(Photo by Jamie Lee Curtis Taete)
In many ways, London is the worst city in the world: it’s expensive, cruel, bitter and twee. But in many ways it’s also the best: a cultural powerhouse where people know how to stay up really fucking late, invent new forms of dance music on a minute-by-minute basis and, over the last 20 years, have finally understood how to make nice food. We’re big on gays, low on racists and love to drink; but we’re also big on oligarchs, low on social mobility and love to drink at infantilising corporate street festivals. Anyway, this is your guide to the decent bits (and a few shitty ones).
Jump to sections by using the index below:
– WHERE TO PARTY
– WHAT'S THE DEAL WITH DRUGS?
– POLITICS, PROTESTS AND JUST HOW RACIST IS EVERYONE HERE?
Racists and Lack Thereof | Protests
– WHERE TO EAT
– WHAT DO LOCALS EAT?
– WHERE TO DRINK
– WHERE TO STAY
– LGBT LONDON
– WHERE TO HANG OUT AND WHO TO SPEND TIME WITH WHEN YOU'RE SOBER
– HOW TO AVOID GETTING RIPPED OFF AND BEATEN UP
– HOW NOT TO BE A SHITTY TOURIST
– PEOPLE AND PLACES TO AVOID
– TIPPING AND HANDY PHRASES
– A YOUTUBE PLAYLIST OF QUESTIONABLE LOCAL MUSIC
– VICE CITY MAP
(Photo by Will Coutts)
WHERE TO PARTY
Bussey Building, Peckham
133 Rye Lane, SE15 4ST
The Bussey is a bar, venue and gallery space spread across four floors, but it’s best known as a club with one of the broadest musical remits in the city. It’s usually less than £5 to get in, everyone's beautiful and the smoking area alone is bigger than most other clubs. If you're lucky, your stay here will coincide with Soul Train, a disco and good-vibes house night that the Bussey hosts twice a month and is basically like being trapped at a wedding party in a car park on drugs, even if you're not on any drugs. A nearby alternative is Canavan’s, a karaoke pool bar with a recently upgraded soundsystem and loads of old Irish blokes who don't know what feminism is. It hosts Rhythm Section – the first night you should come to if you're visiting London – once or twice a month.
Dance Tunnel, Dalston
95 Kingsland High Street, E8 2PB
Of all the basement clubs in Dalston, and there are plenty, Dance Tunnel is probably the best, thanks to its jet-engine soundsystem. Located beneath Voodoo Ray’s pizza place (don't eat there, the pizza is more expensive than war), this is where you’ll hear some of the world's best new house, techno and other types of dance music that don't have names yet at nights like Trouble Vision, Principals and FWD>>.
Corsica Studios, Elephant & Castle
4/5 Elephant Road, SE17 1LB
Tucked away behind a knackered shopping centre on the Elephant & Castle roundabout, Corsica Studios mostly deals in house and nosebleed techno. But depending on the night you’re at, you could also hear grime, disco or the kind of guitar music that The Wire would write about without a gun held to their head. Their booking policy means the dancefloor always feels like a dancefloor, not just a space for DJs to play to a series of well-dressed mothers' meetings, and the shit plumbing keeps yuppies away. There’s also a 24-hour bagel shop – Bagel King – just down the road, which is a fucking godsend at 5AM on a Sunday morning when you realise the only thing you've eaten since Friday lunchtime is chewing gum.
Oval Space, Bethnal Green
29 - 32 The Oval, E2 9DT
This is basically just a big empty rectangular room, but whichever promoter is tasked with filling it usually does a pretty great job. Music-wise, you’re best off just checking the listings because the events are always changing. But if you prefer having absolutely no idea what you’re going to be turning up to, I’d say just go along anyway because it’s highly unlikely that you’ll be disappointed. Pro tip: don’t bother instagramming a photo of the sunset over that big old gasometer next door – it’s already the most photographed thing in London bar Big Ben and all the terrible graffiti along Brick Lane.
(Photo by Jake Lewis)
A few years ago the idea of watching someone DJ online was fucking ridiculous, but Boiler Room changed all that. Basically, if you’re into pretty girls in oversized rap tees, handsome men with undercuts and the best DJs in the world, you should definitely check out what they have coming up.
Plan B, Brixton
418 Brixton Road, SW9 7AY
Good for garage, dancehall and bashment, as well as hands-down the best house bookings in South London. Has nothing to do with the rapper or the morning-after pill.
33 - 35 Stoke Newington Road, N16 8BJ
Not that many people stick around to watch bands in 2014, but Birthdays book the right ones. The DJs and MCs they bring in aren't bollocks either and, along with Dance Tunnel, they've got the best soundsystem in East London. There’s a bar/restaurant upstairs with a revolving kitchen. So, if you get tired of jumping around in the basement, you can head up there and inhale poutine, or fried chicken, or whatever it is they have in that month.
77A Charterhouse Street, EC1M 6HJ
This is a bit of a love-hate one, because it's basically a super club but without the euphoria. However, considering it’s normally the first club pilgrimage anyone makes to London, and because they have a soundsystem capable of rupturing your internal organs, it's worth a visit. Entry is pricey, drinks are extortionate and stairs are overcrowded with gurning Italians. BUT the line-ups can't be fucked with and it’s without doubt the best place in the capital to spot 35-year-old marketing managers chewing their top lips to shreds as the sun rises and DJ Hype wraps up his three-thousandth two-hour set in the main room.
WHAT'S THE DEAL WITH DRUGS?
The UK has the highest levels of cocaine, ketamine and opiate use in Europe, and we’ve all taken an oath to try to smoke more weed and take more MDMA so it's a full house next year. In London, the news that we snort so much gak that trace amounts of it can now be found in the water supply was greeted more with civic pride than shock.
British people have always liked getting fucked off their faces, but as London has become more and more of a gentrified pop-up pleasure palace, cocaine use has gone mental. Most people from the city get it delivered, but sometimes people do walk around pubs and clubs trying to push the stuff. In places like Camden and Brixton people walk up and down the street offering their gear around, and they’ll happily tell anyone who wants to listen that the bag of white powder in their fist is definitely whatever the buyer wants it to be. No one who’s lived in London for more than 45 minutes talks to these people.
Lots of people take ket here as well, but fuck knows why. It doesn't take a genius to realise that falling into a K-hole outside the Peckham Burger King isn't much fun, plus if you do too much of it, your bladder explodes. There’s little meth beyond gay slamming parties and no one seems to take speed any more. Mephedrone had a period of ascendancy back when that chemical factory in China burned down and no one could get any MDMA, but since the Mandy returned, everyone – bar some in the gay scene and the occasional student – forgot that mephedrone ever existed. Hallucinogens aren't all that prevalent, essentially because London is like a massive cold prison yard, i.e. not really the best place to kiss the sky.
Like everywhere else, a lot of people smoke weed here. The majority of dealers stick with the most coma-inducing skunk they can find, but – very generally speaking – the Ladbroke Grove area is the home of Thai stick and Jamaican bush weed, and in South London there's tons of hash. There are also plenty of shops that sell weed under the counter, but I’m obviously not going to disclose their locations on the internet because I'm not a narc.
Of course, no matter how much we get high, it’s all still very much illegal. And even though bouncers at clubs are generally more likely to bin or pocket your stash than turn you over to the police, the cops have the right to stop and search you, and it’s not unheard of for people to end up with criminal records for possession.
(Photo by Jake Lewis)
POLITICS, PROTESTS AND JUST HOW RACIST IS EVERYONE HERE?
RACISTS AND LACK THEREOF
London is an astoundingly successful monument to cultural integration. At the recent European elections it was widely noted that UKIP’s manifesto preaching the dangers of mass immigration was least successful here in the capital, where mass immigration is most prevalent. Still, you get idiots everywhere, and since the murder of soldier Lee Rigby by a mentalist screaming about jihad in 2013, the anti-Muslim far right have been trying to make inroads in London. So far, all this has led to is a quasi-religious turf war between some dickhead ex-EDL members calling themselves Britain First and some other dickheads from the entourage of Anjem Choudary, a radical Muslim cleric. You can watch our film about it here, actually.
Generally, far-right and nationalist parties like the BNP and the EDL are given short shrift in London; while there is some anti-EU feeling in the country at the moment, this is a multicultural city and it likes it like that. Occasionally the right-wingers will decide to march somewhere and, without fail, anti-fascist protesters will turn up in at least equal numbers to stop them in their tracks. Usually, these guys end up getting arrested – in September last year, for example, 286 anti-fascist protesters were arrested in Whitechapel as they tried to stop the EDL marching through Tower Hamlets. Many interpreted this as an attempt by the Met to dissuade people from taking their grievances to the streets.
(Photo by Henry Langston)
People from different cultural backgrounds can get along fine, but that doesn’t mean everyone's equal. Displays of overt racism are mostly confined to lone ranters on public transport and the terraces of certain football clubs, but the police are way, way more likely to hassle you if you’re black. In fact, there’s an unspoken bias that pervades the whole of English society to make sure that, decades after mass immigration started – and despite the rise of pop-feminist blogs – pretty much everything is still run by (and for) white people with penises and middle-class accents. The only place where this is not the case is Tower Hamlets, where controversial Mayor Luftur Rahman has carved out an enclave in which it’s much easier to get a decent council position if you’re Bangladeshi.
Somewhat ironically, thanks to all this immigration a bunch of Polish neo-Nazis have settled in the capital. They’re called Zjednoczeni Emigranci Londyn, (that's Emigrants United London, for those of you who've never seen letters put together in that order before) and they hang around Tottenham wearing Blood & Honour T-shirts. They recently turned up to a family music festival and stabbed someone, which is obviously a weird thing to do, but realistically they’re very easy to avoid, and there are a load of anti-fascists currently trying to make them fuck off forever.
All of that aside, the main political battleground in London these days is over whether ordinary people can actually afford to live here any more. With rents designed purely for the amusement of landlords and the tiny cabal of crooked bankers and overseas oil tycoons who can afford them, more and more people are being evicted and squeezed out to the suburbs. Despite this, squatting is no longer as common as it was in the 1960s, perhaps because it's been a criminal offence to squat a residential property for the past two years.
(Photo by Henry Langston)
POLITICS, PROTESTS AND JUST HOW RACIST IS EVERYONE HERE?
Back in 2010, it looked like London was moving into a great period of social upheaval, but eventually everyone gave up and went to Pret for lunch. The students mobilised in order to protest against the coalition government’s raising of the cap on tuition fees, and over one exciting winter it all played out in a series of marches and riots, which reached their most insane level of mischief when protesters took over and smashed up the headquarters of the Tory party. It was kind of hilarious but someone almost killed a cop with a fire extinguisher. You can watch our film about it here, mate.
Eventually, all the protests stopped and people started talking excitedly about how the schoolkids who’d been involved in these riots would now perhaps become politicised, and how London would never be the same again. However, what actually happened was that everyone got kettled in the snow for hours and hours and it didn’t change the government’s mind at all. Following that brutal anti-climax, the wind was knocked out of the movement and now students have returned to being mostly viewed as loutish dickheads.
These days most protests are quiet, disgruntled things that police don’t feel the need to charge at on horses. But even when shit gets real here it’s nothing compared to many European countries – there is no tear gas and police don't fire rubber bullets at people. London mayor Boris Johnson just bought some water cannons from Germany (thanks, Germany!) but he isn’t allowed to use them yet. So, for now, there are just good old-fashioned truncheons and more fucking kettles, which are so much worse than tear gas because they last for hours.
The widespread rioting that pock-marked the country in 2011 originated in a London protest against the police killing of Mark Duggan. It has been interpreted by some as a protest against the Metropolitan police's ongoing targeting and persecution of the city’s poorest communities (and by others as opportunistic looting, so take your pick). But the punishments meted out were so harsh – four years for Facebook posts saying some crap about starting a riot that never came to be, for instance – that it feels as though this won’t be happening again any time soon. Which is probably a good thing for everyone other than journalists.
WHERE TO EAT
St John, Farringdon
26 St John Street, EC1M 4AY
At first glance, St John’s aggressively British menu – which includes bone marrow and devilled kidneys – does have a touch of the dry heaves to it. In reality, though, it’s one of the best restaurants London has, of any cuisine. Unfortunately, managing to make all things offal delicious is a rare skill, and this is reflected in the prices. But, unlike everywhere else in London, you get to sit on a chair rather than a kooky, upturned milk crate, so it’s worth it.
Needoo Grill, Whitechapel
87 New Rd, E1 1HH
There’s a legendary Punjabi joint in Whitechapel called Tayyabs – so legendary that everyone in London knows it's responsible for some of the best curries in the country, which means there’s always a massive queue to get a table. For that reason smart people go round the corner to Needoo Grill. It’s very nearly just as good, and you won’t have to wait in a snaking trail of people in the rain for an hour. It’s actually run by a defector from Tayyabs, so it’s not surprising that it’s basically a mini version of the definitive London curry establishment.
Bone Daddies, Soho
31 Peter St, W1F 0AR
As London follows dutifully in the food footsteps of the Big Apple Crumble, ramen places are regularly springing up – most of them densely packed into the culinary grid of Soho. Around here you can find udon at Koya, takeaway ramen at Shoryu Go and a few nice Korean places minutes away on Tottenham Court Road. Bone Daddies, however, serves the best broth, as well as consistent sides, like chicken karaage and chashu pork. Just try to ignore the anti-osteopathic bar-style seating and overbearing dad-rock soundtrack. Not one for the headache crew.
Negril, Brixton Hill
132 Brixton Hill, SW2 1RS
Let's face it: most hot food isn't great. For all the flavour and nutrition that makes its way through the average vindaloo, you may as well just pay an Indian man £25 to taser your arsehole. But things don't have to be this way; find out for yourself by visiting Negril, a Jamaican jerk place situated right on Brixton Hill. Unlike most restaurants with garden views of A-roads, Negril is the fucking bomb, and the staff don't seem like murderers. Share their signature platter – two quarters of jerk chicken, plantain, rice and peas, coleslaw, salad, salt fish fritters and chips – and bring your own bottle/can to arrange a tryst between their amazing hot sauce and some cold, cold beer.
Mangal 2, Dalston
4 Stoke Newington Rd, N16 8BH
It’s an East London Turkish staple with great food, and Gilbert and George eat there every single night. But most important is its Twitter feed. Example tweets include: “It's Gay Pride Day. It's Armed Forces Day. It's the first day of Ramadan. Gay Muslim soldiers must be delighted today,” and: “Man walks in to order a takeaway wearing a Mumford & Sons t-shirt. Speaks and acts every bit as a twat as you’d expect.” And who could ever forget: “Do you sometimes crave a dirty, juicy kebab after a night out in the town? A proper dodgy doner when you're drunk? Yeah? Well, fuck off.” When a man is tired of the Mangal 2 Twitter feed, he is tired of life.
Silk Road, Camberwell
49 Camberwell Church St, SE5 8TR
This Chinese restaurant in Camberwell is considered one of the city's best. But it looks like a total shithole, which can make it hard to find for first timers. Don't expect tablecloths, waiters who speak English or sweet and sour pork. But if you want to flush your horrible system out with an industrial amount of fresh chilli, unusual delicacies, barbecue skewers and endless bottles of ice cold Tsingtao, then this place does the job. Don't expect to get a table for ten at short notice, though, because it’s popular. Tip: One order of pig feet is really enough for a large group, don't go nuts on that.
(Photo by Bruno Bayley)
WHAT DO LOCALS EAT?
We’re not famous for our food, us Brits, and we accept that. However, we still kicked the shit out of everyone else when we first had a crack at breakfast. A proper English one of them is a full cooked meal of sausages, bacon, beans, eggs, toast and a handful of other variables, sometimes including cakes made out of fried blood, ideally washed down with a milky mug of tea. You can blow a tenner having your full English sullied with kale or gluten free bread, but if you want the real deal The Regency in Pimlico represents a dying breed of authentic greasy spoon cafes. Or you can head over to its pokier East End counterpart, E Pellicci, famously frequented by the Krays but now filled with builders, personable staff and Capital FM. Or, if you’ve got access to a kitchen, just cook it yourself (after all, all those Tescos you seem to be walking past every day have the shit you need for this pretty much stacked at the front).
Notting Hill Carnival is one of the best street parties in the world, let alone the capital. But if you’re not a hardened West Londoner the reality of Carnival weekend can mean cursing whatever polystyrene box of jerk you panic bought as you touch cloth looking for a kind local flogging £5 entry to their personal shitter. Thankfully, Yum Yum in Ladbroke Grove – who specialise in comfortingly luminous yellow patties – Jerk City in Soho and the aforementioned Negril can be enjoyed all year round, minus the fear of getting tased by an overzealous police officer for taking a dump in a phone box.
An important weekly staple of British cuisine: roasted meat and potatoes with stuffing, vegetables, gravy and a Yorkshire pudding. These days every pub with a motivational quote on their chalkboard sign will do one for about £15 (which is an insane amount of money, considering that the only cooking you really have to do is turning on the oven and carving). You won’t have to look hard to find one, but when you do just know that the plate should be PILED with shit; this is not a subtle meal. The dream, of course, is to invite yourself to a local's home-cooked roast and while away the rest of Sunday in a haze of meat farts and Sunday supplements. Thankfully, London is a very friendly city – just knock on someone's door, ask for some lunch and they'll wave you through to their kitchen.
Chicken Tikka Masala
India looms large in England’s vision of itself, from the horrors of the Empire to the exported benefits of the Industrial Revolution, through the adoption of cricket by the Indians to the embracing of Indian food by the British. Chicken tikka masala is one of the most popular curries here – it’s red, it’s creamy, it's looked down upon by food snobs and it was invented in Britain. It’s basically the Heinz Tomato Soup of curry. It’s also totally banging, and when it drips off the end of your naan it’s going to stain the shit out of that £700 Nasir Mazhar jumper you just bought in a frenzy after reading a copy of i-D.
Brick Lane Beigels
If you’re pissed and it's late at night, the odds are you’ll end up eating some food cooked by someone with an avant garde concept of edibility. Perhaps you’ll choose a kebab intent on quite literally kicking the shit out of your stomach, or maybe fried chicken that changes the pH level of your skin. But if you’re anywhere near Brick Lane, you can forget these. Instead, you should go into either of the two adjacent bagel shops, order two hot salt-beef sandwiches and one salmon and cream cheese, then swan off like the alt-fast food connoisseur that you are.
A Kebab Intent on Quite Literally Kicking the Shit Out of Your Stomach, or Maybe Fried Chicken That Changes the pH Level of Your Skin
Because they're pretty good, really.
(Photo by Jake Lewis)
WHERE TO DRINK
Soho is a maze that’s resisting gentrification with greater success than most parts of London. If you want to get pissed there, Sam Smith’s have many boozers in the area. They're one of the last truly independent brewery-run pub chains in the city, so while you can’t expect to see any branded lagers or even Coca-Cola on sale here, you can expect to pay shockingly little for good beer. The Glasshouse Stores on Brewer Street is a dimly lit basement bar, if you're into that kind of thing, and the The John Snow is a good one to stand outside on a sunny day if for some reason you want to socialise with bike couriers. The Cross Keys is a meeting place for obese Freemasons and is decorated with all sorts of wonky knick-knacks, like brass diving helmets and other similar detritus. Try to avoid it between the hours of 5 and 7PM though because, like all city pubs, it will be full of city cunts.
The Old Blue Last, Shoreditch
38 Great Eastern St, EC2A 3ES
This is our pub – we own it. It’s called The Old Blue Last and it’s the best fucking pub in the whole fucking world. It’s got three floors, it’s on the site of Shakespeare’s first theatre, it’s older than America, it puts on gigs (everyone from Winehouse and Lil B to The Arctic Monkeys and Wiley), there’s a secret bar on the top floor, it’s near our office and you should come. (But please don’t steal our glasses, and don’t do gak in our toilets.) You can learn all about it’s blotted history here.
The Holly Bush , Hampstead
22 Holly Mt, NW3 6SG
Back in the day, Hampstead was full of people like John Keats and Lord Byron. Then it was full of people like Richard Burton and Peter Cooke; then it was full of Arsenal players; and now it’s gone full blown wank and is rammed with Russian plutocrats who order women from their iPads and leave their corpses in Hampstead pond. That said, there’s still nothing better than trekking through the Heath and ending up here to get really, really pissed on the quietest street in London.
(Photo by Bruno Bayley)
Queen's Head, Stockwell
144 Stockwell Road, SW9 9TQ
Fat White Family are the most exciting live band in London at the moment, and they use this place as a sort of base camp in which to play shows, get fucked up and pursue their agenda against the yuppies who are currently busy turning Brixton into one gigantic piece of expensive Italian cheese. They'll probably hate us for putting what is basically their house in a travel guide, but if there's one place in London to see a screaming man windmilling his cock and glassing a drummer in the face, it's here.
It’s a weird netherworld of yuppies, upmarket kitchen shops and other detestable things, but if you go to Clerkenwell on a weekend you get to enjoy some of the best pubs in the city. The Three Kings has a great name and a great sign, and if it’s a sunny day you can get a pint and walk into the churchyard across the road. I’m certain you’re not supposed to do it, but no one’s ever stopped me. The Jerusalem Tavern round the corner has a bit of a 14th century feeling to it and is attached to its own brewery – so no, you can’t get a fucking Foster's here. The Gunmakers is another great old-as-shit boozer, then there's The Betsey Trotwood, Ye Old Mitre... In fact, there are too many to list, but just ignore The Crown – it’s got a wanker thing going on.
Frank’s Cafe, Peckham
95 Rye Lane, SE15 4ST
This place is only open during the summer months, which is a good thing because it’s on top of a multi-storey car park and would be fucking miserable in December. It’s also probably the only bar-cum-art-gallery-cum-restaurant in London with both an incredible view of the city and cocktails capped at £7.50, AKA half the price of any other rooftop drinking spot. The only thing is, you’re going to want to head there early – straight after work or, if you’re unemployed, just after Tipping Point finishes – because it’s rammed by half 7 and they generally stick to a pretty strict one-in, one-out policy.
While New Cross may well just be an A-road propped up by kebab shops and Christian bookstores, it does have some great pubs. The Hobgoblin has my favourite beer garden in London and is usually full of fine art students, which can be a good or a bad thing, depending on how much you care about intercontextuality and microethnographic discourse. Also, Shia LaBeouf has gotten into two fights here. If this Venn diagram of fine art and public celebrity meltdowns doesn't excite you, go to The Royal Albert for quality beers and dependable pub food, or the Marquis of Granby for pool, cheap pints and arguments with elderly men.
The Old Spotted Dog Ground, 212 Upton Lane, Forest Gate, E7 9NP
Obviously everyone here loves football, but let’s face it – the Premier League is designed to be watched on telly; they should just ship the fucker to Oman already. In its absence, we’ll spend more time watching our local non-league clubs and starting anarcho-syndicalist ultra groups, like first Clapton and then Dulwich have done (much to the surprise of the players, who’d never seen an anarchist or a fan before the black bloc showed up).
WHERE TO STAY
Living in central London is like shitting thousands of pounds into a bucket that keeps telling you to fuck off to some Zone 5 housing estate. As such, we need help with our rent, so we’re pretty big on AirBnb. The flats will be tiny, but by gum we can absolutely guarantee that there’s a Tesco Metro round the corner.
Australians are a real problem here. They’re our huge, attractive, cultureless cousins, and our hostels are full of them vomiting on terrified Japanese people. So if you’re in the market for a dorm bed where you might actually get some sleep, Palmers Lodge are a pretty good bet (dorm beds from £19 per night). Their two sites (at Swiss Cottage and Hillspring) are a little outside the centre of town, but they make up for that by being clean, providing free WiFi and giving you the peace of mind that comes from knowing you won't end up covered in Antipodean bodily fluids.
More central is Generator (beds from £10). It's right next to Russell Square, which is the kind of place Americans think that all Londoners live in because it’s beautiful and reeks of Penguin Classics. We don’t live here, though – we live in prefab shit-shells eight miles down the road.
If you’re going to cough up for a hotel, Russell’s of Clapton (£98 per room per night) has the mix of taste and efficiency you'd expect from somewhere run by a former music manager. It’s well into East London too, which is obviously where all of the VICE UK office live, so you can fuck us all off by clogging up the queue at Tesco, complaining about the times we slagged off The Matrix and asking for Clive Martin's number.
If you’ve got money to burn, Ace Hotel (£199 per room per night) is pretty fun. Bands stay there and the club beneath it has decent nights with sets by people like Boiler Room and Young Turks. The website says it's a place for "landmark creatives and renegade artists" but in truth we're neither of those things and we've never been refused entry.
(Photo by Jamie Lee Curtis Taete)
These days Vauxhall is the huge fuck-off gay area. There are a series of clubs here where you can fuck, swallow and beat anything you fancy, and cum and vodka rain from the sky (meaning lesbians feel slightly left out). Fire and Barcode are good bets for dancing and fucking, and there are also some leather bars and bear nights in the area. If you do just fancy a quiet pint, though, The Royal Vauxhall Tavern is one of the city’s most famous gay pubs. If it’s plain banging you’re looking for, there are a myriad of saunas around where you can get yourself seen to. But yeah, unfortunately Vauxhall is really all about the men.
Woman or man, though, Soho has long been London’s gay mecca, and it’s full of places to drink, dance and pull. Clustered around Brewer Street and Old Compton Street are the most well known spots, including the triple-decker G-A-Y club and Madame Jojo’s burlesque bar. Hit up G-A-Y any day but go Friday or Saturday and you'll find the stupidest soundtrack, purplest decor and some of the cheapest drinks in London.
While Soho is home to the more mainstream spectrum of gay bars and clubs, East London provides some fun alternatives. The Joiners Arms is a cherished dive bar where your feet will stick to the floor, and The George and Dragon is a typically cosy English pub, only full of gays and drag queens. Both are on Hackney Road in Shoreditch, and both have fairly early doors, so after they close you can head over to East Bloc, Old Street's underground labyrinth of seedy corners and pulsating dance music.
Head as far as Dalston and you'll find Dalston Superstore and Vogue Fabrics, two raucous clubs that throw sweaty, fashionable gay parties. While Superstore drags in a younger and better-dressed crowd, Vogue Fabrics is a glorious melting pot of weirdness with no toilet doors. Both of these venues are welcoming to women any day of the week, but look out for Superstore's lesbian nights, which are better than anything ever going on in Soho.
Generally speaking, gay couples should feel safe enough to be affectionate with each other in public in most parts of the city, but sadly there’s always one homophobic bigot, so it’s not impossible that some idiot will take it upon themselves to shout abuse. At which point expect everyone standing around you to call him a fucking cunt and pat you on the back. Because this is London and we don’t like bigots here.
(Photo by Bruno Bayley)
WHERE TO HANG OUT AND WHO TO SPEND TIME WITH WHEN YOU'RE SOBER
The British Museum
Great Russell Street, WC1B 3DG
As you well know, we used to own this planet. But then, at some point in the 40s, we were magnanimous enough to give it back. We did keep all the best stuff though, obvs – we’re not idiots. So come and bask in the glory of our plundering! Marvel at our beautiful Elgin Marbles! See the mighty pharaohs eunuched in a plastic box 200 yards from a Wetherspoons! Gaze in awe as the oldest and most noble of antiquities are filed into some dark drawers in the private archive because we just don’t have enough bloody space for all this awesome foreign stuff!
The long stretch of road between Paddington and Marble Arch is home to a vast Asian community, so don’t expect many bars, but do expect great food, sweets and shisha. Almost every establishment on Edgware Road will serve shisha, mostly to wealthy young Arab men who are socialising and watching shit on their tablets. The shisha places open very late, most till around 3AM, so if you want to relax, watch some Lamborghinis speed by and give yourself grape-flavoured lung cancer then be sure to hit up Little Bahrain. This is also a great place to escape the onslaught of mindless drunkenness and potential violence that will no doubt pervade your visit; everyone on this road is courteous as fuck.
Lincoln’s Inn Fields
Bit of a genius one, this. It's right behind The Royal Courts of Justice, so it’s where all the lawyers hang out eating Itsu, but it’s also home to three of the best things in London: 1) The Hunterian Museum – a collection of medical curiosities in the Royal College of Surgeons, which has babies in jars, the skeleton of a giant and an entire circulatory system ironed into a big table; 2) Sir John Soane's Museum – one man’s insane collection of artefacts from around the globe, all displayed in his house – from Hogarth cartoons in his study, to Egyptian mummies in the basement and Roman shit everywhere else. And finally 3) The Seven Stars – the best pub for daytime drinking in Central London and if some lawyers win a case over the road, you can probably have some of their champagne.
It’s a huge swathe of countryside within the city, which means it’s where most teenage North Londoners go to take acid and smoke weed. There’s also a thriving dogging scene for those of you who want to fuck dangerous strangers in the woods.
(Photo by Bruno Bayley)
Walk from Camden to Notting Hill, or from Bow to Islington – or from Little Venice to Brentford, if you really want to. The canals are a weird, outmoded series of veins connecting the city, which thanks to technology have been abandoned to real ale-drinking fans of fantasy fiction, who pootle along them in their barges, refusing to acknowledge the 21st century.
Obscure Political Groups
The harder it is to find a political group is, the cooler they probably are. So, people ramming their socialist newspaper down your throat are likely to be insufferable bores and are to be avoided. Meanwhile, if a group has a weird name and you don’t really know who they are, they’ll be way more fun. A recent example is a group called The Imaginary Party – I don’t know if they still exist, or if they ever really did beyond a tumblr, but their headache-inducing graphics are enough to tell you that they’re not staid leftie beard-strokers. London Antifascists have been known to put on decent club nights and spend the proceeds on a year’s worth of beating up racists, but that’s a pretty rare occurrence. Then there are the London Black Revolutionaries, or Black Revs for short, who go around pouring concrete over spikes designed to stop homeless people from bedding down for the night, or saving illegal immigrants from deportation. They’re good guys. Head to a demo, hit a pub or student bar afterwards, and see if you make friends with someone interesting.
(Photo by Luke Overin)
Gillett Square, Dalston
A while ago Stoke Newington High Street lost its charm beneath the weight of several thousand pairs of Air Max – but just off it Gillett Square retains something. It’s basically a pedestrianised square with a jazz club, a few food stalls and a slight air of instability. NTS Radio broadcasts everything from sludge shows and doom shows, to ragga and house shows from a hut there, and if you’re pretty you can probably sidle up to the DJ, give them a tin of lager and get on air. Basically, bring a blue plastic bag full of beer and sit about in the sun (which is actually the best thing you can do anywhere in London but but we had to make up some other shit to fill out a 10,000-word travel guide).
It’s literally the exact opposite of The Land That Time Forgot. It’s the Home of Time. If you stand there, you are, by definition, on time. And once the jokes about Greenwich Meantime get boring, there’s a big hill, a couple of decent second-hand stores and some nice pubs.
73-75 Shacklewell Ln, London E8 2EB
If you’re into pretty girls in obscure British sportswear brands and tall, handsome men who literally only ever wear black, check out Primitive London – a boutique on Shacklewell Lane that also throws the occasional party. They used to sell necklaces made out of kangaroo balls, which went down really well when they took the shop over to Tokyo for a couple of weeks, but haven’t taken off in quite the same way over here.
Freedom, 84b Whitechapel High St, London E1 7QX / Anarchist Bookfair
Brits aren't great at smashing the system but we're great at pontificating about it. To avoid becoming a Russell Brand acolyte, check out Freedom, an Anarchist bookshop that must be worth a shit because it recently survived its second firebomb attack. And once a year the Anarchist Bookfair comes to town and the UK’s anarchists gather to sell anarchist books and T-shirts to other anarchists. You’d think it’d be a convivial affair but they usually manage to disagree with each other about something. Anyway, you can catch some interesting talks about how not to get arrested in a riot, but sit by the door so you can leave if it becomes boring.
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The Institute of Contemporary Art
The Mall, SW1Y 5AH
The ICA is on the Mall, which is the road that leads up to Buckingham Palace. So, if you come here to see an exhibition of outsider art by Costa Rican mental patients, or whatever, you can have a few drinks at the bar, watch a band and then stumble out, squint into the distance and chalk the Queen’s house off your list of stupid shit you’re supposed to see when you visit London.
Like swans, these are owned by the Queen, which mean they’re a bit poncey and closed at night – but they are uniformly pretty. Regent's Park, Hyde Park, Green Park, Richmond Park – they’re all full of beds of roses and weeping willows and incongruous groups of teenagers playing football topless across about 50 groups of stoned, picnicking 40-year-olds. You’re going to spend a lot of time in London hellholes, so these are a nice, posh respite.
(Photo by Jamie Lee Curtis Taete)
HOW TO AVOID GETTING RIPPED OFF AND BEATEN UP
It’s worth finding a cab company phone number and calling one to pick you up if you’re staggering around late at night. Waiting for a black cab can be a pain in the arse, and obviously taking some random unlicensed taxi (which is just a man in a car) home in the small hours is a stupid thing to do.
Frankly, London’s been gentrified to the point of almost numbing safety, which is exactly the kind of thing we’ll all appreciate when we have kids (provided we can still afford to live here), but right now is just boring. Of course, you should still watch out for the same sort of crime you’ll find in any city; handbags and laptops can and will be lifted from beneath your table while you sit there, so keep an eye on them.
Sure, there are gangs and turf wars and guns and all that shit, but unless you’re planning on embedding inside some Polish coke crew or intervening in the E3 turf war you’ll probably be OK. That said, this is the country that produced Richard III, Jimmy Savile, Harold Shipman, Joffrey, Henry VIII, the Child Catcher and all the rest of history’s greatest monsters, so you can never be too careful.
(Photo by Jamie Lee Curtis Taete)
HOW NOT TO BE A SHITTY TOURIST
No one likes it when tourists are slow everywhere, but you‘d have to be a real dick not to understand that they’re lost in our ridiculous, unplanned, chaotic city. Oyster Cards (what you need to ride the tube, mate) are a real fucker, and I’m always impressed that any tourist has managed to work out where to get one. So kudos on that, you lovable, slow-moving bastards.
We won’t necessarily be pissed off with you if you get sucked into the tourist vortex that is Leicester Square and its surrounding bars, but you might get pissed off with us for not warning you. I’ve never quite worked out what people do there; there are a couple of bars that are less nice than every other bar in the centre of town, a few multiplex cinemas – but who the fuck goes to see Maleficent when they’re on holiday? – and a fucking massive shop selling M&Ms memorabilia to idiots. I think that's pretty much it. I guess there are the guys who'll do a funny portrait of you in ten minutes, but I thought you had them in your country too? Maybe I was wrong.
The shittiest of shitty tourists, however, are the ones who come to London for the shopping. The fucking shopping. You don’t have clothes at home? ASOS won’t deliver to your country? Ultimately, there are two kinds of shops that shitty tourists go to – the ones they can afford to shop in (all of whose stock is available online) and fancy ones they can’t afford to shop in, which are essentially just museums for the dumb. Who cares if the Rosetta Stone is round the corner in the British Museum? Here’s a £60 Harrods tennis ball!
(Photo by Tom Johnson)
PEOPLE AND PLACES TO AVOID
Nobody likes bankers anywhere, right? London’s no different, except we’ve got a lot more of them because The City of London – the central square mile of real, old London – is pretty much the financial brain of the planet. This means that pubs around there are full of young men who are basically financial hooligans in suits. It’s like being at a Millwall game in the 80s, only with lots of posh people who make their money defrauding rogue nations, before using it to buy huge swathes of London and leasing that back to the rest of us. I have no evidence for this, but I bet they’re all pick-up artists.
It’s London, not the beach. Are you impervious to tetanus as well as ridicule?
Stylish Heroin Users
It’s been a decade since the fucking Libertines exploded in a shit-show of hats and misery, and there are still people out there who think that junk is a decent fashion accessory. Frankly, it beat Kurt Cobain, it beat Coco Chanel, it beat Basquiat, Chet Baker and fucking GG Allin. It will beat you – you guitar-playing turnip. Choose life; choose E.
Armando Iannucci, Chris Morris, Stewart Lee and Steve Coogan are all old as shit, and they’re still the funniest people in this country. These days, British comedy is basically people with haircuts repeating shit they heard in the Union bar, yet they’re all millionaires playing to ginormous, giggling crowds of morons and get more BBC airtime than ISIS. Fuck these guys.
Every city in Europe has a market area where crusties sell John Lennon posters and i-Pood T-shirts next to rudeboys hawking fake hash, but this is the only one so unpleasant that it’s tried to burn itself down twice in half a decade. Camden Town is the place where scenes goes to die. It is a machine designed to prove parents right about youth culture – it’s tacky, cheap, commercial and self-important. About a decade ago, it had a last hurrah thanks to the tireless good vibes of certain DJs and a few fun bands, but they’ve moved on now, and the place has been left in the hands of the steampunks, the cybergoths and the 50-year-old gakheads. Just walk up the road for ten minutes and you’ll get to Kentish Town, where you can drink at any of these pubs.
(Photo by Holly Lucas)
Kensington and Chelsea
A stupid place that has become so remarkably wealthy over the last decade that its new residents have managed to make Mohamed Al-Fayed, the bonkers Harrods owner, look like a loveable local cad – like Del Boy but with more conspiracy theories. There are 72 billionaires in London and they all live here. Most of them have come for the tax breaks, state protection and unbearable aura of "cool" that London touts abroad; these are bored rich men who want to eat in restaurants where Lily Allen or Nicholas Serota may be at the next table. You can’t afford these restaurants, so why bother visiting?
The Bars Inside the O2
You may, for reasons of blind tribal loyalty, find yourself attending a gig at the O2 arena, a space at least three times the size of your home country. This is unfortunate, but these days it's the only place big pop acts (Rihanna, Kate Bush, Prince, etc) play. If you do end up going, then a) sorry it’s so far away from everything (stupid, right?) and b) don’t show up early just to loiter in the atrium and pay £200 for a microwaved steak in TGI Friday's. Oh, and also c) I was in a car with Nick Rhodes from Duran Duran once and he said the O2 was actually the best venue in London, because of the convenient parking. So, if you've driven to London, you'll be happy as a pig in shit here.
All the exact same shops you know and love from every other high street in Britain, but at twice the price and with 45 times more customers. Ignore the bin drummers; find a Sam Smith’s pub.
Westfield Shopping Centres
Like Oxford Street but on multiple levels, just like Dante's Inferno.
(Photo by Joe Ridout)
This is what everyone calls the long stretch of tarmac that runs from Kingsland Road to Stoke Newington High Street and it’s an absolute fucking nightmare. That said, you will inevitably end up there at some point and so it’s worth knowing that the back garden at The Haggerston is about as bearable as it gets and Birthdays [as mentioned above] puts on as good gigs as anyone else in town. In general though, these days weekends here are a fuckfest of people disappearing into basement drugs vortices and thousands of students spending so much money so noisily that they’re simultaneously driving house prices both up and down.
One mistake lots of people first make when they come to London is relying too much on the tube. It may seem convenient, but it’s also deeply unpleasant during any sort of rush hour and is the only consistently hot part of Britain. Aware of how nasty it is down there, the London Mayor once ran a competition offering thousands of pounds to anyone who could work out how the fuck to cool it down in the summer; the competition eventually closed without a winner and we’re all still sweating. Buses are a lot nicer and actually, if you’re in central London, everything’s in walking distance anyway.
The worst street in the world. It’s a mile and a half of expensive chain stores, posh people ploughing their inheritance into doomed boutique cake shops, unfathomably charmless pubs and overpriced restaurants. It wasn’t always like this, but as London has grown and as transport to the centre has improved, places like Covent Garden reached peak dickhead and they had to spill out somewhere. Islington Council opened its arms and turned this long stretch into a mecca of consumption with all the personality of a helipad. It’s a shame because The King’s Head Theatre Pub is a great place, but these days if you find yourself on Upper Street, you should GTFO and head for Holloway Road.
TIPPING AND HANDY PHRASES
For the most part, if a tip is included in a restaurant's bill it will seem like far too much for the service you've received. But there's not a lot you can do about that, unless you don't mind shouting down a master's student who's trying to make rent with a minimum-wage waiting job. If it's not already included, 10 percent of the total price is about right – but that's not hard and fast; scale it down a little if your waitress has coughed on your food or addressed you using a racist slur. Round up in cabs and don't bother tipping at bars – nobody who lives here does, and handing a hot barmaid an extra fiver just makes you look like a sleaze.
Aggy – When someone is being aggressive or irritating.
Mate – Don't assume this means what you think it does. In the same way that "cunt" can be used affectionately, "mate" can also be used to preface you being glassed in the neck.
Moist – If someone directs this word at you, they're calling you a bellend, mate.
Allow – Basically means "don't". As in shouting "Allow that!" when someone's stealing your chips.
Taking the piss – Americans seem to have a hard time both understanding this and saying it without sounding like idiots, but it can mean a) to mock someone, or b) that something is unreasonable, i.e: "He wouldn't lend you £50 for another gram? That's a piss take, mate."
A YOUTUBE PLAYLIST WHICH SUMS EVERYTHING UP
All the other offices made a playlist of questionable local music, but this is actually really good and pretty much sums London up right now.
VICE CITY MAP
Alright then, that just about wraps it up. We'll see you in the British Museum laughing at the mummies.
– VICE UK