Sunday 14 June 2015

London Wanderings #7 - I know this great little place

"I know this great little place..."

A night in London can lead to anything. That's one of the best things about it. It can do it anywhere, but the sheer variety and packed-in nature of what London offers means that it can offer an unexpected layer sometimes.

It's one of my favourite things to do with friends. Have a few of us meet up late in the afternoon, and then see where the evening and the night takes us.

I've talked before about London being a city that you interpret. A relationship that you build over experiences. And a lot of that is forged in moments and unexpected evenings. And when you get friends together, each one brings their own relationship with London to the table.

So, asking "where next" can lead to places that you wouldn't think of on your own. It's how I found some of my favourite bars, pubs and restaurants in London.

The Angel, Holborn
Sometimes, it's the ones that are so much more interesting inside than they look on the outside - the small looking pubs that somehow fold space and time inside, like you've just wandered into the TARDIS.

Other times, it's the places down a side street, that involve walking down an alley that you'd just never noticed before (and other times, those alleys lead into the back way into a pub that everybody knows about, but means that you can come and go even after the pub's officially closed the doors and drawn the curtains).

And other times, it's a cool little cocktail place underneath a Mexican restaurant that has booths wallpapered with 1930s and 1940s pinups, or in a converted former sex-shop.

And when you're out with friends, you find out about these places from each other. You share your narratives of the city, and you find something new or you get to show them, for a short amount of time, your personal interpretation of the place. And it's usually the one that started with someone else telling you that they know this great place, and it's just down the road...

Sometimes, it can be exactly the right place. Having the right friends in the right place is what socialising is all about.

A good few years ago now, I came out of a long-term relationship with my entire sense of self shattered. One of my closest friends, on finding this out, called me up and told me that we were going out.

"I appreciate it, but I really don't feel like -"

"I'm not asking you, I'm telling you. I'll pick you up in twenty minutes."

And less than an hour later, I was in a place that had a dirty, vibrant atmosphere, that was partly lit by candles rammed into Jack Daniels bottles, had the perfect mixture of noise and space for pool games and booths to sit and chat in, stayed open until three in the morning and the greatest jukeboxes in London.

I met people and I talked to people, and over the next few months, it became a regular haunt for me. It was a place where I worked out who I was again, and what my life was now.

The ability to stop, spend time with friends and remind yourself who you are, and even why you are, is an important one. You take yourself out of your comfort zone and willingly try out the London that they know, or you share the London you know with them.

It's not just a London thing, but if you've ever done one of these nights in London, where you end up comfortably out until the early morning in places you've never been before, then you know that there's a magic there. The way London has so many different areas, tightly packed in, means that you can truly end up somewhere that you didn't even know about, that's just round the corner from somewhere you know well.

And it's easy to start. In fact, I know this great place, and it's not far from here...