Stray away from the crowds and discover London's most stylish nooks and crannies.
Londonphiles will find their favourite town a little more crowded than usual this summer. For one thing, the Queen is celebrating 60 years on the throne in June. But dazzling though a Diamond Jubilee may be, it is up against the sweat, pomp and circumstance of the Olympic Games. And what if one is neither a royalist nor a sports fan? Literary types can take refuge in Charles Dickens’ bicentennial and the Victorian London he depicted.
The perfect time capsule to start with is Dennis Severs’ House in Spitalfields, whose unmarked doorstep is lit by a gas light. Dennis Severs was an American living in London from the late ’60s until his death in 1999; he was, however, devoted to the 18th and 19th centuries. I visited his house, where he lived for two decades, and walked from room to room in total silence, listening to the recorded sounds of carriages in the distance, people’s conversations and the snap and crackle of real fires burning in the grates.
For dinner that night, my friend Peter spirited me to another home, though this one was still inhabited by the living: his friend Tony Hornecker, an artist and a set decorator. Hornecker owns an ephemeral restaurant called The Pale Blue Door, and it’s in a part of East London that has Jack the Ripper qualities. There’s no sign, only a pale-blue wooden door through which one walks into a dollhouse dining establishment bursting with mismatched tablecloths, candelabra, old paintings and photos...and a transvestite revue. We had excellent roast beef, horseradish sauce and crumble pudding and watched an exuberant drag cabaret. It wasn’t time travel, but it’s the kind of place that Dickens would have written a novella about.
Discover the hidden alcoves of London with our writers insider's guide on where to stay, dine, and what to explore, on the next page...