All night long: What to do in London from dusk till dawn
From highbrow culture to raucous boozing, London has plenty of options for late night and early morning antics. Here's how to while away the small hours in style
Thu Jul 17 2014
London doesn’t have to call it a night any more when the tubes stop running. These days, you can go to the gym, catch some Shakespeare or have a sleepover on a sixteenth-century ship, not to mention revelling in those timeless nocturnal pursuits of dancing and boozing. Here's our round-up of the city’s best and brightest late-night pastimes.
Simon Archer Hurlstone
If you’re going to conquer London through the night, you need plenty of morale-boosting tunes. Luckily, there are all sorts of soundtracks on offer. You can jive away your insomnia at the Swing Revival Club: After-Hours, an early-morning haunt (starting at 1.45am on Sundays) in Leicester Square’s Hippodrome Casino where live bands play gypsy jazz and DJs spin electro-swing. There’s a speakeasy vibe to the whole thing, though fortunately there’s nothing illegal about boozing here all through
the early hours.
Something harder? Okay, let’s cut to the chase and get Jaded at Corsica Studios in Elephant & Castle, where you can offer your frazzled soul to the gods of hard techno. This starts at 5am on Sunday morning and keeps thumping away until 3pm. On Sunday July 20, techno behemoth Blawan is the special guest keeping Jaded fresh after unveiling his new night, Ternesc, in the very same venue just hours earlier. What a trouper!
And if you prefer your late-night sounds laidback rather than loud, legendary Soho jazz venue Ronnie Scott’s hosts Late Late Shows from Monday to Saturday, staying open until 3am. We’re hoping for Late Late Late Shows next: so late that they’re actually early. Maybe serving up jazz with a full English.
Boozing through the night? Outrageous, clearly, and something that respectable Londoners would never even contemplate. But for the other 98 percent of the city, here are a few options for getting loaded after closing time. Hedonistic Hackney institution and renowned guilty pleasure The Dolphin may have run into some controversy about its licensing last year but, for the time being at least, the chaos and karaoke continue on Friday and Saturday nights until 4.30am.
Equally raucous in their own ways, disco den Dalston Superstore and Soho rock haven the Crobar also offer boozing until the early hours. For something more sophisticated, settle back into one of the leather sofas at French-themed Soho bistro-bar Cafe Boheme, where you can drink till 3am.
If you still need to pickle your liver after doing your worst at those venues, your best bet is to take a lengthy, lingering walk and end up at long-standing Smithfield boozer The Hope or Borough’s Market Porter for an early-morning tipple. Both open at 6am (Monday-Friday only) to give the area’s market workers and traders a chance for a pint after their nightshifts. But if you play your cards right (and don’t turn up reeking of all-night party), they’ll serve the rest of you as well, letting you wet your whistle (yet again!) before you’ve even had your cornflakes.
Taking on London all night in a malnourished state certainly isn’t advisable, so make sure you fuel up for your roaming. After a full night of debauchery you might be craving something a little exotic: HK Diner in Chinatown offers authentic but accessible Chinese cuisine until 4am. If, however, there just isn’t enough sausage in Chinese food for your liking, Kurz & Lang in Farringdon serves up tons of delicious German bratwurst combinations (and German beer) until 5am on Saturday and 4am on Sunday.
For other European fare, Soho stalwart Bar Italia serves excellent coffee and pastries (as well as a few more filling options) until 5am. For true 24-hour eating action, however, your top choices are primarily the hearty grub of Polo Bar outside Liverpool Street station, either branch of upmarket(ish) diner Vingt-Quatre (in Chelsea and Bloomsbury) or classy, sky-high restaurant Duck & Waffle, which offers fine dining way up on the fortieth floor of a City skyscraper, making it an ideal place to catch sunset or sunrise.
The Soho branch of Balans isn’t quite 24-hour but deserves a mention for its late opening (until 5am Tuesday-Friday, 6am on Saturday and Sunday, 2am on Monday) and eclectic menu. Of course, you haven’t experienced 24-hour London dining until you’ve stumbled into whichever of Brick Lane’s round-the-clock bagel shops (Beigel Bake and the Beigel Shop, to give them their official-ish titles) you’ve sworn allegiance to at stupid o’clock in the morning and bought at least two bagels. Why two? Why the hell not.
David Tett Phtography
Forgoing sleep doesn’t sound like the healthiest of pursuits, but London offers various ways of getting fitter or stimulating yourself (in a wholesome way) through the night and early morning. To raise money for Cancer Research UK, you can opt to walk either a half or full marathon as part of the Shine Night Walk on September 27, starting at 7.30pm and 10.15pm.
Alternatively you can pedal through the night on the St Crispin’s Day Nightride, which starts at one minute past midnight on October 25 and covers a 100-mile route around the sights of London. Don’t know what St Crispin’s Day is? As well as being the day that two saints called Crispin feasted, it’s the date that the Battle of Agincourt, the Charge of the Light Brigade and the Battle of Leyte Gulf all took place. So be sure to pack your fighting spirit along with your bike clips.
On a different fitness tip is Morning Gloryville (July 23 at Oval Space and August 6 at a West London venue to be confirmed), a midweek party which gives you the chance to ‘rave your way into the day’ – soberly and at 6.30am. The aim is to prepare for the day ahead by dancing to high-energy tunes, perhaps followed by a smoothie. If that sounds way too hippy, go bathe in the testosterone of Skyline Gym in Catford, a 24-hour fitness centre that’s dedicated to ‘one thing and one thing only – muscle’. No TV or other non-bodybuilding-related nonsense here, just weights and people who look like they could fold your spine into a matchbox without breaking sweat.
Alternatively, give your eyes a workout as they bask in the beauty of the sunrise with a Cities at Dawn photo workshop (londonatdawn.com). Starting an hour before sun up, photographer Anthony Epes teaches budding snappers how to capture London’s unique aesthetics at daybreak.
Alastair Philip Wiper
Late-night London isn’t just about booze and food. You can also binge on culture after dark. The Globe’s Midnight Matinees supplies middle-of-the-night Shakespeare (‘Antony and Cleopatra’ on August 8 and ‘The Comedy of Errors’ on September 6). Maybe you need to be scared out of falling asleep? The Dwindling House of Holland (Saturday July 12 at Opera Holland Park) gives a double jolt of fright, combining Benjamin Britten’s creepy opera ‘The Turn of the Screw’ with a post-performance ghost walk through the park.
Similarly chilling but also funny is Friday Night Freaks, a late-night blend of bizarre comedy and twisted cabaret to amuse, appal and astound that returns on September 5 as part of London Wonderground Festival at the Southbank Centre.
As you’ll have gathered, an all-nighter is no laughing matter. Unless, that is, you head to the Comedy Store's late shows on Friday and Saturday, where you can chuckle your way through sleep deprivation. Film buffs are catered for in 24-hour London via the excellent programming at Rio Cinema Lates in Dalston (including sci-fi thriller ‘Under the Skin’ on July 26 at 11.30pm), and two Prince Charles Cinema Movie Marathons on August 30 (one featuring six films from kooky director Wes Anderson, and one running through the ‘X-Men’ series). Both start at 9pm and finish at 8.25am on Sunday.
When it comes to experiencing London through the night, sleeping is definitely cheating – unless it’s at one of these experiential events. Give your late-night journey a macabre twist at a sleepover with perhaps Shakespeare’s most notorious murderer, in the RIFT theatre company’s immersive production of ‘Macbeth’, performed on the twenty-seventh floor of Poplar’s Balfron Tower. The grizzly story unfolds tensely around the audience over 13 hours (8pm-9am), so don’t expect to get much sleep.
On a more family-friendly note, you could book a spot at the Golden Hinde Overnight Experience, where children and families bed down on a replica of the ship used by Francis Drake to circumnavigate the globe in the sixteenth century. It’s a mix of education and entertainment, complete with actors to keep the theme going, and is sure to tire out even the most energetic of young crewmates by the time it comes to lights-out on the gun deck. Also for children is Dino Snores at the Natural History Museum, another sleepover that combines learning with fun activities and a lot of dinosaurs – always a win for kids. But why should the young ’uns keep all the dino-fun to themselves? Adults can also roam around the NHM at night pretending to be a T-rex at Dino Snores for Grown-ups, which features a three-course meal, comedy, music, film screenings and a midnight feast of edible insects. The perfect snack to end your epic London all-nighter.
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