You’re Not A Tourist: London
Skip the city center chains and big names on your next trip to London and trade-up for insider views on chic neighborhood spots an temporary pop-ups.
A contemporary art crawl around London should include always include the standbys--the Tate Modern, Serpentine Galleries, White Cube, and Hauser & Wirth--but don’t overlook East London’s Whitechapel Gallery. Opened in 1901, it’s the old guard of the capital’s trailblazing contemporary centers, counting debuts and exclusives by Picasso, Jackson Pollock, David Hockney, and Gilbert & George among its hit list of 20th-century shows. Current exhibitions include the return of Pollock’s Summertime 9A some 60 years after it was first at the gallery, and a presentation by spatial artists Elmgreen & Dragset, which opened to critical acclaim in September (until January 2019). Throughout October, the gallery hosts a First Thursdays Art Bus Tour, with stops at galleries across East London, which ends in drinks and an art talk at the gallery’s After Hours wine bar.
The Boathouse London
London’s boutique hotel boom continues apace, with new digs by star chefs and lauded mixologists, a host of style sleeps for the budget conscious, and two debuts in former police stations. But for pure novelty, the most exciting new opening is a one-room hotel (for four people) on a barge in Merchant Square, in West London. British boat builders made the 60-foot widebeam vessel, which was designed in partnership with the interior design team from Made. The result is pure Scandi Insta-bait, with reclaimed wood paneling galore, black-and-white photo gallery walls, a freestanding log burner, and a full kitchen. The bathroom is roomy enough for a freestanding tub and rainfall shower, and there’s a branded rowing boat for loops around Paddington’s waterways. The barge also supplies two bicycles and a welcome hamper from the organic greengrocer, Daylesford Organic. Just don’t forget your Breton stripes.
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Printed Matter Meccas
For anyone who rejoiced in the back-to-school stationery shop, London offers a trove of boutique stores dedicated to printed matter and writing materials. In North London, just south of Angel tube station, Present & Correct is a playground for type A creatives, stocking functional, unfussy, and color-coordinated desk supplies--think tonal envelope sets, color wheel masking tape, stackable notepads, old stickers--from across the UK and Europe. A short hop east in Shoreditch, Papersmiths extends the offerings to cult magazines, greetings cards, and homewares, and recently opened a second store in Chelsea. At Persephone Books in Bloomsbury, the focus is out-of-print works by mostly female authors; the 128 (and counting) titles are printed with uniform gray jacket covers and floral endpaper and have custom prefaces by writers including Jilly Cooper and Adam Gopnik. In Clerkenwell, MagCulture is the brick-and-mortar from the beloved online magazine seller of the same name, and carries more than 400 titles from across the world.
Londoners generally prefer a local boozer to a swank hotel bar, but that rule doesn’t apply to Ziggy’s inside Mayfair’s Hotel Cafe Royal. It was here in 1973 that Ziggy Stardust bowed out of public life at a retirement party so glam rock it was dubbed “The Last Supper.” The 21st-century incarnation scales back the bacchanal without scrimping on the rock ‘n’ roll flourishes: a black and gold bar, leather armchairs, and rare Bowie portraits on the walls taken by legendary ‘70s photographer, Mick Rock. Cocktails like the Cat From Japan and Tongue Twisting Storm are named for Bowie lyrics, but the concoctions themselves are the creation of master mixologist, Fabio Spinetti.
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House of Illustration
It’s hard to be in London in 2018 without spending time in King’s Cross, which has transformed from a train station to a neighborhood in its own right over the last decade. Today, the area teems with employees from the Guardian newspaper, Universal, and, soon, Facebook and Google, as well as the power breakfast crowd making a beeline for the restaurants in Granary Square. Adding to the draw is the excellent House of Illustration, opened by Sir Quentin Blake (illustrator of Roald Dahl’s books) in 2014. The center focuses on historical and contemporary illustration, with nine exhibitions rotating through three galleries each year. Budding and experienced artists can sign up for courses and masterclasses like illustrating graphic novels and fabric printing.
Awarded London’s Theater of the Year by the Stage Awards, Highbury’s Almeida Theater is no hidden gem but is easily missed by visitors distracted by the bright lights of the West End. Opened in 1980, the 325-seat, one-room theater celebrates the best of emerging British stage talent through artistic interpretations of established plays. This season, Tennessee Williams’ Summer and Smoke is brought to life by two young actors, Patsy Ferran and Seb Carrington, while veteran actor Simon Russell Beale plays the title role in the Tragedy of King Richard II, with direction by Young Vic and Royal Court alum, Joe Hill-Gibbins. The theater will also host a panel discussion about Shakespeare’s most narcissistic character, part of their popular Almeida Questions series (£5; free for under-25s). The on-site Almeida Cafe Bar is a cozy spot for a pre-show drink, but with all of Upper Street on your doorstep, we recommend exploring the neighborhood with dinner at Italian favorite Trullo or British Smokehouse.
A pop-up that shows no signs of coming down, Pop Brixton is a community-focused event, art, and dining space located in old shipping containers in brixton. Home to 50 young local businesses, the site houses cool one-off boutiques (a record shop; tattoo parlor; vintage clothing store), and standout food outlets. Try smoked, brined, cured, and fermented small plates at Smoke & Salt; crepes and waffles at L’Amuse Bouche; modern Cantonese fare at Duck Duck Goose; and Mexican street eats and Maria Sabina. After dark, the indoor/outdoor space goes into party mode, with live DJ sets from mostly jazz, funk, disco, and Brazilian artists.
Wine lovers and magazine fans might be more familiar with this Bloomsbury restaurant’s quarterly print publication than its dining room on Lamb’s Conduit Street, but both deserve attention on your next London visit. Under blue skies, grab a table for two outside the claret-colored restaurant and take in one of London’s prettiest streets over rock oysters, coppa, and ever-changing terrines. For a quick dinner, find a seat at the bar and leave your wine order in the care of the expert staff; by-the-glass options include sparkling tipples from Hampshire and Sussex and three choices from Greece. Dinners are big-night-out feasts of British classics given creative spin: roasted mallard with celeriac, thornback ray wine with seaweed butter, and for dessert, seasonal tarts with yogurt sorbet.
London loves a subterranean bar, and one of the newest is the raucous dance den, Blame Gloria. Opened in mid-August by the party-loving folks behind Tonight Josephine and Bar Elba, this Covent Garden incarnation is all ‘70s fabrics, mirrored tiles, ceiling murals, neon lighting, and glitter accents. The bathrooms take the kitsch a notch higher and are draped in wallpaper depicting pop culture icons like Frida Kahlo, Bianca Jagger, Wednesday Adams, and Shirley Manson. Posh cocktails include the Porn Star martini with vanilla-infused vodka and passionfruit, a pineapple Negroni, and Gloria’s Sour with melon liqueur and egg white. FYI: The drinks menu also includes a shooter list, available as singles or a team of six — just so you know where the night is headed.
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