#167 Neal’s Yard
Tiny parts of the area around Covent Garden are what London has often imagined itself to be: bohemian, eccentric, individual, engaging and egalitarian. (If this was any city in the world, I’d be tempted to use the word ‘friendly’, but this is London. No chance.) Neal’s Yard has a fair claim to be one of these places.
Neal’s Yard is just off Short’s Gardens, one of the Seven Dials roads. It’s a small open space bordered by a few food shops, a massage centre and, of course, the famous Neal’s Yard Remedies shop. Neal’s Yard is basically a hippy hangover, one of those shared spaces that end up getting gobbled up by corporate coffee shops and clothing stores. But Neal’s Yard has hung on grimly to its roots, and the result is that you can still pop in and get an organic smoothie or a falafel wrap without feeling like you’re throwing money at a Starbucks subsidiary. The cafe/bar that covers two sides of the yard has a booze license too, so you can even sip on an ethical mojito (it’s always mojitos, isn’t it? It’s the combination of fresh ingredients and vaguely reassuring ethnic connotations, you see). It’s always full of well-meaning, backpacking students with shit-eating grins, too. You’ve been warned.
As for the rest of London, well, it’s business as usual: avaricious, contemptuous, fast-moving and pitilessly creative. That’s the London I like. Mrs Brown isn’t so keen. But I can take a holiday in this London too.