Eight Odd London Christmas Venues
I know what you’re thinking. It would be dead easy at this time of year to knock together a bunch of obvious choices for Christmas outings, but lately you can’t move without falling over ice rinks and pop-ups and Christmas markets, so here are some odder alternatives.
1. Most Secret Theatre
‘The Railway Children’ is on in a pop-up theatre in my ‘hood, King’s Cross, with a real steam train shunting into the production, but there’s a permanent theatre nearby…the Pleasance Theatre is famously in Edinburgh, but it has a London outpost tucked away in a rather unlovely part of town behind the Caledonian Road. Here you’ll actually find a very smart theatre and a bar, where you can see really top-notch shows for next to nothing. Many of them are works-in-progress but others are fully formed – I saw Sondheim’s ‘Assassins’ here in an electrifying production, and a Handel song-cycle in modern dress which brawled out into the bar at intermission. They don’t seem to advertise, so check out their website. They’re built over a pub, which leads me to…
2. Most Hidden Pub
The Sir George Shillibeer is in the old courtyard under the Pleasance Theatre, and is big enough to drive a bus into, which is appropriate because it’s named after the man who invented the omnibus, and was once a depot. It’s usually busy, which is weird being in the middle of nowhere, and often has random (in every sense) comedians or bands or parties just rolling around inside it. Useful if you find yourself in the arse-end of the Cally Road, though. For me a Christmas drink entails a trip to the Commercial Tavern, Shoreditch, and the Christmassiest pub in London…
3. Most Christmassy Boozer
That’ll have to be the insanely cluttered Windsor Castle, off the Edgware Road. Its walls and ceilings are covered in commemorative plates, frames photos, pictures of pilots (the Dam Buster logs are kept here, and it’s the clubhouse for the Handlebar Moustache Club) but at Christmas it goes totally mental, decorated to within an inch of its life. Is it a good idea to set that nativity scene on the fireplace? We could all burn to death in here!
4. Most Secret Cinema
True, I could head for Singalong-Sound Of Music, paint myself yellow and be ‘Ray, a Drop Of Golden Sun’, or go as a nun with a sign reading ‘I Am 60 Going On 70’, but how about a movie in a place you can’t find? The Whirled Cinema seats 60, almost impossible to find even with the address, it’s in Hardess Street, in Brixton, under a railway arch – and as well as movies, offers popcorn, pizza and cocktails. Oh, and it’s dead cheap.
5. Strangest Bookshop
Don’t say Christmas, darling, say Winter Solstice. First opened in 1922, The Atlantis Bookshop in Bloomsbury is the oldest independent occult bookshop in London, and still seems to be going strong nearly a century later. Since its inception many of the occult world’s celebs have come to the shop for a cup of tea. Presumably the staff have the kettle on before they arrive. They sell titles on everything from angels and fairies, vampires, earth mysteries and magic, to yoga, meditation, feng shui, healing, green issues, spiritualism and psychology. (That sentence bothers me a bit; I think it’s the juxtaposition of yoga and vampires). The shop also hosts regular events such as ‘Discovering the Runes For Beginners’.
6. London’s Catacombs
Hate people and want to be alone this Christmas? The Clerkenwell House of Detention was built on the site of two earlier prisons, and was eventually overtaken by Coldbath Fields Prison at Mount Pleasant, just across the road. In 1867 its exercise yard was blown up by Fenians in what became known as The Clerkenwell Outrage. It was demolished in 1890. The site has now been converted into – you guessed it – luxury lifestyle living. I think the vaults beneath, however, now known as the Clerkenwell Catacombs, remain. They were used as air-raid shelters during the Blitz, and can still be accessed via an entrance on Clerkenwell Close. I appeared at an event in there and have to say they were bloody creepy and very claustrophobic. They’ll probably turn it into a cocktail bar one day.
7. Most Confusing Venue
The new Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities, Fine Art and Natural History has everything from two-headed lambs to creepy dolls and Amy Winehouse’s poo in a jar. And cocktails. But really strange ones. The former Last Tuesday Society’s shop is now a sort of museumy-cocktaily thing! It just opened last month near Bethnal Green tube.
8. Old Favourite Still Alive
Soho House membership now has as much exclusivity as a Tesco club card – fine for those who think being a print buyer at Sky qualifies as ‘in media’, but actual creatives avoid it like Ebola. Quirkier and crazier is the old Phoenix Artists’ Club, especially at Christmas. OK, Maurice is now brown bread (they held his wake there and his coffin was in the bar draped in a feather boa and spangled top hat) but his spirit hovers, nay seeps, over the place. Perhaps this yuletide they’ll play their terrifying ‘Christmas Carols Sung By Cats’ album again!