Oh, you’d be interested in finding out what those last 64 visits were, would you? Well why didn’t you just say? Okay, we’ll give you a quick round-up, starting now:
64 Embankment Gardens
Turn right out of Embankment, instead of heading up to the crowds of Charing Cross and the Strand, and you’ll find yourself in a provincial park that wouldn’t seem out of place in a quiet, slightly backward market town. It’s just one of those random bits of green that redeem the city, however degenerate it gets. Nothing special, apart from some austere Victorian statues, but that’s just why we like it. Okay, it does have the unavoidable, looming presence of the 3,500 year old Cleopatra’s Needle, harbinger of suicide, naval disaster and ill-starred colonialism… but that just makes it all the more Victorian, somehow.
‘The Finest Toyshop in the World’ is also a five-storey obstacle course for adults, featuring dangers like shrieking babies, loose toddlers tripping you up underfoot, sneering teens, gawping tourists and parents furious at you for tripping over the toddlers. But in a city curiously devoid of toyshops, it’s still a Mecca for kids and geeks alike. If you don’t stand in awe of the life-size Lego Darth Vader in the basement, you’re a little bit dead inside and you’re not getting any icecream.
62 River Cruise
It’s not something most people who live or work in London end up doing. But it’s well worth spending a tenner or so and jumping aboard a river cruise from the South Bank Centre and seeing London with fresh eyes. Worth it just for the banter of the guides, too, who will always sneak in a cheeky gag or two to confuse the tourists.
61 Oxo Tower
For swagger, you can’t beat a trip in the hushed lift to the top of the Oxo Tower. Their latest configuration boasts trendy tiki drinks in outlandish glasses, but you’d better make sure you hang with the well-heeled South Bank arts crowd and not the braying bankers from across the river.
Cubana was a Cuban restaurant before Cuban restaurants were cool. Are Cuban restaurants cool? Ach, who cares, it’s a low-lit, noisy, always-busy place across the road from the Old Vic. While service can be distracted, the food and booze is 100% authentic, and there’s always a mild holiday atmosphere.
59 Brick Lane
London’s dullest-named interesting street continues to draw a heady mix of locals, hipsters, Banglatown tourists, organic foodies, thinkers and small-scale entrepreneurs. There’s even a few artists still around, if you look closely. If you haven’t been for a while, it’s worth popping back, because Brick Lane refuses to stop evolving.
58 Brunswick House Cafe
Sitting on the edge of a roundabout in Vauxhall, Brunswick House looks utterly lost in its concrete surroundings. But inside there’s a fantastic venue that’s half cafe, half reclamation yard, with all manner of vintage signs, statues, curiosities and ancient ads. Even the chairs are for sale.
57 Selfridges Food Hall
Yum, yum, yum. Mr and Mrs Brown are about to move in here. But do we prefer the Vanilla Icecream Milkshake pop-tarts or the peanut butter flavour ice cream? Maybe its the pink champagne truffle samples they keep handing out… [Mrs Brown]
56 Gordons Wine Bar
As London as fuck since 1890, Gordons is the impossibly crowded cellar bar on (or rather under) Villiers Street. Snatch a seat and you can do some serious drinking – in the sense of working your way through a detailed, quirky but accesible wine list, that is. Or just get pissed in the warm, echoey tunnels, like everyone else.
Proper French food that doesn’t mess about, Terroirs is all about top-quality, earthy, real-life meals with a paysan feel. Their charcuterie is a speciality, and the enthusiasm they have for everything on the menu just seems to ooze out. A world away from anything haute cuisine, but eminently civilised nonetheless.
54 Craft Beer Co.
This bar in in the City’s Leather Lane boasts a ludicrous row of pumps at the bar. This is the place to come for London’s widest sample of artisanal ales, and they take their lager seriously too, even brewing their own. Best of all, it’s still a fully-functioning regular pub that lets you knock back your one-of-a-kind Latvian organic pale ale in peace. Tip: don’t ask for a pint of Heineken.
Storytelling doesn’t need to be just for kids, honest. White Rabbit are a duo who get present events in which they read short stories – their own and others’ – to an adult crowd. We were lucky enough to attend ‘Are You Sitting Comfortably’, their first event to feature a live musical accompaniment.
Since this was a night of ghost stories, it couldn’t have been more appropriate for seasonal shivers. Listening to stories isn’t quite like being at a theatre event. It’s more intimate, more hushed, and yet still ideally suited to an evening’s civilised entertainment. Like all good fireside tales, these stories mixed the eerie, the spine-tingling and the funny – this last category including a story about the recently deceased getting haunting work, and another about everyday Satanism on an allotment. (And yes, they did funny voices, too.) Other, creepier tales featured a hangman propositioned by Death to take on Jack the Ripper (appropriate for the event’s east-end setting) and an imaginary friend with a terrifying lust for existence; just the kind of thing to benefit from the restrained and expertly arranged accompaniment by the musicians. This wasn’t just background music, it was a proper score, punctuating the stories and amplifying the tone.
Oh – and Mrs Brown won a copy of A Christmas Carol by revealing that her ultimate fear is The Littlest Hobo from the old TV series (including an apology for her hobophobia). Good times.
At the other end of the shopping rainbow from Fortnum and Mason sits Cyber Candy, grinning its little head off. There are actually two London branches of Cyber Candy now – one in the Boxpark in Shoreditch (which we’ll talk about soon) and the original London branch in Covent Garden.
Stepping into this busy little shop is like stepping into an alternative universe in which everything is 20% more interesting, 50% more Super Mario-themed and 300% more likely to cause Type 2 Diabetes. Cyber Candy specialises in rare, cute and sometimes disturbing sweeties from around the globe, with particular emphasis on the US, Australia and of course Japan. Japan shits out some genuinely wrong candy, you know. Probably the most famous is the vast and unsettling variety of Kit Kats that Japan makes. You can try everything from vegetable flavoured ones to green tea here. Most of them just taste dull and mildly wrong, like robot food, but come on – it’s not like anyone was expecting the universe to improve on the Kit Kat anyway. (Although the Aussie-only Cookies ‘n’ Cream Kit Kat Chunky comes close.)
There’s something endearingly 90s and bonkers about the clashing colours and brands that line the shelves. It’s the Manic Pixie Dream Girl of food shops. Boggle at the retarted level of Pop Tart variety (ice cream favour’s one of the best) and debate on whether to actually buy or just photograph the lollies with real insects in. And don’t miss the Twinkies by the till – those little yellow US cakes filled with synthetic cream which popular mythology claims could survive a thermonuclear winter/alien holocaust/The Rapture. “The Cockroach of Cakes” the twinkie wrapper proudly doesn’t proclaim. The only problem Cyber Candy has, really, is that non-UK sweets all taste like shit. Ah well. The wrappers are fun!
If Liberty is London’s dotty and glamorous bohemian aunt, then Fortnum and Mason is its eccentric epicure uncle; hidebound and hopelessly unhip, but smartly turned out and with a real twinkle in its eye. No wonder it got do confusticated when those young people occupied it that one time, and called the police. Old Fortnum and Mason doesn’t understand kids these days (Disrespecting her majesty?! Chaps kissing chaps?! The Radio-gram?!), but put a woman of a certain age in front of it, and it can still turn on the charm.
Fortnum and Mason is like an American TV show’s idea of a British Tesco’s. Ground floor is all sugary gifty treats, the basement is a serious foodie filling station, and the further you go upstairs, the odder the collection of ridiculously expensive knick-knacks gets. Globes. Models of yachts. Far too many dressing-gowns, for some reason. It’s like someone rewound time on an antique shop, and given the provenance, quality and expense of this oddball lot, some of them will doubtless end up as heirlooms of a sort.
When we went last month, Fortnum and Mason had embarked on an ill-advised ‘Parisian brothel’ theme for Christmas. Far more appropriate were the brass band players outside, knocking off some Christmas carols. Because we don’t want to see Fortnum and Mason trying to be cool or clever or sexy. It’s like watching the aforementioned eccentric uncle drink too much Tallisker and try and touch your bum: NOT EVEN AT CHRISTMAS, UNCLE.
Did you go skiing this holiday season? Good lord. Did you really? You absolute twat. Sorry, is that rude of us? Just because you didn’t have to spend December dashing around an increasingly sordid selection of pub, bars and restaurants thanks to a gypsy’s curse? Okay, we admit it. We’re basically just jealous.
Sky Lodge did a bit to assuage these feelings, though. Tooley Street’s top-floor Sky Room near London Bridge was turned into an ersatz ski lodge, complete with outdoor campfire, mulled drinks of all descriptions, singalongs around the piano (do ski lodges really do this? Really) and warming stews. Our cheery hosts elected to dress up as reindeer, Santa and, bafflingly, a gingerbread man. Best of all, the Sky Room was filled with folks who seemed to genuinely be into the genial, clubby mentality of a ski lodge. (For all we know.) It’s these kind of brief pop-up nights that give London’s nightlife its treasured individuality – and offer everyone the excuse to dress up, of course, which is really the most important thing.
Yeah, should probably have written up this chestnut before Christmas, but what are you gonna do? This was experimental theatre troupe Duckie’s takedown of Christmas commercialism, in the form of a ‘promenade’ experience. Using the immense backstage space at the Barbican, groups of fifteen or so were hustled through a maze of different setups patched together with wrapping paper, sellotape and chutzpah. Each mini-event was a surreal pastiche of the selling side of Christmas: pushy salesmen revealing hidden machinations, a rebellious promotional elf, a sugar-dealing fortune-teller, an odious cross-dressing shopping channel host, and so on. Thanks to Duckie’s trademark sideways surrealism, the harried groups were never sure what they were about to see (or get roped into) next, which was entirely fitting for a show about the misery of seasonal shopping.
The show was fun and energetic, with a great last-scene reveal that used the immense space to maximum effect – but it was no Lullaby, in scope or execution.We’re not sure ‘Hey, Christmas is all about commerce these days’ is a deep enough message for this level of immersive action. Was their really much point in preaching to the choir like this? Ah, well – even if not, it was still a whole superstore’s worth of unsettling festive theatre.
Breeeergh but also WOOOH! Somehow, we managed to snatch 211 events out of the jaws of Time. I know we’ve got a lot of catching up to do on the blog. We’ve just finished the 211th event though. Just thought you’d want to know.
Listen. We’ll keep filling in the last events. Soon soon.
Train rumbles now and we’re on our way home. We love you all. It’s very dark. Happy new year!