A clueless insider’s guide to London
Social anxiety manifests itself in many ways, but one of my main triggers is being asked to recommend a restaurant. All of a sudden, I turn from a relatively clued-up man with 14 years of London experience behind him into an unimaginative drone whose horizons are narrower than a gnat’s waist. Where have I even been? Did I like it? What does my recommendation say about me as a person? Will they judge me if they have an awful time? I never go anywhere! Why are they asking?
The trouble with living here every day and just getting on with my life is that it’s rare for things to register. I don’t really retain vivid memories of any of my London experiences, as I’m not a tourist, and I have a few favourite things I do often but would never dream of imposing on anyone else. London just is, it’s something that’s happening to me, not a standout event. So whenever anyone asks me to recommend a place to eat or an activity, in my capacity of a London expert – merely because I’ve lived here so long – I wrinkle my brow in faux-concentration and say, “Oh, let me think; I’ll get back to you” and then I never do.
But if there’s one thing that will get me talking, it’s cold hard cash. So when eBookers got in touch saying they were looking for London-based bloggers to share their tips for a new guide, how could I say no? All I’d have to do is think of some tips, write a blog (and hello here we are) and that would be that. But contractual obligations aren’t very sexy, so I thought I’d add some value and explain why I chose what I chose. You can see the full guide here, with some good tips from other bloggers. My contribution is here. Here are the 5 things I picked:
1. On a walk of shame from an east London one-night fling? Grab a delicious early-morning bagel on Brick Lane, open 24/7.
OK, so this is something of a bad start, but I have a confession to make: I have never actually done this. Oh, not the one-night stand part – I’ve many a time skulked back along Hackney Road in last night’s clothes and the faint tang of the morning-breath spittle of a man I’ll probably never see again. But, as for the bagels, no. It feels like it should be an insider tip. I bet loads of bloggers go there and do exactly this, perhaps even taking a selfie with said bagel. But Time Out seems to tell me every other week it’s something I should be doing, I’m always seeing it in guide books, and friends also inform me the bagels are “to die for” or whatever, so here it is. My one concession to stereotypical guidebook content: go eat a bagel. Revolutionary.
2. NEVER follow signs to the Regents Canal exit at King’s Cross tube – you’ll be lost in a warren of tunnels for ever.
This is the best advice you’ll ever receive. This is it. The golden nugget of truth, the story that will be told for generations to come, imparted in hushed whispers by the glow of an open fire, while TfL announcers with blocked noses bark out orders in a dystopian future where the Tube finally becomes sentient. Ever since King’s Cross’s much needed makeover a few years ago, getting off the deep-level platforms has become a sadistic experiment in which you are the lab rat. The tunnels may gleam whittle bristling efficiency of futuristic design and hard-fought funding, but they are endless and seem to expel an opiate that slows all who walk through them down to a dejected shuffle. Opportunities to overtake are scant, thanks to the huge suitcases of everyone schlepping off toward the Eurostar and adventures with strange bread and ham for breakfast, so you are stuck there for what feels like all eternity, directed around the Crystal Maze’s dullest zone, around 3 km out of your way, to prevent the actual exit you need becoming bunged up with other hapless souls. Nothing makes you feel more mortal and bovine than a resigned trudge through those tunnels. Don’t let them win.
3. Duckie, on Saturdays in Vauxhall, has the best, most eclectic music of any LGBT night in London.
This is definitely true. I am being serious here. It’s also a good night for slightly older gay people to go to because the average age is higher and waist circumferences tend to be a little larger so there’s less room – literally – for self-doubt and regret you’re no longer the emaciated Steps-loving twink of your youth. And it shuts at 2, which is nice and early so you can get home and go to bed and still feel fresh (ish) the next day. I’ll probably never get married, but if I did, Duckie would be my wedding reception of choice. The Royal Vauxhall Tavern awaits.
4. First date? The champagne bar in Westfield White City is a true hidden gem.
Name me a better conversation starter than the blingiest marble counter tops in west London, wilted blinis, all manner of “bubblez” and a front row seat watching beleaguered shoppers drag themselves through the “posh” bit of the capital’s largest love letter to dead-eyed capitalism, just so they can get to Zara. The premise – knock back some fizz, kick off your Gucci loafers and relax slap-bang in the middle of a main thoroughfare – may sound unromantic, but what you lack in ambience can be made up for in the bond forged between you as you both try to work out why the hell this place exists and why anyone would want to go there. For teetotallers, M&S has a similar cafe further up the mall which has the added bonus of at least having partially constructed walls so you can hide from any friends who might see you there.
Love begins with memorable stories, jokes and coincidences shared; you will never forget your first date at the Westfield champagne bar.
5. The best looking men travel on the Victoria Line, the District line a close second.
Again, this is actually useful advice. I don’t know what it is about the Victoria line, but its topology seems to skim all the areas where the men are they very hottest. Brixton, despite a recent influx of proto-bankers with weak chins, has long been a kingdom of unrivalled male beauty, and its bookend Walthamstow is no slouch when it comes to hunks you’d gladly give up your seat for.
The District line too, with its complicated branches and added bonus round of “Will my train change destination unexpectedly at Earl’s Court” also manages to scoop up some of the most delectable dudes in London. The worst, I have to say, is the Waterloo and City – what a wagon of pigs and crows that miserable shuttle is. You can buy a £180 monthly gym membership and jizz all your cash on Hugo Boss suits all you like, “buddy”, but a turd rolled in glitter is still, when all is said and done, a turd.
Image: I took it, from the London Eye, in 2007.