Vintage shopping

When pop star Lily Allen closed the Soho vintage boutique she’d set up with half-sister Sarah Owen, few Londoners were very surprised. It’s not that there isn’t a market for vintage – the problem is that there is one, and it’s already served by a small but well-loved troop of shops in the West End (it might also have been Lily and Sarah’s prices, but in fairness they’re still going strong online). Our pick includes a buzzy generalist with a 30-year history, an exchange that’ll buy your old clothes too – subject to them being any good – and finally an elegant store for menswear geeks.

Rokit Covent Garden

Rokit began life as a Camden Market stall in the late 80s, and has grown to a mini-chain of four stores across town. With a central team of buyers, finders and restorers, it’s a real generalist – expect rare denim, faded band t-shirts, glam dresses from the 50s, odd military pieces and much more. And it’s a fashion-conscious operation too (current trends they’re riffing include ‘90s Men’s Rave’, which we’re fully on board with), so you won’t find yourself digging through racks and racks of unwearable items before finding something you can picture stepping out in. Our local branch is on one of Covent Garden’s quieter back streets, near the fantastic Cross Keys pub.

  • Where: 42 Shelton Street, WC2H 9HZ
  • Walking time: 8 minutes

Bang Bang

Bang Bang isn’t just a vintage shop – it’s a bona fide clothing exchange that both buys and sells from its visitors. We’ve got two branches within walking distance: the Drury Lane shop around the corner caters for women only, while the Berwick Street shop over in Soho stocks menswear in the basement. The Bang Bang ‘look’ is eclectic, but tends towards the bright and bold; they also take in unworn samples from designers, so you’ve got a chance of finding some real bargains.

  • Where: 9 Berwick Street, W1F 0PJ
  • Walking time: 15 minutes

The Vintage Showroom

Stepping upmarket, here’s a very special menswear shop occupying a former ironmonger’s in Covent Garden. Initially formed as an archive for collectors Douglas Gunn and Roy Luckett, the business started with an appointment-only showroom over in Notting Hill, adding this retail outlet at Seven Dials in 2009. It’s a nice space too, all bare floorboards, vintage photos and dark wood display cases, with particularly striking garments hung high on the walls. While less casual than Rokit or Bang Bang, it’s nevertheless fun to browse in, and real clothing geeks will be in seventh heaven.

  • Where: 14 Earlham Street, WC2H 9LN
  • Walking time: 11 minutes

History in the streets: four statues and monuments to look out for

London’s an old, rich, layered place. If you know where to look, you can find its curious details, characters and stories written into the streets – and that makes every trip and every walk more interesting. Start by keeping an eye out for these four hidden and not-so-hidden objects in our neighbourhood. Each one’s near major attractions and restaurants, and some don’t even require a detour from main thoroughfares…

Eleanor Cross

The story of the Eleanor Crosses starts not in London but in the village of Harby in Northamptonshire. In 1290 the little village saw the death of Eleanor of Castile, the wife of King Edward 1. The grieving king commissioned a series of ornate crosses to mark the 12-night journey that brought her body back to London, and the last cross stood in Trafalgar Square. The original was in wood and stood at the top of Whitehall – this version is a Victorian replica erected by the Southern Rail Company in 1865. It may not be 100% authentic, but it’s a striking monument to one of medieval Britain’s most moving stories.

In the area: Trafalgar Square, the National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery, and St Martin’s Church. For refreshments, try the fantastic wine bar Terroirs and celebrated real ale pub The Harp.

A Conversation with Oscar Wilde

It took several years of campaigning from a group of prominent Oscar Wilde fans – including director Derek Jarman and the actors Dame Judi Dench and Sir Ian McKellan – to secure backing for a statue of the writer and wit. Maggi Hambling’s design was chosen from a short list of six, and depicts Wilde rising from one end of a bench in full conversational flow, a cigarette hanging from his hand. Opinion on the piece is divided – one Telegraph writer said “hideous is too gentle a word for it.” Astonishingly, despite being erected in the 90s, it was Britain’s first official public monument to Wilde.

In the area: As above – A Conversation with Oscar Wilde is just around the corner from the Eleanor Cross.

Hodge the Cat

It wasn’t fashionable to like, let alone keep, cats in Dr Johnson’s London. But the formidable and traveller was nothing if not a contrarian, and keep a cat he did. Hodge is believed to have been black, and was fed on oysters, which Dr Johnson insisted on buying himself. He’s brought back to life in Gough Square, near Dr Johnson’s House, by a cute statue – sculptor John Bickley has him sitting on a copy of Johnson’s famous dictionary with two empty oyster shells. The inscription “A very fine cat indeed” comes from Johnson himself, as reported by his friend and biographer James Boswell.

In the area: The Dr Johnson’s House museum itself. For refreshments, it has to be Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, a cavernous, historic pub that is traditionally associated with Johnson – though historians insist there’s no evidence he ever drank there.

Temple Bar marker (and dragon)

This one is hard to miss – it stands right in the middle of the road outside the Royal Courts of Justice, and marks the spot where the City of London meets the City of Westminster. It marks the place where a barrier was erected to regulate trade entering the City. It is first recorded in the 13th Century, but the current marker was unveiled in 1880. A more elaborate gate by Christopher Wren stood here from 1672 to 1878 – it was removed but not destroyed, and is now at the entrance to the Paternoster Square development beside St Paul’s.

In the area: While you can’t do much at the Royal Courts of Justice, they’re impressive from the outside; and just over Fleet Street is Somerset House and the Courtauld Gallery. For refreshments, try 28-50 Wine Workshop and Kitchen on Fetter Lane.

See something different: where to catch indie and up-and-coming musicians

London’s well-served for major music venues, but if you’re anything like us you don’t always want a major gig experience – sometimes you want to walk out of the door and be surprised by someone you’ve never heard of, without paying big-ticket prices or booking months in advance.

While our neighbourhood isn’t quite as steeped in music as, say, Camden (though that’s only a few stops on the Northern Line from Charing Cross) we’ve got a clutch of dedicated live music bars in the area, including one that dates back to the 40s and proved central to the punk explosion. They might be a little cramped, but they’re places driven by love of music, love of musicianship and a hunger for new talent. We think you’ll like them.

Ain’t Nothing But

Get ready for a tight squeeze. Now over 20 years old, the tiny, juke joint-styled Ain’t Nothing But continues to feel out of place in the nowadays rather manicured Carnaby Street area – and it’s all the better for it. Regular events include Blues and Burlesque on the first Sunday of every month, and the consistently hectic open invitation Blues Jam every Monday, when queues snake down Kingly Street. The bar keeps jumping until 1am throughout the week (when there’s usually a bit more room to move) and 2.30am on Fridays and Saturdays.

Address: 20 Kingly Street, W1B 5PZ
Walking time: 20 minutes

Landmarks on the way:

  • Zimbabwe House, designed by Charles Holden, who did extensive work for London Underground (including its headquarters in St James’s Park)
  • National Portrait Gallery
  • Leicester Square

100 Club

Behind this unassuming doorway on Oxford Street (at number 100, hence the name) lies one of London’s most venerable venues. It started life in 1942, when the restaurant that originally occupied the space started to hire live acts. A deep association with jazz – and specifically swing – followed, and saw several huge US names play here, including Benny Goodman and Louis Armstrong. From the early 1970s it became one of London’s key punk venues, hosting The Sex Pistols, The Clash and countless lesser-known acts. That eclectic mix continues today – the 100 Club remains a dark, unpolished basement joint where you can see anything from rock to jazz to (yes, really) classical.

Address: 100 Oxford Street, W1D 1LL
Walking time: 20 minutes
Landmarks on the way:

  • The southern section of Wellington Street, connecting to the Strand, was developed following the burning of the original Lyceum, which stood across the street’s current path, in 1830
  • Royal Opera House

12 Bar Club

Appropriately enough, this 25-year-old venue sits in the heart of ‘Tin Pan Alley’, aka the raft of guitar, bass and drum shops on Denmark Street – in fact, Andy Preston of Andy’s Guitars is a co-founder. The 17th Century building has been a stable, a forge and a carpenter’s shop, and now offers a small performance space with an even smaller balcony and a funky, sign-plastered bar area. With a 3am licence from Monday to Saturday (12.30am on Sundays), it gets through several bands every day, with the focus on the alternative – think punk, indie rock, folk and blues, with the occasional secret gig by a big name. A small, buzzy cafe at the front is open until 7pm Monday to Saturday.

Address: 26 Denmark Street, WC2H 8NL
Walking time: 13 minutes
Landmarks on the way:

  • The southern section of Wellington Street, connecting to the Strand, was developed following the burning of the original Lyceum, which stood across the street’s current path, in 1830
  • Royal Opera House

September at The Strand: Making the Most of the End of Summer Sunshine

Good news! Any overseas visitors to the Strand Palace Hotel this September are in for a late summer treat, with the weather set to take a positive turn. Indeed the Met Office has quoted ‘temperatures generally above average, particularly across central and southern parts where it could be very warm’ – code for shorts out, sunnies on and a blessed sigh of relief that the brollies can go back into storage… well, for the majority of the time anyway.

And with the sun (supposedly) shining, we’ve teamed up with the Hotel Direct Events Guide to bring you all the latest events well worth checking out in the sun this month.

Theatre

With hundreds and thousands of buses and tubes crossing the city every hour, nothing worth seeing is more than a half hour’s trip away from the Strand Palace: great news, then, for theatre buffs who will be interested to know that the open-air stage production of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ returns to the Regent’s Park Inner Circle Theatre this September. Touted by The Times as “a terrific retelling of Harper Lee’s classic” and a 5 star rating to boot, this 10-show-a-week play is well worth the 4 stop tube ride from Charing Cross to Baker Street.

Nearer to home, and for those nights where shelter might be welcomed, The Telegraph insists “you’ve just got to go” to Urinetown. Ok, so the name might sound less than attractive, but you could be first in line to see this hit new musical (a Tony award-winning Broadway success) open on the 29th September, just a 10 minute walk away.

Film

Check anyone’s top 10 list of things to see in London, and you can be pretty sure Leicester Square is on there. This is where many of the premières, from each of the Harry Potters to the latest BFI blockbuster will be screened. However, for something a little off the beaten track, we recommend heading over to Southbank, specifically to ‘The Scoop’ at More London. For it’s here that there’ll be open air screenings of cult and critically acclaimed films, from The Truman Show and E.T. to Life of Pi – some of which you may have seen, but certainly not with such a breath-taking backdrop as this. With showings from 3-26th September, it’s a short train ride from Charing Cross to London Bridge or, if you’re feeling romantic, why not take the ferry from Embankment to London Bridge City pier?

Music

Keeping the outdoor theme alive this September is the BBC’s Proms in the Park, which coincides with the world famous Last Night of the Proms. You could find yourself bobbing up and down with a straw hat and a Pimms for £38, well worth it for the entertainment which is headlined by funk and soul legends Earth, Wind and Fire – how much more thematic could you get for an outdoor event in the month of… well… do you remember?

If you’re not planning to be in town on the 13th for the last night, don’t worry. There’s a BBC Prom in the Royal Albert Hall on each of the preceding nights, to which there’ll always be a ‘prommers’ ticket available to queue (standing room only) for just £5. How much more eclectic does it get than Sir Simon Rattle and the Berlin Phil, followed by pop sensation Paloma Faith? All only one bus number 9 away from outside the front of the hotel.

Dance

Of course, it goes without saying that the Royal Opera House is just a few minutes’ walk away from the hotel. Should you miss The Proms, fear not: you can get your operatic fill with Leiser & Caurier’s production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville or perhaps Verdi’s Rigoletto.

Alternatively, world class ballerinas are in town for the critically acclaimed Manon which runs from 26th September to the 1st November. For more of an assorted ballet mix, check out a former Royal Ballet dancer-led troupe known as BalletBoyz who bring you their show: the TALENT.

And for outside entertainment? Why, just pop over to Covent Garden market before the show and witness everything from dance, to world-class street magic and illusion. In short, London is the place to be for end of summer talent and events this month.

Brilliant bakeries

Conventional wisdom has it that The Great British Bake-Off, a reality-style contest for home bakers, was a ‘surprise’ hit on British TV. Rubbish. Our love of cakes and bread was never in doubt, and if anything it was kicked up a gear by the US-inspired cupcake revival that hit town in the noughties. These days the range of bakeries here in the West End is nothing short of staggering. If you like the kind you find in French provincial towns, we have those. If you prefer the kind you find on posh Parisian streets, we have those too. We have the kind that sells novelty cupcakes to hipsters in Austin and the kind rich Swedish housewives use to cater their ‘Kafferep’ afternoons. In short: if it’s cake, we’ve got it.

Primrose Bakery

It seems remarkable now that there was a time when cupcakes weren’t in fashion – they’ve flatly refused to go away since their noughties resurgence, which frankly suits us just fine. The Primrose Bakery team got in on ground floor, opening in chi-chi North London neighbourhood Primrose Hill in 2004 before expanding into Tavistock Street in Covent Garden. They bake fresh every day, with a basic menu that features carrot, red velvet and salted caramel cakes. But the real magic comes from their rotating daily specials, which range from shameless crowd-pleasers like cookies and cream, peanut butter and Toblerone to subtler offerings like Earl Grey, rose and cinnamon. The Covent Garden branch offers decorating classes on selected Sundays.

  • Address: 42 Tavistock Street, WC2E 7PB
  • Walking time: 4 minutes
    • Look out for:
    • Tavistock Street was a fashionable shopping street in the Bedford estate in the 18th Century, but fell into decline in the 19th.>

BB Bakery

Frankly we could just link you to the BB Bakery gallery page [http://www.bbbakery.co.uk/gallery/] and leave it at that. This French-inspired tearoom’s secret weapon is a fantastic modern take on the classic afternoon tea, loaded with cupcakes, macarons, sandwiches and scones. An extra £7 buys you a glass of bubbly to wash it all down with. There’s also a range of gorgeous croques, from the tried-and-tested ‘monsieur’ to the ‘saumon’, with cream cheese, cucumber and smoked salmon. If you’re planning something special, BB offers private rooms and an ‘Afternoon Tea Bus Tour’, which is exactly what it sounds like – guests get their dainties served on a vintage Routemaster bus as it passes some of London’s best-loved sights and neighbourhoods, including the Houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace and Notting Hill.

  • Address: Chandos Place, WC2H 4HU
  • Walking time: 4 minutes
    • Look out for:
    • Maiden Lane, a former bridleway marking south side of Covent Garden.

Balthazar Bakery

After more than a decade of runaway success New York, Keith McNally’s brasserie concept arrived in Covent Garden in 2013, bringing its bakery offshoot with it. It’s a world away from the quirky flavours and coloured icings of our favourite cupcake bakeries. Expect generous, no-nonsense French pastries and big, gnarled loaves with heavy dustings of flour. The house-made bread is used for robust sandwiches and baguettes, stuffed with big flavours like rare roast beef, cured ham and cornichons, and as you’d expect, the French pastries are out-of-the-park good – if you’re in Covent Garden and need a quick breakfast on the hoof, head here for a croissant or pain aux raisins and a strong coffee.

  • Address: 4-6 Russell Street, WC2B 5HZ
  • Walking time: 4 minutes
    • Look out for:
    • Tavistock Street (see above)

Sweet Couture

New Row is one of our favourite gateways to Covent Garden – a quiet, surprisingly villagey street full of cafes, galleries and gift shops. And right in the middle of it you’ll find the original Sweet Couture. It’s a cupcake specialist, with a mix of regular and special recipes that include a terrifyingly moreish Oreo cake. Founder Risham Shuja’s team are particularly strong on seasonal ideas: at time of writing they’re selling Guinness cakes for St Patrick’s Day and lemon and raspberry cakes to celebrate spring (not technically spring fruits, but it’s hard to argue with a mouthful of brilliant cake). So good are this small company’s cakes that they’ve won a contract with top-end department store Selfridge’s – you can find them at three of its in-store restaurants.

  • Address: 23b New Row, WC2N 4LA
  • Walking time: 7 minutes
    • Look out for:
    • Bedford Street, built on the site of Bedford House (demolished 1705) and the subsequent Bedford Estate.

Bageriet

As much as we love the cupcake specialists on this list, we’d be the first to admit that London has more than its fair share of them. Swedish bakeries are a different matter. Business partners Daniel Karlsson and Sven-Gunnar Appelgren opened Bageriet in May 2013, determined to convert Londoners that their native country’s dizzying range of cakes, biscuits and pastries. It appears to have worked, and no wonder: the menu boasts gems like ‘Ungeherrar’ – vanilla biscuits filled with apricot jam and studded with pearl sugar – and ’Schwarzwaldtårta’, a cake loaded with meringue, hazelnuts and dark chocolate. Expect lots of pretzel dough, marzipan and cinnamon, and for the sake of your arteries try to resist the Klenäter, which consists of – wait for it – deep-fried cake mix.

  • Address: 24 Rose Street, WC2E 9EA
  • Walking time: 7 minutes
    • Look out for:
    • Bedford Street
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