Thursday, July 12, 2012

Great areas of London slightly under the radar: Part 1

Every time you think you know London, you discover new areas which hitherto you had little inkling about. I'll be commanding a regular section on these places (don't expect Brick Lane or Portobello Road). So it is with Lower Marsh (there's no Road or Street in the title), a market strip in Waterloo right near the Southbank Centre where I've been volunteering. Far from the hype of East London's decidedly well-known nooks and crannies, Lower Marsh seems to live in its own detached, hermetically-sealed reality. Where else would you get this slightly sinister-looking secondhand bookshop that looks like it's stepped straight out of 1972? 

There's also a nice vegan cafe and shop called Coopers Natural, which seems to be brimming with endless flyers on yoga classes and tantric sex (well OK, I made the last bit up). They also do a mean vegan soup. But the street's real jewel in the crown is the double-whammy - if I can call it that - of What The Butler Wore and What The Butler Saw, presumably owned by the same people.

The latter, on the right, is a spooky 60s-style boutique clothes shop, similar to Pop Boutique in Covent Garden. The left shop, though, is really quite something: hardly conspicuous to the street outside (it doesn't even have a name on the shop front), a step into this cafe reveals an extraordinary garden of delights (well, there is a tiny garden at the back, but I mean metaphorically, obviously).

You feel transplanted back to Paris in the 20s or Soho in the 60s (or Berlin in the last ten years), with an extraordinary attention to detail in the adornments, junk (junk in a good way, mind) and nostalgic accouterments hanging from the wall. Well worth checking out.

Finally, there's also the 'graffiti tunnel', a long railway arch tunnel which connects the street to the back of the Southbank Centre, and where - as far as I can tell - graffiti is legal, and thus a magnet for young street artists. You can glimpse tantilisingly into The Young Vic theatre while you're there too, as it has a (usually open) back door half-way down the tunnel leading into the venue. The open door reveals winding passages with walls full of painted winding black lines, snaking into the belly of The Young Vic.

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