It’s always good to be curious, unless you’re a cat that is. Especially when you’re visiting a place, because it uncovers so many intriguing facets of the life there like how close can you get to a car when jaywalking, is it okay to pet a stranger’s dog, and, most importantly: which side of the sidewalk do people walk on.
I truly believe walking is the best way to see a city and embrace the culture. London is a beautiful city with a rich history. There’s a certain royalty in the city’s architecture that transports you back in time and a politeness in peoples’ parlance that makes everyone seem like Hugh Grant in Notting Hill and you feel… well, quite inadequate. However, for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out which side of the sidewalk people walked on.
As anyone would have logically inferred, since they drive their cars on the left side, I figured they would walk on the left side too. But that wasn’t right. I found that out pretty soon when I almost bumped into someone holding a hot cup of Starbucks who then proceeded to apologize profusely. The right side wasn’t right either, as I figured out soon after turning onto Oxford Street. So I took a moment to step on the side and observe the people for a couple of minutes and there was absolutely no logic to anything going on, much like the Brexit vote. This might not sound like a big deal but for someone who strives to cover 56 mins of Google Maps walking time in 36, you really can’t have this kind of anarchy. What’s more, the British Government website even has a page with 35 “Rules for Pedestrians” including one which says “Wear or carry something light-coloured, bright or fluorescent in poor daylight conditions.” Trust the British to have something like that.
Anyway, I want to fast forward to my last night in London when I ventured into an underground bar in Soho and immediately found myself transported to the middle of the twentieth century. For all wishful New Yorkers out there, Soho does not get its name from Manhattan’s Soho neighborhood. The area “Soho” in London actually gets its name from a famous 16th century hunting cry that filled the airwaves when this area was a hunting ground. I digress. Cahoots is one of the most fascinating drinking establishments I have visited, having done a remarkable job of recreating post-war, quasi-prohibition era London. The underground bar is easy to miss as the door to Cahoots is marked with a sign saying “To the Trains”, which really just drives most people away.
As I descended the wooden staircase, I was greeted by an awkwardly cheerful train guard doing a pretty good impression of the cockney accent (what do I know anyway). I was then handed a newspaper copy of “The Kingly Court Herald” and escorted to my table. As it turns out, the bar menu is hidden in a newspaper because that is how it would be when 1940s Londoners would meet “in Cahoots”. Food rations were limited but drinks were plenty and people faced the constant risk of the police discovering and upending their party. Unlike when you break a glass at home, you don’t have your sister here to blame it all on when you get caught. The décor and ambiance was a mix of artistically unplanned and intentionally authentic. The underground bar was made to feel like the Bakerloo train carriage, with poles between tables that extend up to the ceiling and a framed subway map you can use to follow along your journey. The walls were covered with retro artwork, copies of the in-house newspaper, and an exposed brick wall. If you look carefully, you can also find some of the original train tracks and an old clock that ticks backwards – we all need that sometimes in our lives. After a good ten minutes of analyzing their interestingly odd range of cocktails, I ordered a “The Hills Are Alive” which was a refreshing blend of gin and an orange flavored liqueur (Chinotto Quaglia) with rosemary and fresh sage. I was pretty impressed with the creativity infused into their menu, which is periodically revised to keep spirits high. The drinks were definitely worth exploring and I would definitely visit again just to enjoy another oddly mixed cocktail.
Although the steel bunk beds, sandbags, and a “Northbound” sign might seem a bit gimmicky, you get to enjoy a unique experience in the heart of London. What’s more, you don’t pay too much more for the “luxury” of being safely transported to a time when Britain was reeling from the destruction of war and people had to hide to enjoy a simple pint. In fact, It is fascinating to see how we pay for experiences that people were otherwise forced into. What is it about the world today that people will want to experience 20 years from now but won’t be able to?
From knocking on the blue door in Notting Hill to tea and scones at The Ivy overlooking Tower Bridge, London is and always has been a great time. Sadly I didn’t get a chance to meet the Queen this time around but she did pen me in for tea at her place on my next visit.
Some other London spots I would recommend: