It is one of the biggest, most interesting and most happening cities on earth. And with the Olympic Games returning, now's the ideal time to rediscover London in all its polish, pomp, grit and glory.
Author Joe Keohane Photography Richard James Taylor
DAY TWO | Aghast at the amount of food you ate yesterday, you opt for coffee and oranges in your suite. Then, after having your bags sent over to your next hotel, Blakes in South Kensington, you strike out for a constitutional along the Victoria Embankment to Westminster Pier, in the shadow of Parliament. Here your River Bus to the historic district of Greenwich, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, awaits. The 20-minute boat trip is lovely, providing a duck’s-eye view of St. Paul’s, the Tower Bridge and the Gherkin.
Having docked in Greenwich and spent some time wandering the pastoral grounds of the grand Old Royal Naval College, you find that, against all odds, your stomach is again clamoring for sustenance. You step into the modish eatery Inside, and order cream of broccoli soup with Stilton croutons, followed by pan-fried cod with buttered new potatoes and baby carrots, which puts a bit of steel in the old sea legs.
Outside, you procure a Brazilian churro and a “Mind the Gap” tea towel at the bustling Greenwich Market, then pay a visit to the Royal Observatory, a glorious shambles of 17th-century domes and cupolas, where men in codpieces once charted the heavens. In the cobbled Meridian Line Courtyard, you do what everyone who comes here does: straddle the line separating the Western and Eastern hemispheres.
Mind blown, you descend the stairs at the observatory’s domed entrance to the Greenwich foot tunnel, which passes under the river and delivers you to the Isle of Dogs, where you wave down a taxi and head a few miles north, to the East End. The tide of bohemianism, and subsequent gentrification, is sweeping eastward across London, and this neighborhood, long a destination for newly arrived immigrants, is in something of a sweet spot. You start at Shoreditch and wind through its narrow lanes lined with cafés, restaurants, galleries and independent shops until you hit Brick Lane, where the scent of countless curry houses hangs in the air.
You turn left into an alley alongside a former brewery, and come upon Café 1001. Coffee secured, you head farther in and discover Rough Trade East, the record shop of the eponymous rock label; it has, as you’d expect, a superlative punk collection. While you’re there, a Londoner insists you check out The Hope & Anchor, a pub in the Angel district that once served as the heart of the London rock scene. It’s a plan. But not before an early dinner. Obviously, given where you are, dinner will be Bangladeshi.
You duck into Aladin, self-proclaimed “Curry King of Brick Lane,” and order the Aladin Special Masala. It’s delicious, smoky, sweet and spicy, totally unique. You try to get the waiter to tell you what’s in it, but he shakes his head. “Is that cinnamon?” you demand. He won’t say. You press. He offers to give you the recipe for any dish on the menu, “but not the Special Masala.” You relent.
A quick Tube trip takes you to Angel, and The Hope & Anchor. You step inside the handsome old Victorian boozer and call for a pint of good real ale, served at room temperature. The list of bands that have played this bar strains credulity: The Clash, Joy Division, The Police, U2. Acts still play here, and even though the bartender expresses mild reservations about the newly added chandeliers and decadent black fleur-de-lis wallpaper, the joint still seems pretty rock ‘n’ roll. You end the night like this, sipping ale, furtively monitoring the floorboards for ancient vibrations.