London Takes Back The Night
I recall a particularly grim night spent outside in London at a Midsummer Eve festival in Greenwich Park, when the winds suddenly turned arctic, it rained torrentially and the taxis home vanished. You book outside events in our summer at your peril. Back then, the choice was limited to a few parks, pub gardens and open air theatres. That was before the pop-up phenomenon which brought rooftop cinemas, hot tub movies, pop-up theatres, overnight gardens and the next logical development – night markets.
London markets appear like wonderful, unruly weeds between the nightmarish concrete buildings, as if humans will always find a way to beat the developers. Now Dalston’s Street Feast, Battersea’s Riverside Feast, Southbank’s night market and Lewisham’s Model Market have appeared, running to midnight or 1:00am throughout the summer, offering an astonishing range of foodie fare in pop-up restos, bars and event spaces.
Because London has no old quarter, its rich and poor areas have always rubbed alongside each other. Nowhere is this more evident than in Dalston, where, once you pass the drunks bellowing outside Poundstretcher you come to enclaves of arty hipsterism, from the Arcola Theatre to Dalston Yard. It’s safe enough, but for tourists it’s a leap out of the comfort zone. If you don’t do it, you’re doomed to stay within the tourist-trail part of the city that no self-respecting Londoner ever visits.
Meanwhile, down on the Southbank, head up to the Queen Elizabeth roof of the unpromisingly named Concrete to find yourself in a wilderness of planting run riot, where you can sit overlooking the Thames surrounded by wildflowers, and no matter how crowded it gets you can always find a place. Further along at Udderbelly there’s a veritable woodland, with gazebos and wooden dachas poking through the undergrowth. And of course, the giant purple cow that gives the fest its name, filled with great entertainment. At Radio, Vista and Boundary you can drink on rooftops with amazing views, and avoid the overpriced venue favoured by suits like the Shard’s Aqua and the Coq D’Argent’s suicide-leap garden.
When I was a kid, London shut early (and on Wednesday afternoons, even earlier). Pubs were closed, clubs were behind bolted doors and the streets were dead. Perhaps that was preferable to Leicester Square at midnight, now a hellhole of screaming revellers, but who needs the central London nexus of Piccadilly Circus anymore? Head out to Holborn and you’ll find outdoor nightlife a pleasure in Sicilian Avenue’s ‘The Holborn Whippet’, or go to the bars of Shoreditch which open onto streets with fold-back doors, like The Electricity Showroom.