While known for its legendary performances, sticky floors and the place made famous by The Who poster, the Marquee Club will be forever remembered as the spot I met my UK BFF Katrina Kelly. We met in the graffiti’d dressing room after a show for a band we loved, Twenty Flight Rockers. Katrina was dating the guitarist Ian, while I was seeing the drummer, Mark.
It was 1986, my summer abroad, and when I wasn’t in class or interning for Melody Maker, Katrina and I were inseparable. I was 19 and she was 22, and we were living on a stretched budget in the Kensington section of London. We lived for record release parties, gallery openings, guest lists, concerts and free drinks. We knew a ton of doormen, bartenders and musicians.
Fast-forward 28 years and our tastes have matured and our wallets are a bit little fuller. Katrina and I still love being together in London, but we experience it with more sophistication.
Since 2010, I’ve been visiting London regularly for my job, so I’ve reconnected with Katrina and we’ve explored the city. Sadly, the Marquee Club has long closed, but London is still happening. Like any cool city, trendy neighborhoods and hot spots will be out probably as a quickly as I type this. For example, once the media discovered the Shoreditch section, the coolness factor waned. I’m hearing that Peckham is the “hot spot” at the moment, so you’ll have to let me know.
Here’s what I tell my friends to see and do, if you’re visiting London the second time around.
Selfridges. After a spin around the designer shoe department, Katrina and I have a tradition of going to the Champagne Bar at Selfridges department store. The Champagne Bar is a great place to people watch, or organize your receipts if you’re trying to get your VAT tax back. And you can channel your inner Patsy and Edina.
Brick Lane, East London. This multicultural Sunday market features designer knock-offs, vintage clothes and everyday household items. I picked up a one-of-a-kind white leather motorcycle jacket for my daughter for only £20, about $36. Brick Lane is a great place for London-themed souvenirs: I used my William & Kate egg cups for Sunday breakfast and it cost me less than $2. You’ll satisfy your fix for Indian food, too, which also lines this busy street.
Theo Fennell. Located on Fulham Road, SW3, this is where rockers go for fine jewelry. Dig skulls and crossbones or crosses? Fancy a heart pendant with devil horns? Throw in some diamonds and precious stones, and you’ve got Theo Fennell’s work. It’s inspiring and awesome, but be sure to act cool if you see a rock star shopping there. The giveaway will be the limo parked outside.
The Conran Furniture Shop at the Michelin House. Located in a beautifully restored Art Deco building, the Conran Shop is just down the street from Theo Fennell. The tile and ironwork façade harkens 1909 when the building was built, while the Michelin Man forever lurks in the stained glass above the entrance. The florist in the front of the building is one of the prettiest stalls in London.
Coco de Mer. Well-heeled fans of the Fifty Shades phenomenon should definitely head to this specialty shop, which is on Monmouth Street near Covent Garden. On display are England’s most expensive and exquisite sex toys and lingerie. Latex and lace never looked so good or cost so much.
The Family Business Tattoo Parlor. What could be a better souvenir than a bespoke tattoo from London, maybe even from artist Damien Hirst? At 58 Exmouth Market, Clerkenwell, you’ll find this tattoo shop, which is like a temple honoring the art of ink. International artists are in residence and the custom selections are true works of art.
Eat and Drink
The Shard. One of the newest London hot spots is also the tallest building in the city, with amazing 360-degree views. While visiting you can check out the observation decks, or better yet visit one of the many bars and restaurants. Aqua and Oblix have turned into the “highest” pick-ups spot in town.
Pizza East. Everyone is talking about Pizza East on 56 Shoreditch High Street. More like a club than a restaurant, Pizza East has an industrial feel and blasts loud music. Eat some yummy carbs and enjoy the parade of beautiful people.
Denmark Street off Charing Cross Road. Brace yourself if you play an instrument. Lining this street are shops with a wide variety of used and new guitars, basses, horns, drums and more. The famed Tin Pan Alley Recording Studio was on this street. If you’re a musician, expect to spend some time here.
12 Bar Club. Located at 26 Denmark Street, this is a tiny music venue that is known for breaking new artists.
The Borderline. Just around the corner from 12 Bar Club on Manette Street is another beloved rock venue The Borderline, which features great bands every night of the week.
Must-Sees of Central London
The Victoria & Albert Museum. Located in South Kensington, this is my favorite museum in London, mostly because of the rock costumes (queue “Ant Music”) and the great gift shop. The David Bowie exhibition in 2013 was mind-blowing because it depicted rock ‘n’ roll as artwork and the details were cleverly displayed. Although the V & A is off the beaten track, it’s worth a second look. The mosaic in the V & A café is simply breathtaking.
One thing that never gets old when I go to London is walking across the Thames to Southbank. Crossing on the Millennium Bridge or Westminster Bridge, the epic views truly makes you feel like you’re in London. Look one way and it’s old London — St. Paul’s Cathedral or Big Ben, and turn the other way and it’s new London — the Tate Modern and the London Eye. I don’t feel like it’s a proper visit until I visit Southbank. And every time I visit, it feels new because it’s always evolving.