What makes London so Less Ordinary?
20th August 2018
As the birthplace of our brand, we couldn’t think of a better article to launch A Place Less Ordinary than by ruminating on what makes London special. To really understand the city, we need to look at the micro cultures and the people within them that form the wide web that is our capital.
London is the home of Dickens and Amy Winehouse; Bowie and Kate Moss; The Clash and Virginia Woolf. Unlike other cities where history is smothered by modern developments, London has protected its heritage and this reflects in architecture, age-old museums, theatres and music venues. No wonder eager Americans remain in awe of the stories that we have to tell from within our run down walls. It’s not all shiny galleries and cold concert halls - London has edge. The gritty underbelly is marbled together with the millionaire townhouses, you just need to find it.
The city’s identity is made up of many cultures and this richness keeps Londoners consistently stuffed full. It is truly international and hopping from one end to the next can be as satisfying as adventuring abroad. And it’s easy because the urban transport is stellar. What the city promises is connections from all over the world; you’ll share your desk with a Canadian, take a spin class with an Australian, sip pints with a Spaniard, and it’ll feel totally natural. Other cities admire the fact we have a Muslim mayor - something other capitals could only dream of in this age. An open attitude to diversity shines through everything, but particularly in food and drink. Entitled vegan cafes stand next to family cheese-mongers and grimy Indian takeaways form queues as long as the fancy French bistros. Sticky pubs share the streets with new gin parlours and rooftop bars - perhaps they sit comfortably knowing tradition will outlive passing hypes every time.
"What the city promises is connections from all over the world; you'll share your desk with a Canadian, take a spin class with an Australian, sip pints with a Spaniard, and it’ll feel totally natural."
As for north, south, east or west, London’s compass points are all rife with lovable stereotypes. Take, for example, north London and the literary crew. Home to writers and poets, from Keats to Giles Coren, you’ll find spectacled, bookish types settled in Hampstead coffee shops with frayed paperbacks; strands of greying hair and prams. Families roam Primrose Hill or the Heath (perhaps the most feral of London’s many green spaces) whilst Camden still draws in crowds of greasy, black clad teenagers and tourists hoping to catch Pete Doherty in the pub. You’ll also find the huge Jewish community - where the food is great - and Angel’s squeaky clean Upper Street is a bougie haven with overpriced bakeries, kitchenware shops and fashion boutiques. Islington also has some of the best #VisitEngland beer gardens you could hope for in the city (expect reams of ales and hanging flower baskets galore).
Further east, swap Stamford Hill for Shoreditch and you’ll be hit with a millennial’s Instagram dream; we’re talking street art and trendy start up offices. Old Street’s Silicon Roundabout is known as London’s tech hub, which breeds Mark Zuckerberg wannabes stomping in bright white trainers, shaking from caffeine kicks and chatting ‘content’ through their cordless earbuds. East London is, arguably, the best place in the city for creative fashion; gender fluid, dripping in glitter, piercings or pyjamas, no one bats an eyelid. Dalston on a Saturday night serves as a killer catwalk for style play. In Hackney, London Fields is a dried up patch of grass that brims with hipster barbecues on a sunny day regardless, Columbia Road Flower market is one for those hunting out a genuine cockney accent and Broadway Market is the perfect spot for brunch. Even further and Hackney Wick is a hotbed for struggling artists and warehouse parties in converted factories, whilst the Olympic Park stands proudly next door as, ironically, a beacon of health and fame.
The rent is cheaper (supposedly) and the vibe is more laid-back away from the doom of the Central Line. In Brixton you’ll find street markets for haggling and pop-ups for perusing (Pop Brixton is a good place to start) whilst hours can be spent exploring Bermondsey’s breweries. The nightlife down south is more reliable than central’s tourist traps if you’re just looking for a good place to dance; Brixton Academy gigs, Corsica Studios' base, Clapham’s Inferno (basically real life Tinder) and the LGBTQ favourite Royal Vauxhall Tavern are all top choices. Looking for culture over clubbing? The Tate Modern, Southbank Centre and National Theatre are all in close proximity, and The Thames glimmers as your sideview along the way.
And, finally, from from grime to glamour, head westside if you feel like tackling the flash. Full of “I can’t believe a person actually owns this” properties, west London will make you feel inadequate. But it is the best area for museums (kicking off with South Kensington’s Museum Street), particularly now the new Design Museum and Japan House London have been added to its culture trial. Of course, Notting Hill is a strange dichotomy of pretty antiques and Carnival grinding, which is entirely dependent on the time of year you go. See if you can spot a ‘Made in Chelsea’ star donning a designer tracksuit and matching green juice or pick your way through the charity shops for a Chanel throwaway. Check out Knightsbridge and wince at the sports cars or eye-watering hotel rates whilst the Saatchi Gallery near Sloane Square is the edgiest you’re going to get this end of town.
"Not everyone can handle London at first but you’ll always recognise someone who’s conquered it. Their Secret? Community."
Not everyone can handle London at first but you’ll always recognise someone who’s conquered it. Their secret? Community; happy Londoners have built a life around their own neighbourhood and this familiarity can soothe when the city’s choice overwhelms. London thickens the skin and each year the ambition and the pace becomes breathwork.
But London is a transient place. The majority of people can’t afford to buy a house, which means hardly anyone plans to - or can - grow old here. It’s ripe for experience and we hit it hard in our youth, then we leave once we can’t hack it anymore. When people travel from across the world to live here, they prepare to fritter away time and money on commutes and cocktails. But this is a united tribe who refuse to settle for anything less than extraordinary. Lap it up while you can.
Here are a few of the Editor Approved places from this Feature