Before KFC and kebabs, there was lumpy mash and minced beef encased in buttery pastry all swimming in glutinous parsley liquor and lashings of vinegar – to be added once you’ve settled on the shallow benches of L Manze’s Mahogany, high-backed booths. The recipe hasn’t changed since the place opened in 1929 to fill the bellies of London’s dockworkers and market stall holders – it’s easy to imagine their gruff cockney rhyming slang bouncing around the beautifully-tiled interior. This is one stubborn East End establishment still holding its own among the hodgepodge of international supermarkets, fabric shops and discount stores that now make up Walthamstow Market.
Transport: St James Street Overground
© Andy Parsons
That psychedelic carpet is the first gaudy giveaway that you’ve travelled back in time at this spectacularly groovy bingo hall in Elephant’s famous shopping centre. On a Sunday it’s packed, with enthusiastic yelps still ringing out from locals who gather under the glitzy chandeliers in hope of winning some serious cash money. Palace Bingo is one steadfast local institution – refusing to close its doors even when the smoking ban threatened to deter its regulars and the dreaded ‘regeneration’ looms ever closer.
Transport: Elephant & Castle
Wedged into a corner opposite Blackfriars tube station is a kind of medieval temple to excess and overindulgence, and not much has changed since 1875. On a rammed Friday night punters down pints and jostle for space under the wood-beamed, nicotine-stained ceiling. Surrounding them on the walls are podge-faced friars in cloaked garb, who feast, laugh and strum musical instruments (in homage to the friary that once occupied this spot). Original engraved signs above the bar and dining entrance reassure drinkers that ‘tomorrow will be Friday’ and ‘Saturday afternoon’, because even the Londoners of yesteryear were living for the weekend.
Tucked down a Whitechapel side street is London’s oldest music hall. Passing through Wilton’s grand old door, with its peeling paint, it feels like stepping into Miss Havisham’s dilapidated mansion. All the dances, drinks and general debauchery of the past seep out of the exposed brick walls, permeating the rotting window frames and giving the place an air of faded grandeur. In the cavernous auditorium, spiraling cast iron pillars draped in fairy lights support the carved balcony above. Wilton’s is a striking receptacle for all tomorrow’s parties and, to think, it might have become a Wetherspoons.
Transport: Tower Hill
Behind an unassuming exterior on a drab high road in SE4 is the splendid Rivoli Ballroom, where quiffs, flared polka-dot frocks and killer dance moves never went out of fashion. On a Saturday night, the sprung maple dancefloor is filled with wriggling couples jiving under the red glow of Chinese lanterns and crystal chandeliers. Plush red velvet hugs the walls of the barrel-vaulted auditorium, while the more intimate golden ballroom has a showstopper of a ceiling, making the Rivoli a sought-after film and TV location.
Transport: Crofton Park rail
Transport: St John’s Wood
There’s not a ‘gluten-free’ or ‘craft beer’ sign in sight in this narrow covered passage. Despite being just a few metres from the famous Brixton Village covered market, Reliance Arcade feels like it’s a world away. You can browse CDs, pick up hair extensions (real) or buy designer leather bags (probably fake) while the smell from a popcorn stand fills the air. Recently added to Historic England’s ‘at risk’ register, this arcade – with its Egyptian-style art deco façade – will hopefully continue to serve Brixton locals for many years to come.
This affluent corner of London somehow, miraculously, missed the memo that said out with the old and in with Ikea trolley races and flat-pack furniture. At Alfies’, piles of silverware, cabinets of cocktail glasses and a dizzying array of lamps and chandeliers to suit every style and era are stacked to the rafters. Anyone visiting this multi-storey shrine to antiques will notice the pungent, waxy scent of furniture polish as they wind their way around the warren of treasures. Yes, there’s some ancient loot here too, but overall, you’ll want to throw on a vintage frock and pretend you’ve got a hot date with the 1920s.
This leafy corner of suburbia is an unlikely spot for a gothic castle, but back in the day Strawberry Hill was a bit of party destination for the aristocracy, whose coaches and horses sometimes backed up all the way to Twickenham station. Tomb-inspired Trompe l’oeil wallpaper lines the shadowy entrance hall and the twisted heads of antelope watch visitors climb the ornate staircase. While Horace Walpole’s ancestors and biblical scenes glare down from the dark walls, fan-vaulted ceilings and stained glass windows – it’s no wonder he dreamt up the plot of the first ever Gothic novel here.
Transport: Strawberry Hill rail
© Lisa Payne
Doing your wash down the local launderette is one of the few things that still requires a pocketful of change. Pam, who leaves notes in block capitals Blu Tacked to the orange-and-turquoise walls of the Barbican Launderette, has been serving residents around Fann Street for the last 40 years or so. It’s hard to feel that nostalgic while you’re fumbling for coins and heaving washing back and forth between out-of-order machines. But at least here, amid the whir of the tumble dryers and the smell of damp clothes tinged with Mr Soapy washing powder, the age-old art of conversation is alive and kicking.
If it wasn’t the for blue plaque, you’d never guess the brown-bricked exterior of No 7 Hammersmith Terrace was harbouring a time capsule for the arts and crafts movement. Preserved exactly as it was 100 years ago when the typographer Emery Walker lived here, its four storeys are filled with ceramics, silver snuff boxes, hand-carved furniture and the pièce de résistance – original William Morris hand blocked wallpaper. It’ll put your patchy hallway paint job to shame. Upstairs in the pale blue floral-papered drawing room, you half expect to see Walker himself sitting at the Edward Barnsley desk, quill in hand, obsessing over the weight of a font.
Transport: Ravenscourt Park
Transport: Covent Garden
More weird and wonderful London locations
Love living in London but also want to pretend that you're not in London occasionally? Feast your eyes on these incredible and bizarre bits of the capital that could be a million miles away...