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London - atmospheric places to hang out in?

London - atmospheric places to hang out in?

Feb 16th, 2006, 10:46 AM
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London - atmospheric places to hang out in?

Were planning to spend a week in London this summer (followed by a week elsewhere in England and Wales). We seem to have enough info on things to do and see that were interested in (historical sites, museums, London Walks, Globe play, etc.). But we also like to spend a chunk of our vacations just hanging out in cafes, squares, etc. in atmospheric locations. Any suggestions for such locations in London? Were staying in Notting Hill, but would be happy to hear of suggestions elsewhere in London.

Our preference would be to find places that are not mobbed primarily by tourists (maybe this is a pipe dream in early August). For instance, when we were in Paris last summer we stayed in the Marais and found lots of places to hang out there that we loved because of its local feel, much more so than the part of the Latin Quarter where we stayed later. So Im hoping there are similar locations in London.....
krishnan is offline  
Feb 16th, 2006, 11:20 AM
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Pick up a copy of Time Out London at any newsstand and be clued into the local scene for things like you want - and as always ask your hotel desk about it as well.
PalQ is offline  
Feb 16th, 2006, 01:27 PM
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Hmm - atmospheric locations not mobbed by tourists; I assume you mean people-watching places, so they're going to be pretty busy. Well, in a sense, in a lot of such places, even the Londoners there are tourists as well, rather than people who live on the doorstep: for example, Covent Garden (the piazza, though perhaps you might find Neal St and into Neal's yard a bit more what you're thinking of), or Soho, or Borough Market, which might meet your needs. If you're visiting the Globe, then Borough Market is nearby, but also you could try Gabriel's Wharf.

So much of London is a series of villages, each with its own character; outside the centre, each will have a much more local flavour, including (parts of?) Notting Hill. Maybe what you're thinking of might best be met by making a pub your "local" for the time you're here. Find one that you like near where you're staying (probably not one on a main road). See www.fancyapint.com
PatrickLondon is offline  
Feb 16th, 2006, 06:03 PM
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Thanks for your replies, PatrickLondon and PalQ. The link to the pub locations in particular is terrific - the photos are very helpful.

Just to clarify a little more on what I was looking for: I've been to London briefly a couple of times on work, and I have to admit that Covent Garden was not my cup of tea. Although I did enjoy walking around after a late night dinner in Soho, many of the popular central London congregation spots (which is what I focused on as a newbie London tourist) appeared to have a sort of Times Square feel - and that's not the kind of buzz I'm looking for. I was hoping to find places more along the feel of a French/Spanish square with cafes - perhaps a British equivalent around one of the small London park squares? But maybe because of the weather in England, there is more of an indoor pub culture rather than an outdoor cafe culture?

It was a good idea by PatrickLondon to look for these in the local "villages" that make up parts of London - it'll be fun to walk around and see what we find. Any suggestions for other parts of London with this "village-like" feel?
krishnan is offline  
Feb 16th, 2006, 07:09 PM
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Perhaps Hamstead?
Surfergirl is offline  
Feb 16th, 2006, 07:31 PM
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Here are some places we've enjoyed:

Anchor Pub in Southwark - several floors (all different), an outdoor deck on one side (upstairs), a huge outdoor terrace with several levels and views to London skyline across the river. After work hangout for the locals.

Black Friar Pub - another after work hangout - indoors and out (at many pubs there's outdoor seating or the crowd spills outside). Inside, tiles are magnificent. Very atmospheric. A bit touristy, and you'll likely see a Pub Walk come through, but we just loved this place.

PJ's in the theater district (great place for brunch, lunch, dinner, too). Tables on both sides outdoors (two different streets) - one side casual, one a bit more formal (tables set with linens, china). Becomes a piano bar after dinner.

La Poule au Pot - great (very romantic) spot for dinner. Large, lovely, terrace on a quiet neighborhood square.

Kettner's - this is actually one of many Pizza Express - food is excellent (moderately priced). Best is the gorgeous and comfortable piano bar.

Butler's Wharf Chophouse - lively, atmospheric bar (with amazing prix fixe menu, inexpensive). Tables set outdoors with fabulous views of Tower Bridge. Could not be more atmospheric at night. Wharf is lined with all sorts of other possibilities.

When we stayed at Millennium Bailey's, there were all sorts of fabulous places within steps of the Gloucester Road tube station. Really cool, really modern, bars (as opposed to pubs).

Maxwell's in Hampstead. A wonderful Italian restaurant with a lovely garden out back. Another place with several floors. Hampstead is a very scenic place for exploring and well worth a day trip (though it's only about a 1/2 hour tube ride).

Auberge - across the street from London Dungeon - actually a French restaurant, but another of the lots of places with an upstairs or downstairs with a completely different atmosphere (in this case, downstairs has a huge bar and more dining tables all about), and also an outdoor terrace.

We loved Langan's Brasserie (near the Ritz). Fabulous fish & chips (with homemade tartar sauce). Lively cocktail lounge with 4-piece combo the night we were there.

We love live music of the old fashioned sort so were in heaven in the Glen Miller Lounge at the Thistle Marble Arch.

On our last trip, after a visit to the magnificent "roof gardens" we stumbled upon a place called Piano (which was something else during the visit before). Really wonderful piano bar. Food is served (limited menu, but excellent).

I would mention, though, that none of the above is "like the Latin Quarter in Paris".

djkbooks is offline  
Feb 17th, 2006, 01:32 AM
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Most London squares are private gardens shared by the local residents, the privacy often jealously guarded. Those that are open fill up with workers in nearby offices on a summer weekday lunchtime, like Soho Square, or some of the City churchyards (see St Dunstan in the East, for example): but that's what I meant about Londoners being tourists - they don't live there, and the area might be dead in the evenings. Most parks are rather larger and more anonymous than you're looking for, but you could try Regent's Park or Primrose Hill on a Sunday afternoon. Outer London suburbs like Hampstead, Barnes and bits of Chiswick nearer the river can have a very villagey/village green sort of feel, but we don't really go in for piazza culture, much as developers have tried to get us to. Global warming may permit in the future, but for now indoors in the pub is our equivalent.
PatrickLondon is offline  
Feb 17th, 2006, 01:37 AM
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Walking through Chelsea and Kensington. Exploring the restaurant scene there. My favorite is Langan's Bistro (traditional English food, excellently prepared, and a popular hangout for celebrities and politicians).
traveller1959 is offline  
Feb 17th, 2006, 01:46 AM
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"Maxwell's in Hampstead. A wonderful Italian restaurant with a lovely garden out back. Another place with several floors. Hampstead is a very scenic place for exploring and well worth a day trip (though it's only about a 1/2 hour tube ride)."

It's a hamburger joint that is a dump.

Hampstead perhaps, but there's not much to do there.

I've lived in London my entire life, and I never ever go to such places. You must remember that the culture here didn't grow up around Spanish style squares/cafés. Society evolved around the private clubs such as White's. This is a completely different style, and isn't accessible to the ordinary person.

Hotels are a good place to start, the grande ones, sit in the lobby bar/"café" and have a few long drinks and observe. Claridge's lobby at 4am is an interesting place to be.
m_kingdom2 is offline  
Feb 17th, 2006, 02:48 AM
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As most other local posters have pointed out, "hanging out" really isn't what we do.

In the daytime, quite a lot of the squares are pleasant to sit in. A lot - like Soho Sq, Hanover Sq and Cavendish Sq - fill up at lunchtime. But some don't, and most squares in the boroughs of Camden and Islington and the Cities of London and Westminster have public access. (They're almost all private in Kensington and Chelsea, though) Grosvenor Sq, Berkeley Sq and the lovely little place at the southern end of Carlos Place aren't usually full of people roasting themselves at lunch.

In the evening... The Carluccio's at St Christopher's Place (just north of Oxford St)has a slightly piazza-ish feel outside. That'd be ruined if you ate some of the food (the arancini, in particular, would roll over and die of shame in Sicily. Or are they MEANT to be vegetarian?), but you can just order drinks, which are reasonably priced by our standards (and even by the standards of most Italian piazze).

There's a pleasant row of outside tables at the restaurants along the river just east of Tower Bridge - but they're not cheap and the service is a disgrace.

Otherwise, there are now loads of tables and chairs outside cafes all over the city, operating till close to midnight. But they're narrow pavements, and you're sharing them with the traffic fumes. Can be nice on Saturday and Sunday mornings, though.

Most pubs aren't a pleasure in August. Aircon is rare, Loondon Augusts are usually uncomfortably hot and smoking's still legal. So what happens is that crowds spill out on to the pavement, where the norm would be to stand around drinking for a while. Local officials hate this, as it obstructs the highway for the rest of us, so there's often a longrunning cat and mouse game, where pubs will go through a phase of trying to keep their customers indoors. Who's on top in all that changes with the phases of the moon.

Finding pubs with gardens (far more than you'd imagine) is probably the best solution, and warm London evenings as dusk falls really can be atmospheric in a rear, walled, garden. If Fancyapint doesn't help, come back to this board and we'll all chip in

One other solution is unaccountably unpopular with most Western tourists. There's a huge evening hang out culture among the Middle Eastern population up and down the Edgware Road, who have many pleasant, airconned, cafes. Though Arabic is the most common language, most of the cafes are actually run by Lebanese Christians and the atmosphere is extraordinarily unthreatening and unresentful. The food and (rarely aloholic) drink is healthy, good value and enjoyable. Even the smoking's a lot more tolerable when it's out of a hubble-bubble.
CotswoldScouser is offline  
Feb 17th, 2006, 04:47 AM
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this is a paradox...on the one hand you are looking for authentic, non-touristy, neighbourhoody, real locals, etc and on the other hand you want an atmosphere that is more continental or perhaps like the village (NYC) on sunday morning.

as others have pointed out, the few areas that approach this type of outdoor relaxing, reading the newspaper, coffee, watching the rollerbladers or joggers go by are decidedly unBritish and not at all "local" in feel.

a "real" british neighbourhood (in london or elsewhere) has very little "buzz" about it. in many places around the world you will see a flurry of all sorts of activity in a nice neighbourhood. in britain most residential neighbourhoods have very little activity (city or suburb). doors are tightly shut, people are generally not outside washing cars, exercising, socialising etc. activities like rollerblading down to starbucks to pick up a latte and a newspaper are only in the domains of foreign expats or young, trendy brits who clearly have been over-influenced by other cultures. likewise, relaxing with a friend in an outdoor cafe is just not ingrained in the culture as it is on the continent....i'm sorry to say, if you are looking for this sort of thing.
walkinaround is offline  
Feb 17th, 2006, 05:43 AM
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Ah, the classic British Sunday...



"I thought my mother was a bad cook - at least her gravy usesd to move about"..
PatrickLondon is offline  
Feb 17th, 2006, 08:24 AM
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Thank you for your interesting question. Half a mile east of Notting Hill is Bayswater, where the tube station is surrounded by small cafes, restaurants, and shops, often with an Arabic flavour as many rich Arabs keep houses around there for summertime. Half a mile northwest of Notting Hill is Little Venice, where well-appointed canal-side pubs cater for the rich boat owners of the district. 300 yards south east of Baker Street station is Marylebone High Street, where the Café Flo is good for watching people and eating cakes made in the Paris fashion. A mile south east of Notting Hill is the Orangery in Kensington Gardens, and near that the round pound, where grown men sail toy boats, to the pleasure of toddlers and their Phillippino nurses. South Kensington has a big student population, and you might like to try lunch in the café of the Institut Francais.

Victoria Street runs from Victoria to Westminster and is dull. But north of New Scotland Yard are St James Park tube station (with an interesting London Transport shop), a good pub for meals called the Two Chairmen, and the good houses of Old Queen Street. At the eastern end of that you emerge in front of the Abbey. If you go through the gate into Deans Yard and then west into the cloisters you can reach the College Garden, a thousand years old, and looking good. You might look at the tables to the south of Somerset House, or (in term) the student café at Clements Inn Passage in the London School of Economics, just west of the Royal Courts of Justice.

I like several villages. Islington is strong on theatre, specialist shops, and cafes with the days newspapers. Dulwich is rich and discreet. Richmond and Kingston are a bit less rich, but busy, with cafes, pubs, and riversides.

Welcome to London
Ben Haines
[email protected]

ben_haines_london is offline  
Feb 17th, 2006, 02:48 PM
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First of all, thanks so much to you all for the suggestions its quite incredible to see the quality of the responses and the time youve taken to help.

Its also been very interesting to hear from you on some of the ways in which English congregation culture is different from that in southern Europe, and why. Im actually glad it IS different otherwise whats the point of travel? So Im very much looking forward to checking out your suggestions.

(Ben: btw, could you be the one who sent me helpful hints on traveling with teenagers to Paris before last summer? Your name seems familiar I believe the person who sent it to me had 2 teenagers then who were 16 and 14.)
krishnan is offline  
Feb 17th, 2006, 02:57 PM
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djkbooks & Ben, EXCELLENT suggestions! Adding them to my notes too.
grantop is offline  
Feb 20th, 2006, 12:41 PM
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Hi Krisnan

Ive put a few suggestions for you below. Hope you find this helpful.


Hampstead - good pubs, good shops, lots of history

Battersea Park - lovely park in south london, right by the river thames - great views and lovely place to watch the world go by

Spitalfields market - brilliant market and the surrounding area (Clerkenwell) is very cool. Unfortunately the investment banks around there are encroaching on the market - so definitely go now before it disapears all together

Hoxton square - very trendy area, some good bars. Best to go at night.

Wimbldedon village and Wimbledon common - the village is away from the main centre of wimbledon and is very pretty. Again lots of lovely pubs and shops.

Some good pubs: Pigs Ear (just off the Kings Road, Chelsea). Churchills (Kensington Church Street).

Also try a lovely restaurant in Notting Hill called 'Lemonia'.
Viktoria is offline  
Feb 21st, 2006, 05:07 AM
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Thanks very much, Vikki!
krishnan is offline  
Feb 21st, 2006, 05:29 AM
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I second Churchills, on Kensington Church Street, a great pub. Try also The Wheatsheaf or The Castlebar (both Ealing) or The White Horse on Parsons Green - an excellent "Sunday pub".
There are a couple of pubs overlooking Kew Green which have a village green feel to them.
In Hammersmith there's The Dove, overlooking the river, once a coffeee house, and a favourite of Samuel Johnson.
Depends how far afield you want to go, really - for a real country feel, jump the Metropolitan Line to the (west) end of the line, and get off in the heart of The Chilterns - lovely!
doonhamer is offline  
Feb 21st, 2006, 05:42 AM
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Go and see 'A Midsummernight's Dream' in Regent's Park Open Air Theatre. Take a picknick (perhap's from Tom's, Westbourne Grove).
Tulips is offline  
Feb 21st, 2006, 07:23 AM
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