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Rob Greig

12 awesome things to do under London's archways

By Time Out London contributors
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You can eat, drink, rave, shop, sweat and more in London’s railway arches. We celebrate them.

Thanks to those top-hatted Victorians and their railway-building obsession, London has an awful lot of arches. For years many of them were unused and unloved. From King’s Cross to Vauxhall, archways were there for the taking, home to scrap dealers, car resprayers, eel wholesalers: unglamorous trades making the most of dank, gloomy spaces. At the same time, though, these brick caverns with their cheap rents offered amazing homes to artists, makers, musicians, fetish clubs and small businesses.

Today, Network Rail rents arches to more than 7,000 small businesses across London. In the last decade, our railway arches have changed from being spaces of necessity to actively desirable locations. Partly this is due to areas with lots of arches changing character: just look at King’s Cross, where illegal raves in archway warehouses morphed into world-renowned superclubs, which are now becoming chic eateries and shops. Or Maltby Street in Bermondsey, where a once-grimy line of arches is now an Instagrammable foodie hotspot. Partly it’s because London has rediscovered the joy of making stuff: brewing beer, roasting coffee, baking bread. You need a place to do these things. It’s a mixed blessing:   arch rents are on the rise everywhere. Many of Brixton’s longstanding archway shops – including a fishmonger who had been there for 84 years – were moved out last year amid a controversial ‘redevelopment’. But there are still tons of championable independent businesses beneath the tracks. So get out there and get under. 

Little Nan’s Bar: Deptford

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Tristan Scutt set up this bar in honour of his late grandmother (who made it to 104). It’s full-throttle ’80s front-room fetishism, with cocktail menus hidden inside Charles and Di Royal Wedding annuals, mocktails served in leopard-print mugs and cat-covered cushions galore. Snacks are true Brits – from a cracking fish finger sarnie to ’oops on toast. Thanks Nan! Arches 13-14, Deptford Market Yard, SE8 4BX. Deptford rail.

Bar Story: Peckham

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This cosy drinking den underneath Peckham Rye station is a real local institution. The cocktails are potent, the pizzas hit the spot and the DJs drop tunes you’ll wish you knew. But, like Peckham itself, Bar Story is trendy without being too try-hard. Sure, the owners did well to make an arch look so arty, but there’s no need to bang on about it. 213 Blenheim Grove, SE15 4QL. Peckham Rye Overground. 

Draughts: Haggerston

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If someone told you London had a board game café tucked under a railway arch, you’d probably guess it’s in Hackney. And you’d be right. But this Haggerston hangout is great fun even if you think matcha latte is some kind of BOGOF coffee deal. There are over 6,000 games to choose from, and a decent drinks and snacks menu to boot. 337 Acton Mews, E8 4EA. Haggerston Overground.

Arcadia Missa: Peckham

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When people call Peckham a ‘creative hub’, they probably cite this place as evidence. Opened in 2010 by a couple of Central Saint Martins grads, it’s an art gallery, studio space and publishing house. Specialising in ‘contemporary art with intent’, the gallery is rightly praised for showcasing emerging queer and female talent. Unit 6, Bellenden Road Business Centre, SE15 4RF. Peckham Rye Overground.

El Pastór: Southwark

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Nestled inside a railway arch near Borough Market, El Pastór is London’s most exciting new Mexican restaurant. Corrugated metal accentuates the curved brickwork, creating a stylish space for scoffing tacos and sinking frozen margaritas. It’s run by the people behind Barrafina, so the food is definitely a step up from your average high-street burrito monger. 7a Stoney St, SE1 9AA. Tube: London Bridge.

The Fields Beneath: Kentish Town

Kentish Towners have taken enthusiastically to this lovely neighbourhood coffee bar since it opened in 2012. It’s a tiny place, right next door
to the Overground station, with just four tables and a steady stream of takeaway customers. Its coffee is top-notch and you could easily come here just for the food. At the end of last year the cafe made the switch to being vegan. Trendy! 52a Prince of Wales Rd, NW5 3LN. Kentish Town West Overground.

Kickslove: Deptford

Tucked under Deptford station, this women-only sneaker emporium offers a welcome antidote to the Lynx-heavy terrace-casual machismo of most sportswear stores. Kickslove stocks big brands like Nike, Adidas and Converse, with some cool exclusives, and frankly it’s worth visiting just to check out the gorgeous gilded floor designed by local graffiti artist INSA. Arch 2, Deptford Market Yard, SE8 4NS. Deptford rail.

Corsica Studios: Elephant & Castle

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Filling two railway arches behind Elephant & Castle shopping centre, Corsica Studios sounds like a bohemian art co-operative. But actually, it’s a brilliant dance venue. The gritty brickwork suits the no-frills vibe: this is a club for getting down to serious house and techno. 4-5 Elephant Rd, SE17 1LB. Tube: Elephant & Castle.

Anspach & Hobday: Bermondsey

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In this pretty glass and brick railway arch in Bermondsey, you’ll find a buzzy local brewery creating its range of quirky and quality beers including Pale Ale and Smoked Brown. There's a tap room attached too, open Friday to Sunday. If you’re heading down on a Saturday afternoon prepare to jostle for space. 118 Druid St, SE1 2HH. Tube: Bermondsey.

Ministry Does Fitness: Elephant & Castle

If you find most gyms a bit Gwyneth Paltrow-pious, this place could be the answer. Located in Ministry of Sound’s former hidden alcohol vault, this exercise studio runs classes with a “#BeGoodToBeBad” ethos. So if you don’t fancy a protein shake after your cardio blast, you can grab a cocktail at the bar instead. The Arches, Arches 80 and 81, Newington Court, SE1 6DD. Tube: Elephant & Castle. Get a week of unlimited classes for £32 here.

Whirled Cinema: Loughborough Junction

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Converting a Brixton arch into an indie picturehouse was a smart idea, and this lot did it properly by installing plush seats and a bijou bar. It’s members-only, but the £99 annual fee gets you and a guest into unlimited screenings. Just don’t expect to watch the new ‘Fast & Furious’ here; Whirled keeps its film programme as classy as its decor. 259-260 Hardess St, SE24 0HN. Loughborough Junction rail.

Tower Bridge Porsche: London Bridge

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It’s not every day you need a vintage Porsche servicing; hell, for most of us, it’s not any day. But if you’re a petrolhead who appreciates fine German engineering, this specialist repair shop housed in a Bermondsey railway arch has a great rep. And its success proves arches aren’t just hipster hangouts; they’re viable homes to all kinds of businesses. 56 Druid St, SE1 2EZ. Tube: London Bridge.

List entries by Nick Levine

More London hidden gems at timeout.com/secretlondon.

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