take the pilot’s seat in the state of the art, full motion aircraft cockpit. A huge, 200-degree spherical screen provides you with an authentic experience. You are in full control of take-off and landing. The simulator experience will cost you £6.

There are also various rides in Hangars 3, 4, and 5. Enjoy a breath-taking flight with the Red Arrows; fly in the Eurofighter Typhoon, Europe's most advanced aircraft; or take part in in a Barnstorming to experience daredevil stunts and tricks in the pioneering days of aviation from the 1920s and ’30s. Cost is £3 for a four-minute ride.

4D Theatre

The newest addition to the museum, the 4D theatre offers exciting experiences of the greatest advances of navigational technology. Fly with the Red Arrows or participate in a World War I dogfight with the Red Barons; race through death defying ravines at supersonic speeds or enjoy a film of a World War II bombing mission in the B7. The rides open at 10.30 a.m. with the last ride at 4.30pm and cost £5 each or £16 for a family of four.

Spitfire MkXVI

raf museum spitfire

Take the pilot’s seat in a real Spitfire Mk XVI to discover what it is like to fly this iconic plane. You can take photos inside the cockpit, but be aware that the Spitfire’s cockpit is very small so a small camera with a wrist strap or a camera zipped into your pocket would be ideal. Only flat shoes allowed in the cockpit. It opens at 11 a.m., and the last session is at 4.30 p.m. Make your way to the Historic Hangars to book your time slot. There is a charge of £10.

Relax

Stop off for a hot drink and pastries in The Sunderland Café in Hangar 1, sitting under the wings of the enormous Short Sunderland Flying Boat. Or you can enjoy hot and cold food and drinks at the Claude’s Café in the 1931 heritage building. The third café, The Wessex Café, is located opposite the Royal Wessex Helicopter in Hangar 3.

If the weather is good, borrow a parachute rug or bean bag and enjoy a picnic outside on the lawn next to the themed playground or indoors in Hangar 3. There is a great shop too where you can pick up some interesting memorabilia of your visit to this museum.

raf museum

If you think your kids may be bored, think again. Kids love this museum. They may even describe it as the coolest museum they have been to! In how many museums do you hear children saying, “This is amazing”, and “Can we come here again”? It has fun things for kids of all ages, including miniature planes for under 5s: DH9A, Spitfire, Gnat and Sea King. Allow a minimum of three to four hours to enjoy your visit to this incredible museum. It really is a fun and educational day out for the whole family.

All photographs by Mahrukh McDonald except feature photograph by Steve Cadman [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Flickr

 
Camden-Guide-band

12 Hours In And Around Camden

camden
 

12 HOURS IN AND AROUND CAMDEN

WORDS BY MARTIN DEAN

The Borough of Camden is a rich seam of London, culturally, historically, and geographically. It stretches from just north of the River Thames, from Covent Garden’s famous Seven Dials and the Inns of Court, the city’s historic centre of training for Barristers, all the way north to the vast expanse of open parkland that is Hampstead Heath. On its western side, it touches the leafy Regent’s Park, while on the eastern side it meets the beautiful and bustling districts of Clerkenwell and Tufnell Park.

Within the borough’s large footprint, you’ll find the historic literary districts of Bloomsbury and Fitzrovia, famous institutions like the British Library, and at its centre Camden Town, best known for its lengthy association with rock and punk and its array of markets, bars, and restaurants. (To avoid confusion, remember that when most people say “Camden” they mean Camden Town specifically.)

9:00 a.m.

The ideal place to start exploring this borough is at its southern border in the heart of historic London. Catch the tube to Holborn Station, and if you haven’t eaten, stop by Fleet River Bakery on Gate Street for a fresh, healthy breakfast.

If you carry on along Gate Street, you’ll come to the beautiful grassy square known as Lincoln’s Inn Fields. Holborn has been associated with legal training since the 13th Century, and the precincts and chapel of Lincoln’s Inn — one of the Inns of Court, where barristers are called to the Bar – is open to visitors from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. On the northern side of Lincoln’s Inn Fields, you’ll find one of London’s most unusual and intriguing museums, Sir John Soane’s Museum.

sir john soane's museum camden

Sir John Soane (1753-1837) was a highly inventive architect, and famously designed the Bank of England. He was also an avid collector of antiques and the museum — formerly the house he lived in — is an incredible labyrinth full of paintings, Egyptian relics, classical statuary, and a host of other curiosities.

Fleet Kitchen, 7-11 Upper Woburn Place, Kings Cross, London WC1H 0JW. Phone: 20 7387 5544

Sir John Soane's Museum, 13 Lincoln's Inn Fields, London WC2A 3BP. Closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.

11:00 a.m.

If you enjoy museums, then this is one of the best parts of London for you. On the other side of Lincoln’s Inn Fields is the Hunterian Museum (full of medical curiosities), and just a 15-minute walk away is the world-class British Museum with a vast collection of items from all times and places. You also have the Petrie Museum, the Cartoon Museum, and the Charles Dickens Museum all within walking distance!

hampstead-heath-parliament-hill-kenwood-house-open-spaces-parks-camden-london

If you’re not a fan of museums, then this is an ideal time to catch a train to the northern part of the Borough and explore Hampstead Heath. It’s an enormous space, some 320 hectares in size, and it’s easy to feel as though you’ve left the city completely! Kenwood House, a beautiful stately home with masterpieces on its walls and activities for the kids, overlooks the Heath. As you explore its magical gardens, keep your eyes peeled for the flock of bright green parrots that live here. There are numerous theories as to how they got here – including that they were released by Jimi Hendrix – but the commonly held view is that they’re an accumulation of escaped pets that have made the Heath their home.

British Museum, Great Russell Street, Bloomsbury, London WC1B 3DG

Hampstead Heath, Hampstead, London NW3 2QD

Kenwood House, Hampstead Lane, Highgate, London NW3 7JR

12:15 p.m.

If you decided to take the museum route in Holborn, then the Great Court Restaurant in the British Museum is an ideal place to have lunch, or even a traditional afternoon tea complete with cream, jams, and scones. If you’re up in Hampstead, you can grab a delicious bite to eat at the Brew House Café in Kenwood House or head into Hampstead itself and have a traditional British lunch at the Buttery Café in Burgh House (if it’s a Sunday, try the Sunday Roast) or amazing pizza at L’Antica.

camden

After lunch, explore the delightful Hampstead Village, which is well-loved for its boutique shops and is the ideal place to pick up gifts. If you have a sweet tooth, be sure to stop by Venchi for fantastic ice cream and handmade chocolates. Oh, and if you’re a die-hard Harry Potter fan, you might want to make the pilgrimage to Kings Cross Station after lunch and visit Platform 9¾ and the Harry Potter shop.

L'Antica Pizzeria, 66 Heath Street, London NW3 1DN. Phone: 020 7431 8516

Buttery Café, Burgh House, New End Square, Hampstead, London NW3 1LT

The Harry Potter Shop at Platform 9 ¾, London King's Cross, Pancras Road, Kings Cross, London N1 9AP. Phone: 20 3196 7375

Venchi Chocolate and Gelato, 65 Hampstead High St, London NW3 1QP. Phone: 020 7794 7894

2:00 p.m.

For a unique London experience and a taste of the city’s past, be sure to visit the grand Victorian cemetary at Highgate, the final resting place of a number of a number of well known figures from Karl Marx to poet Christina Rosetti and scientist Michael Faraday. It’s a peaceful and historic place, with highly-crafted funerary architecture, making it a memorable experience. It’s divided into two halves, Eastern and Western, and while both are captivating, the Western side has the more grandiose architecture and can only be seen on a guided tour. If you’re visiting on a weekend, there’s no need to book; they happen every half an hour, so just turn up. On weekdays however, booking is essential. You can explore the Eastern cemetery at your leisure.

highgate cemetery camden

If you prefer something a bit less sombre, then head over to Primrose Hill and take in the fantastic view over London before heading into Camden Town. Camden Town has a long and fascinating music history, which takes in all genres and a host of iconic figures, from Jimi Hendrix and David Bowie to the Sex Pistols and, more recently, Amy Winehouse. A great way to get to know Camden Town is to take one of the many available walking tours, several of which focus on the area’s musical history.

Highgate Cemetery, Swain's Lane, Highgate, London N6 6PJ

Primrose Hill, Regent’s Park, Chester Rd, London NW1 4NR

4:00 p.m.

If you like shopping for interesting bits and pieces, the best place to start is the Camden Stables Market, so called because it was formerly a stables and horse hospital looking after the horses that pulled barges along the canal throughout the first half of the 20th Century. You’ll find an enormous selection of boutiques and stalls selling everything from taxidermy to chain-mail underwear as well as everyday things. Alternatively, take a walk alongside Regents Canal, which runs right through the heart of Camden, or stop in one of the many pubs and bars for a pint and a bite to eat. The Lock Tavern, The Black Heart, and The Hawley Arms are all steeped in atmosphere and musical history and are iconic Camden institutions in their own right.

Camden Stables Market, Chalk Farm Road, Camden Town, London NW1 8AH. Phone: 020 7285 5511

The Hawley Arms, 2 Castlehaven Road, Camden Town, London NW1 8QU. Phone: 020 7428 5979

The Black Heart, 3 Greenland Place, Camden Town, London NW1 0AP. Phone: 020 7428 9730

The Lock Tavern, 35 Chalk Farm Road, London NW1 8AJ. Phone: 020 7846 8219

7:30 p.m.

Several of the aforementioned pubs host live music nights, so if you’ve stopped in for a drink, you might want to make plans to return later and catch a band or stay put and make a boozy afternoon of it. They all serve food, so you’ll be well looked after. If you want more options to choose from, though, Camden has plenty. Mildreds serves incredible vegan food; Karavas offers a delicious Greek menu; if you’re looking for traditional fish and chips, Poppies does just that.

Fish and chips

If you like to mix food and music, The Blues Kitchen will keep you fed and entertained with spicy Cajun food and live blues. If you’re looking to eat out somewhere a little fancier, your best option is to head towards Regents Park to Gordon Ramsay’s York & Albany gastropub or further out to Primrose Hill for Bryn William’s Odette’s. Both are iconic eateries run by world famous chefs.

Mildreds, 9 Jamestown Road, Camden Town, London NW1 7BW. Phone: 020 7482 4200

Karavas Restaurant, 87-88 Plender Street, London NW1 0JN. Phone: 020 7388 4121

Poppie’s Fish and Chips, 30 Hawley Crescent, Camden Town, London NW1 8NP. Phone: 020 7267 0440

The Blues Kitchen, 111-113 Camden High St, London NW1 7JN. Phone: 020 7387 5277

Odette's, 130 Regent's Park Road, Primrose Hill, London NW1 8XL. Phone: 020 7586 8569

York & Albany Restaurant, 127-129 Parkway, Primrose Hill, London NW1 7PS. Phone: 20 7387 5700

9:00 p.m.

One of the best things to do in Camden is to go to a concert! You’re surrounded by world-famous venues that cater to all tastes. Roundhouse, a hotbed for underground music through the 1960s (hosting everyone from Pink Floyd and The Doors to Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stonesm and David Bowie), is one of London’s largest and best-known venues for live music. You’ll find live jazz at The Jazz Café, punk and metal at The Underworld, and everything in between at venues like Electric Ballroom and Camden Assembly.

electric ballroom camden

If you don’t fancy a night of gigs and prefer the theatre, you’ll need to head back down to Holborn where you have a great selection of theatres showing large scale musicals: the Cambridge, the Gillian Lynne, and the Shaftesbury.

Roundhouse, Chalk Farm Road, Camden Town, London NW1 8EH

The Jazz Café, 5 Parkway, Camden Town, London NW1 7PG. Phone: 020 7485 6834

The Underworld, 174 Camden High Street, Camden Town, London NW1 0NE. Phone: 020 7267 3939

The Camden Assembly, 49 Chalk Farm Road, London NW1 8AN. Phone: 020 7424 0800

Electric Ballroom, 84 Camden High Street, Camden Town, London NW1 8QP. Phone: 020 7485 9006

Gillian Lynne Theatre, 166 Drury Lane, London WC2B 5PW

Shaftesbury Theatre, 210 Shaftesbury Aveue, London WC2H 8DP

Cambridge Theatre, Earlham Street, London WC2H 9HU

 
God's-Own-Junkyard-band

Head To God’s Own Junkyard For A Lit Weekend

 

god's own junkyard

HEAD TO GOD'S OWN JUNKYARD FOR A LIT WEEKEND

Located in Walthamstow is God’s Own Junkyard, a salvage yard containing the personal works of late neon artist Chris Bracey. You can find props, backdrops, and signage Bracey made for movies like Blade Runner alongside vintage signs and disco balls. It’s a neon paradise you can’t miss.

God’s Own Junkyard, Unit 12, Ravenswood Industrial Estate, Shernhall Street, London, E17 9HQ. Phone: 020 8521 8066. It is open on weekends: Friday & Saturday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. The Rolling Scones Café is open for food and drinks all weekend.

READ DIVYA SEHGAL'S STORY

It’s almost bizarre to think there is a wonderland of neon lights, vintage signs, and old movie props in a decrepit industrial estate on the edges of Walthamstow and Wood Street. A few years ago, Ravenswood Industrial Estate was a bit of a dump with no reason to go there unless you got lost looking for a garage. Today, it has been transformed into “the” place to be on a weekend. You have two breweries, a gin bar, a regular pizza stall, and the jewel in its crown: God’s Own Junkyard.

The late world-famous neon-artist Chris Bracey’s God’s Own Junkyard was the first shop to set up there, and it’s a psychedelic world of its own. He created signs for a number of movies, including Blade Runner and four Batman films and, sure enough, the props, backdrops, and signage used in those movies are displayed in God’s Own Junkyard.

Instantly Intsagrammable from the threshold of this weird and wonderful place, you’ll find at the most popular spot a Jesus statue holding neon guns under a sign saying, “Madonna’s Erotic Show”. It’s indeed reminiscent of the Jesus statue in Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet. And while you’re there, you can give your neck and eyes a bit of a break by stopping for some cream tea, cakes, sandwiches, or coffee. God’s Own Junkyard houses a café, The Rolling Scones. But of course, it’s just a side act to the wondrous colourful, trippy, lit up world of disco balls and wacky signs.

 
Tooting-band

12 Hours In And Around Tooting

tooting
 

12 HOURS IN AND AROUND TOOTING

WORDS BY JAMES BLOODWORTH

South London gets a bit of a bad rep when compared to the northern half of the capital. Some of this distain is justified (South London’s transportation system leaves a lot to be desired), but it is largely down to ignorance: it is impossible for a person to visit a place like Tooting and come away complaining about the paucity of things on offer in South London. In Tooting, at least, there are a ton of things to do.

9:00 a.m.

Presumably it’s coffee you’re after at this hour, in which case you could do worse than head on down to Brickwood Coffee & Bread, situated inside Tooting Market near Tooting Broadway tube station. It isn’t just coffee that’s on offer at Brickwood; a tasty brunch and salad menu caters to those feeling peckish. Brickwood offers a pleasant setting to imbibe some much-needed fuel before taking on the day ahead. On Friday and Saturday nights, Brickwood transforms into a venue that sells cocktails, beer, and other alcoholic drinks, so if you like it that much you can always head back again later when night falls.

 

For those who just want straight up coffee or tea (though you can usually get a toastie at these places too) try Walker Wyatt Coffee, Mud, or JOE’s.

Brickwood Coffee & Bread, Tooting Market, 21-23 Tooting High St, London SW17 0SN. Phone: 020 8672 2668

Walker Wyatt Coffee, 3 Upper Tooting Rd, London SW17 7TS. Phone: 020 8767 8687.

JOE’s, 217A Tooting High Street, London SW17 0SZ. Phone: 020 3581 9642.

11:00 a.m.

Now you’ve refuelled, so to speak, it’s time to explore Tooting a little. Despite playing host to Europe’s largest Chicken Cottage, there’s more to this part of South London than just food. For one thing, there’s shopping. Whether it’s searching for bargains in the charity shops along the high street or exploring the eclectic offerings on display in Tooting Market, there is something to suit a variety of tastes. And hey, if you get bored you can always stop and eat again, because why the hell not? The market stays open until 10:30 p.m., so by all means take your time.

Tooting Market, 21-23 Tooting High St, London SW17 0SN. Phone: 020 8672 4760.

12:15 p.m.

With a bag stuffed full of bargains and a stomach full of carbohydrates, head over to Tooting Bec Common. For the more active, the common is an ideal place to burn off some of what you’ve consumed. If that’s not your thing, it’s still an extremely pleasant setting and the closest you’re going to get to countryside in this part of the world. There’s even a lake with ducks, swans, and other sentient creatures. Another underappreciated way to pass the time on Tooting Bec Common is to simply walk around, gazing up at the many magnificent oak trees scattered around the place. It’s much more interesting than I make it sound.

Tooting Bec Common, Doctor Johnson Avenue, Tooting, London SW17 8JU.

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2:00 p.m.

After you’re done exploring the green you may want to cool off. What better way to do that than to take a swim? If you’re up for that, pay a visit to Tooting Bec Lido, an open-air fresh water swimming pool situated just off Tooting Bec road next to the common. An adult swim costs £7.50.

Tooting Bec Lido, Tooting Bec Rd, London SW16 1RU. Phone: 020 8871 7198.

tooting bec lido

4:00 p.m.

Four o’clock is pub time. It doesn’t have to be, but it’s a good time to relax a little and reflect on the day that’s just gone as well as prepare yourself for the forthcoming evening. You don’t have to drink alcohol by any means, but this is the time to administer an aperitif for those that like such things. Directly opposite Tooting Bec Station stands The Wheatsheaf, an independent boozer that also serves food. The Wheatsheaf feels modern without shedding all the charm of an old-fashioned boozer. It tends to get busy in the evening, but 4 o’clock is the ideal time to drop in for a quiet pint.

the castle pub tooting

The Castle offers something slightly different. A Young’s pub that dates back to 1832, the Castle has a contemporary “gastro pub” feel to it. This may not be to everybody’s taste, but if you like that sort of thing then pop in for a drink in this huge and airy pub.

The Wheatsheaf, 2 Upper Tooting Rd, London SW17 7PG. Phone: 020 8672 2805.

The Castle, 38 Tooting High Street, London, SW17 0RG. Phone: 020 8672 7018.

7:30 p.m.

Early evening marks the highlight of a day spent in Tooting – for me at any rate. It’s at this hour that you perhaps want to think about getting something to eat, and in Tooting you are genuinely spoilt for choice, especially if you like spicy food. Even if you don’t, there is so much on offer that you are bound to find something to suite your own palate.

Some of the best South Asian cuisine can be found at Dawat. The restaurant operates a no alcohol policy, but it does offer takeaway if you’d rather drink with your meal. The food is highly rated, so it’s worth eschewing the booze and simply appreciating what’s on offer. On a Friday or Saturday evening, it’s wise to book a table as it can get very busy. That in itself reveals a lot about the place.

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Lahore Karahi Express is another top-quality South Asian restaurant in Tooting, as is Mirch Masala. For those who want to cast their net more widely, it’s worth heading back to Tooting Market, where a wide variety of food outlets dish up cuisine from around the world. There is literally something here for everybody.

Dawat, 256-258 Upper Tooting Rd, London SW17 0DN. Phone: 020 8682 9777.

Lahore Karahi Express, 1 Tooting High St, London SW17 0SN. Phone: 020 8767 2477.

Mirch Masala, 213 Upper Tooting Rd, London SW17 7TG. Phone: 020 8767 8638.

9:00 p.m.

Tooting Tram and Social hosts a wide selection of bands and DJs, meaning you can dance the night away or prop up the bar looking cool. Either way, who can seriously say that South London has little to offer after all of this? Tuesday is open mic night at the social, and on Fridays and Saturdays it stays open until 2:00 a.m. And what you going to do at the end of the night? Head to the massive Chicken Cottage, obviously; though you better leave the Tram and Social before closing time as Chicken Cottage also stops serving at 2:00 a.m.

Tooting Tram and Social, 46-48 Mitcham Road, London, SW17 9NA. Phone: 020 8767 0278.

Chicken Cottage, 38-42, Upper Tooting Road, London SW17 7PD. Phone: 020 8767 9229.

 
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The London Silver Vaults Are A Sparkling Underground Secret

 

london silver vaults chancery lane

THE LONDON SILVER VAULTS ARE A SPARKLING UNDERGROUND SECRET

The London Silver Vaults is an underground silver market that opened in 1876 as the Chancery Lane Safe Deposit. The building it is located in, on Chancery Lane, was damaged during World War II. It was rebuilt and opened in its present format in 1953.  The Vaults houses 30 shops selling everything from jewellery to pocket watches to cutlery.

The London Silver Vaults, 53-64 Chancery Lane, London WC2A 1QS. Phone: 020 7242 3844

READ MAHRUKH MCDONALD'S STORY

Deep down in the very depths of central London lies a secret even many locals are unaware of. The address is 53-64 Chancery Lane. Enter through the unassuming doorway with “The London Silver Vaults” inscribed over it, go down two flights of stairs, and you will be in the catacombs that were built in 1876 as strong rooms for London’s rich and famous. It now houses the world’s largest collection of fine silver ranging from small items (cuff links, spoons, card holders, or even a champagne swizzle stick) to grander pieces such as bowls, pots, and urns to even larger items like a full-sized silver armchair! It has been suggested you put on your sunglasses when entering this sparkling underground world!

You will find items dating from the 16th Century to contemporary pieces. Prices range from around £25 to over £100,000. But you don’t have to buy anything – many visitors just go to have a look at this amazing underground silver market.

Most of the 30 shops here are family run and have been handed down through generations, many in their third generation. And they aren’t all silver shops. Anthony Green specialises in antique pocket watches. The shop has a clock that was built not far away in Clerkenwell 300 years ago that still works perfectly. There is even a pocket watch with a loud chime for each quarter hour!

There are jewellery shops selling bespoke silver jewellery quite unlike the standard pieces you find in high street shops.

You can spend as much time as you like but allow at least an hour, especially if you want to chat to the friendly shopkeepers. They’re happy to share stories of famous customers and tell you what they bought too.

 
Eel-Pie-Island-band

The Birth of British Rhythm and Blues At Eel Pie Island

eel pie island twickenham
 

THE BIRTH OF BRITISH RHYTHM AND BLUES AT EEL PIE ISLAND

Eel Pie Island is a small island on the River Thames in Twickenham, Middlesex, 20 minutes from the centre of London. It is a residential island today, but in the 1960s, a dilapidated hotel on the Island was part of a music revolution that would change popular music forever.

Eel Pie Island, Twickenham, UK.

READ MAHRUKH MCDONALD'S STORY

Eel Pie Island – the name itself draws you to it! In the 1830s, it was known by the mundane name of Twickenham Ait and was renowned as a resort for visitors and boat parties, some brought by pleasure steamers in the days when there wasn’t a bridge. Tea gardens lined the front of the island, and the eel pies served here were famous. It led to the renaming of the island – and of the pub located on it from Island Hotel to Eel Pie Island Hotel.

It’s not just the name or its fame for serving great eel pies that have made this tiny island famous. It is music! Just as The Cavern Club in Liverpool is renowned for The Beatles music scene, the Eel Pie Island Hotel is famous for The Rolling Stones, Rod Stewart, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, David Bowie (then David Wood), Pink Floyd, The Who, and many, many more who, between 1962 and ’67, fused the gritty sound of R&B with the electric sound of Rock ‘n’ Roll to define the shape of popular music.

But Eel Pie Island has been used as a music venue well before the 1960s. In Nicholas Nickleby, Charles Dickens mentioned the hotel as a place where one could "dance to the music of a locomotive band". In the 1920s, it was a local tea dance venue. In 1956, it was a popular jazz venue. Arthur Chisnall set up the Eel Pie Club at the Island Hotel in the late ’50s, and in the early ’60s, it rapidly became “the” place to hear rhythm and blues bands. Youngsters flocked to the island every weekend. They paid the toll (around 2d) to cross the bridge, bought tickets (about 3 shillings 6d), and had their wrists stamped. The ink colour was varied from week to week to stop people from gaining entry again by not washing their wrist for a week.

The hotel was already in a dilapidated condition when it became a jazz hangout in the early 1900s. Part of the dance floor in front of the stage had actually rotted away in the R&B music years. The dilapidated condition of the stage added to the excitement of the venue, as did the highly sprung dance floor. You could not stand still even if you wanted to!

eel pie island twickenham

Before the first bridge was built in 1957, bands had to haul their equipment over the river on a chain barge. There was an instance when the barge sank, and with it, all the music equipment was lost, and the main band had to borrow the music equipment of their support band.

Eel Pie Island was a popular venue for youngsters from West London, but people travelled from all over London to this vibrant venue. Many parents banned their teenagers from the island. Many of them would have preferred their kids enjoy The Beatles’ music instead of the bands playing at The Eel Pie Island Hotel. After all, The Beatles wore suits!

The Eel Pie Club was forced to close down for safety reasons by the council in 1967. For a couple of years, it was used as a venue for well-known bands like Black Sabbath and Deep Purple, but by the end of the ’60s it completely closed down. It went into rapid decline with communes making it their home, and even the Hell’s Angels moved in. In 1971, the hotel burned to the ground.

eel pie island twickenham

Now, the island is home to residents. There are artist studios and boatyards. Phil Collins is the President of the Richmond Yacht Club on the island. This is where he, as a boy, learnt to play the drums. At a very young age, he played in a band on a set of tin drums bought from Woolworths.

You walk across the narrow bridge to Eel Pie Island, and you are in a different world, far removed from the hustle and bustle of London. The main road on the island is a pathway, no cars allowed – there is no way for them to come over and there is no road to drive on. The undergrowth is dense, and cottages line the road, some visible from the path, others tucked away. The most striking of these is called the Love Shack, a weatherboard cottage, bright blue with a white picket fence. Half a mannequin, her legs sticking out from the ground, adorns the entrance. On another cottage, a sign, “Any person omitting to shut and fasten this gate after using it is liable to a penalty of forty shillings”. The island retains some of its quirkiness.

All photographs by Mahrukh McDonald except feature photography by Iridescenti [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC BY-SA 2.5 ], from Wikimedia Commons