Hi. My name is Danny. I’ve been touring with bands for some time and want to tell you about some of the places we’ve been. I know, I’m missing some important things from these cities but this is just what I’ve had time to see. If you have suggestions regarding where to go in your beloved hometown the next time I’m hurtling through in a van filled with drunk people, please let me know.
For clarification, this is not a guide to London, Ontario. Sorry.
2 years ago I was recently dumped and lying on my bed in New York staring at the ceiling when I got a phone call from my English friend, Charles. Presumably he’d heard about the split and was calling to offer consolation. Skype’s annoying yet soothing submariney ringtone was the first thing to break the silence that morning. It was the middle of winter and about 9 AM. I raised the phone to my ear and kept staring at the ceiling. This is verbatim how the conversation went.
Charles: (No hello, he speaks in a thick, almost soothing East London accent) You know Dan when my father was in the British military, every morning during training the drill sergeant or whatever would come in the room and make a big noise then scream, “hands off your cocks, put on your socks.”
Charles: Yes. Now I am telling you Dan, hands off your cock and put on your socks.
Me: My hand isn’t… why are you calling?
Charles explained that his girlfriend got a temporary position in Paris and he wanted to know if I’d like to come hang out at their place in London for two months free of charge. I considered his proposal for the duration of the call and agreed before hanging up. On January 10th I packed a suitcase and flew to London with relatively no idea as to how I was going to spend the next sixty days. By the way, “I dunno, hanging out” is not the answer customs in the United Kingdom are looking for when they ask you the purpose of your 2 month long visit. Eventually they let me through. Passport stamped, I took the Piccadilly tube line to District and arrived in east London, duffel in tow.
Let me back up. I met Charles while on tour with Neon Indian in Iceland. After our show we ran into the Toro Y Moi boys downstairs and started talking and drinking. I went to the green room to pick up a bottle of liquor when an English dude smoking two cigarettes yelled at me from across the room, “Can I have some of that Bacardi mate?” My knee jerk reaction was to say no but the guy was smoking two cigarettes inside, he passed muster. We started drinking and smoking cigarettes and became quick friends. As we got deeper into the Bacardi and cheap brennevin, he was like, “Duuuuuude I’m gonna come to New York, let’s hang out.” And I was like, “Duuuuude you need to, you can stay on my couch, here is my email.” The night ended, we parted ways, and I nearly forgot about the entire interaction… until a few days later when I received an email from Charles explaining that he had booked his ticket to NYC and would arrive in a week. He did and we’ve been friends ever since. I’m a firm believer that American and English men are a match made in heaven. We see eye-to-eye on the big stuff and there are still enough differences to keep it entertaining, like the pronunciation of garage.
Cut to a few years later and I was attempting to assuage my romantic woes on Charles’ couch in London. And what better place to cheer up than the United Kingdom in January? I will say this. If you are in the midst of a breakup, England is bad because there is no sun ever and I’m not sure adding a thick layer of SAD to your already fragile frame of mind is for the best. However, England is good during a break up because they have more ways to say, “Don’t cry” than anyone on the planet. Stiff lip! Keep Calm! Or my personal favorite, stop crying Danny it’s embarrassing. What I hadn’t really considered was how I’d spend my days. From years of touring through England I have friends all around the city but they worked during the day, even musicians. I told people I was going to write about touring but I wasn’t really in the mood to write and spent most of my first week drinking expensive tea at the Ace hotel in Shoreditch. Boredom consumed me and I started listening to music and walking around London all day until my friends got off work. I was like a less interesting, sadder version of Scar Jo in Lost in Translation sans Bill Murray. After like 2 months of roaming around town I had a few, probably shallow, observations. I was living in NYC at the time and I think it’s appropriate so I made a lot of comparisons between London and THA BIG APPLE.
- London is a better functioning city than NYC. From transportation to recycling, trash collection, rodent control, policing, park maintenance, everything… and it’s like 1000 years older.
- The world has over dramatized the awfulness of English food. In London, if they are doing what they do well, it’s quite good. Albeit, that’s like four things, but those four things are good.
- Public transportation is great. London’s large red buses are the only buses in the world I willfully choose to take. London’s cabs are incredible. It takes two years of intensive study to become a London cabbie, compared to NYC, where the requirement is not understanding English and a severe anger management problem. You can name nearly any address in the city and with no GPS they can find it. One time I had to step out of a cab to vomit and when I returned the driver gave me a wet wipe and paper towels. I don’t care where you are from, that’s good customer service.
- Public servants in the UK far surpass public servants in America. If you are lost in the tube those goddamn attendants will carry you to your next destination. Try being lost on SF’s BART or in the NYC Subway. If you can get the attendant to put down their book, they only do it to be like, “I’m trying to read…”
- Great socially. I found that more friends were willing to meet up for a beer after work, and did so regularly, than in NYC.
- I found the cultural differences between parts of the city fascinating. Charles is firmly, solidly, proudly, from east London. My other friends, the Bears Den / Communion crew, for the most part, live and operate in west London. Slang is different. They make fun of each other. Food. My general understanding, and please correct me if I’m wrong is as follows. East London is more working class, west London is more affluent and there is an exodus from west to east for more affordable housing. Close? London’s equivalent to Williamsburg is Shoreditch (east). The further east you go, the more early adopting hipsters living amongst working class families you find. Always the east. What is with the east? As for north and south… I’m not sure but I know it’s a ball ache to get to either.
- I liked the quality of life. If the weather were better I would much rather live in London that NYC. NYC is a sharp, intense, knife made out of rat bones. London is like a dulled version of that. It’s like a rat bone butter knife. Then again I’m 29 and reallllly don’t care about cool parties in Bushwick. I’m tryina Netflix with my boo so take all of this with a grain of salt.
- London is not a museum. It is a progressive, dynamic, multicultural, city that produces really cool artists.
- The Premiere league is a lot of fun to follow.
- It’s an easy place to get the hang of.
- Best-dressed city in the world. Particularly for men’s fashion. I find French, Italian, and Spanish clothing to be good accents, but far too Euro trashy for every day wear.
- If you are in east London, and someone asks you to come visit them in north London, Google map that shit before agreeing because you may be signing away 10 hours of your life. I guess this isn’t a valid complaint it’s just something I did that annoyed me.
- The tube closes at midnight and the English drink like fish that survive only in beer; an annoying combination.
- No good for tour. If you get hired to work a tour and it goes to London, get off the bus and meet them after.
- Coffee, if you could call it that. Stick to tea.
- Too much cocaine in this city and its not even cocaine. My assessment is that they are trying to distract themselves from the bleak realization that the sun will never emerge from the clouds.
- We take football seriously but they take it way, way, too seriously. I accidentally wore a West ham (east London team) jersey to the wrong part of London (Brixton) and people were like, “Seriously you need to take that off” or “wha u doin wearin that round here?” and it wasn’t a joke. I just read the English accent I’m trying to write above aloud and it sounded Cajun. I’m sorry.
- Mexican food. THESE PEOPLE PUT BASMATI RICE IN BURRITOS. GET OUT!
- People telling me or talking about, or mentioning, how fat and stupid American’s are in apropos of nothing. Firstly, yes, there are some obese idiots in America. But I really, really, don’t care. Furthermore, when I meet someone from the United Kingdom I don’t feel the need to discuss dental hygiene or the importance of a good orthodontist. FURTHERMORE, I’ve been outside London many times and rest assured; cousin marrying, no sunlight, and fries 3 x’s a day hasn’t exactly produced an island of tens. Come at me bro. I believe a lot of this comes from the fact that the BBC (I watched a lot of TV) constantly uses Fox news as a resource.
- Another bar conversation I found annoying (I know it’s petty but this is my article). European’s in general seem to believe that they own all of our coolest cities. If NYC or SF come up they’ll be like, “well those are more European cities” or “well New York isn’t really America.” Apparently America only exists deep in the moonshineries of Appalachia. Our major cosmopolitan cities are all European? Gimme a break. GIMME A BREAK.
- Too much change! My pants kept sliding down my ass because my pockets were stuffed with change. In ancient Sparta they specifically made money cumbersome and I’m starting to think the UK adopted this philosophy. Don’t get me started on the exchange. Be prepared with tissues when you open up your American bank account after a night out. One night I drank eight beers at a nice bar and it cost as much as my utility bill for the entire month of December in NYC.
- My accent was in no way an asset. No one ever enthusiastically asked me to say, “door” or “table” again.
- It’s never that cold but you are rarely ever warm.
- Ben Macintyre, in his book A Spy Among Friends, describes the English as a people obsessed exclusivity. Among a certain demographic I find this to be true. Like everyone I met belonged to some exclusive members club. In America, I’ve rarely if ever had a friend be like, “Let’s go pre game at the Soho house, or Quo Vadis.” If you aren’t aware of what I’m talking about, private members clubs are a big deal in London. They’re like cooler, urban, country clubs. Inside they generally have a nice restaurant, multiple bars, places to play pool, and increasingly secret rooms to do coke with celebrities in. You must apply and be cool / rich to be a member.
- I found that there is still a perception that all American comedy is vulgar slapstick. I had this argument with multiple people and I’d be like, “Um… Louis CK? Dave Chappelle?”
In all seriousness I love this city and its residents so much. Eventually though, at the end of my two months, I missed tacos too much and returned to America. As with all my city guides, if you want to go to London, do it. Get a cheap flight on Norwegian air or whatever and go.
If you want to visit London here is what I recommend. Plan for a solid week in the city. It doesn’t matter what airport you fly into, either way you are going to take the tube into town. Do not take a cab from the airport it is slower and a complete waste of money. Don’t fuck with your phone plan. Bring an unlocked IPhone; you can get a 4 off Amazon for like $150. Go to basically any mall or corner store and buy a month long plan for 40 pounds. Make sure you get one you can update with an American credit card. Some of them require you to enter a store to do so and that’s a ball ache. Westfield is a mall chain there and they will have a section like dedicated to different phone companies. Just walk in 4 have a chat, see what is the cheapest data plan. Take our your phone, have them pop the chip in and tape your new number to your phone. Make a call and make sure the data is working. Boom. London is hard to navigate and I believe you will maximize your trip by having solid access to Google maps or Citymapper. You can choose to leave your phone at home for moments of serendipity but let’s be smart about this people. Depending on budget there are a few places to stay around the city. Ibis and Premiere inn are budget hotels found in Europe and there are plenty in London. My first suggestion would be to stay at the Premiere Inn near Kings Cross. It’s affordable. It’s clean. It’s near transportation that can take you anywhere in the city and out of it for that matter. It is not the coolest part of town but whatever. If you want to waste a bunch of money and be cool I suggest the Ace Hotel in Shoreditch. It’s in a cool area, the bar is awesome, and they have events downstairs every night. It’s quite far east though, so getting to attractions in other parts of the city is a bit of a schlep. If you are on tour and need bus or sprinter parking, go to the Holiday Inn, in Hammersmith. If you are looking to burn your hard earned Rubles in spectacular fashion, try the St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel. Air BNB is cool in Soho. You could go hipper / cheaper further east but since this is a week long vacation just get in the thick of it.
I suggest your days follow an itinerary similar to this. Breakfast walk, museum, lunch, more walking (maybe a nap), dinner, bar. I’m not a fan of carrying a bunch of shit and marching around till you die. Take it slow. If you can, give yourself a full Sunday so that you can have a Sunday roast, preferably with friends, it is a worthwhile experience. It’s a traditional meal served on Sunday and eaten with friends, family, and copious amounts of liquor. It’s like brunch but everyone does it.
I’ve found that the best way to save money in London is the English breakfast, more affectionately referred to as The Full English. It’s 2 eggs, sausage, bacon (ham), potatoes, mushrooms, fried tomato, Heinz beans, black pudding (blood sausage) toast. Get it with orange juice and tea. This breakfast is served pretty much everywhere, and it’s consistently good. If you wanna go hard, get it with fries. There are variations around the UK. In Scotland they add a potato flat bread called, tattie scone. In Ireland, Scotland, and Northern England there is white pudding, or pork and fat. I know. I know. You are probably saying, “Danny, that sounds so unhealthy. Won’t you die if you eat that every day?” Most likely yes, but I’m only suggesting it for a week.
After breakfast your first day I suggest walking off all them sausages at Hyde Park. I suggest finishing your walk at Harrods’ department store. If any of you are from England or live in London I can understand the eye rolling at this suggestion but if you are American, you are gonna love it. Because what is more fun than gawking at expensive things and watching tourists make terrible financial decisions? But you are going to make a terrible decision as well because I insist that you order a 20-pound milkshake at the Ice Cream Parlour. That’s like $30 USD, but in the words of John Travolta in Pulp Fiction, “God damn that is a pretty fuckin good milkshake.” Walk off your milkshake by heading over to Buckingham palace and watch the changing of the guard. I enjoy walking from there to Leicester Square and continuing explorations. After all this I suggest taking a break, then going out for some Indian food.
I believe there are four museums you should begin with in London before digging deeper. As with any city I also believe museums should be limited to one a day, 2 hours max, 3 if you’re like at the Louvre. Begin your second day with a stroll to the British Museum. European museums, especially English ones, are great because they didn’t have to ask people for the shit they have inside. The English ruled the world and took what they wanted. Bad for everyone they stole from, good for you because the collections are incredible. Star of the British Museum is the Rosetta Stone but I prefer the Greek section behind it. Go somewhere for lunch. Continue with my program. Next day go to the Tate modern. Get there by taking a bus to St. Paul’s Cathedral. It is one of the more impressive buildings in the world. There is a small walking bridge you can take across the Thames to the Tate. It’s a nice place to take photos and take in views of London. I say pay for one exhibit in the Tate and then see the permanent exhibition. Have tea outside on the roof and take in more views of the city. From the Tate, after lunch, it is reasonable to walk to, and over, Tower Bridge (the one you think is London Bridge). You’ll be tired so go get some rest in at the hotel and chill before dinner. Day three I suggest hitting up Churchill’s war museums after breakfast at the upscale hipster, Breakfast Club near Oxford circus. The Churchill War museum is located underground near all of the government buildings. This is the day you see Westminster Abbey, the eye, and all that familiar stuff. Even if you are not interested in WW2 or Churchill it is incredible to see what humans are capable of under dire circumstances. Lunch around there, see all the big sites in the area and get a photo with some cops wearing funny hats. Day four go to the Imperial War Museum. I know I have a boner for military history but it’s well curated and beautiful inside. The English have a penchant for curation and the IWM is no exception. Day five I am going to bowl you a curved pitch so hard your wicketkeeper won’t see what’s coming. Change things up by buying an early morning train ticket to Bath. It’s short enough to be an easy trip and long enough to give you a nice view of the countryside. Bath is unfortunately touristy but the Palladian architecture makes the trip worth it. I didn’t pay for the Roman bath exhibit. It was like 20 pounds but I just walked past the velvet rope and entered for free (if anyone asked, I was on the list)… If you exit the train and take a left you’ll see a burger place and a coffee shop. It is one of the only decent coffee experiences I had in that country. Save your appetite for when you get back to London, have a cheap sandwich or something from M&S. Here is a pro tip when traveling around this country, Mark and Spencer. It’s like a fast whole foods and they can be found in train stations or on the side of the road. Road food in the UK is inferior to mainland Europe but far better than in the states. Day six, do up east London. Go to a West Ham game at the Olympic stadium if you can. Have a double double pie and mash at G Kelly, avoid the Jellied Eels then walk around some markets. Markets are fantastic if it’s nice out. Camden Lock, Brick lane for Indian food, Old Spitafields, all that. Camden Lock is near The Regent’s park so that’s fun to walk around. Last day… mmm are we on day 7? Eat before you get to the airport, that’s for damn sure. Give yourself 4 hours to get to Heathrow and check in for your international flight. If I missed a day, well, you figure it out.
For lunch and dinner, the options are unlimited. I’d say focus on Indian food and solid English staples. Bangers and mash, stews, Fish and chips, the hits! Play the hits! Shawarma and chips is a decent cheap meal around town too. As for gigs. The first gig I tour managed was with Brendan Benson at Dingwalls in Camden. Camden is a neighborhood like Soho in NYC. It used to be cool before getting run over by tourists. It’s not bad though and like I said before the market is nice. That venue was ok but nothing to write home about. Bears Den did a show I thoroughly enjoyed at the Brixton Electric. Brixton can be rough but there’s a wonderful little market near the venue. I strongly suggest seeing a show there.
To narrow things down and add some local knowledge to your culinary / venue experience of London, I enlisted the help of Rowan Brand and Kevin Jones. Rowan Brand manages bands, namely Bears Den, and is an old friend of mine. Originally from Australia, Rowan’s resided in London for five years and I admire his enthusiasm for the city. Kevin Jones is a native Londoner, multi instrumentalist in Bears Den, record label owner, west London aficionado, tobacco enthusiast, former milkman, and all around wise sage. I don’t officially have an English stepfather, but if I did… it would be him.
Anyway I emailed these boys for their suggestions on food and beer. Pay heed to their advice.
“No worries mate, good to hear from you.
Breakfast – The Breakfast Club in Soho
Dinner – the Mall Tavern in Notting Hill
Venue – The Social on Little Portland Street
Pint – Defectors Weld in Shepherds Bush
Street Food – Berwick St
Place I wanna go but haven’t yet – Meat Liquor in Mayfair
If you want recommendations for East London you’re speaking to the wrong guy
Hope to see you soon mate! “
“The Regency Cafe – London’s best art-deco greasy spoon. (I’m pretty sure I’ve taken you there). Because who doesn’t want chunky fried chips with their full English?
Borough Market – the oldest food market in the uk. Why not eat an ostrich burger? Incredible food from all over the world. Best on a Friday or Saturday
Notting Hill Arts Club – West London’s den of new music. Be sure to check out Communion’s monthly club night on the first Sunday of every month or New Shapes on the first Wednesday of every month. Beware of just randomly showing up here though
Village Underground – the best indie rock shows happen here amidst it’s stone archways and impressively high ceilings. The fact it has tube cars on the roof of the venue is just a bonus.”
NO GO FORTH AND ENJOY THIS CITY.
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