How To Live The 1960s In The London Of 2015

Will Noble
By Will Noble Last edited 40 months ago
How To Live The 1960s In The London Of 2015

Ever wished you could time travel back to the London of the 1960s? Well, you can, because lots of it still exists — whether in the original brutalist architecture, nostalgic club nights, or retro boutiques. Just be warned: it ain't all swinging.

Photo by Sean Batten in the Londonist Flickr pool

Get the look

Carnaby Street and the King's Road were the two major catwalks of Swinging London. The former was, according to Jane Wilson in Len Deighton's London Dossier (1967), a place where "Boys try on trousers two inches too tight from every angle in merry little pink and orange pagodas..." and there's "a health-food shop where you can buy booklets entitled Raw Juice Therapy by John B Lust...". Neither thoroughfare is the swinging wonderland it once was; god, Mary Quant's erstwhile King's Road boutique is now a McDonald's. Instead, kit yourself out in bell-bottoms, mohair and PVC from What the Butler Wore or Radio Days in Lower Marsh; Absolute Vintage in Spitalfields; Rokit in Camden; The Vintage Showroom in Covent Garden, or The Gathering Goddess in Notting Hill. There's also a healthy smattering of vintage fairs all over London. If you need inspiration, explore the V&A's 1960s collection.

For that all-important hairdo: guys should head to Geo F Trumpers on Jermyn Street (this branch opened in the 60s), or the far cheaper option of Georgiou's in Peckham — replete with leatherette chairs, Brylcreem and a couple of barbers who've actually been there since the 60s. Girls: get your beehives done at the kitsch Rockalily Cuts on Kingsland Road.

Perhaps the greatest guide to London ever was written in 1966

See the sights

Assuming you don't have a trio of Mini Coopers in the garage, the quintessential way to explore central London in 1960s style is by classic Routemaster. As Ian Nairn suggests in his indispensable 1966 guidebook, "The way to come on St Paul's is along Fleet Street, and the way to go along Fleet Street is on top of a bus." Glad tidings: you can still take a retro number 15 Routemaster on Nairn's route, and, fingers crossed, it'll be a 1960s model. We'll also allow you to ride to Victoria line, as that opened in 1968. Although you'll have to walk south from Victoria; the Brixton extension didn't come along until 1971.

Once you've soaked up St Paul's et al, it's time to be frank: the 1960s was not a golden era for London architecture. This was a time when blank-faced planners were yanking down Victorian tenements, Euston Arch, and were thinking of doing the same to Covent Garden. Still, some unlikely 60s gems just about save the day; try your luck getting up the BT Tower (officially opened in 1966, becoming the tallest building in the UK until 1980); get confused in the gloomy labyrinth of Barbican, gawk up at Richard Seifert's Centre Point, and do the same to Ernő Goldfinger's Balfron Tower in Poplar. For the more adventurous, a trip to the GLC's bastion of cement, Thamesmead (dating from 1969) is in order.

If the weather's a drag, watch a quintessential 1960s London flick: A Hard Day's Night (1964) The Ipcress File (1965), The Pleasure Girls (1965) Cathy Come Home (1966), and Blow Up (1966) are all good bets. And the BFI has some illuminating DVDs on the seedy side of things back then.

What's your beef with Angus Steakhouse? Photo by Alexander Williamson in the Londonist Flickr pool

Eat and drink

Eating in the London of 1966, scoffed Design magazine, "was a kind of visual and nutritional desert between the works canteen and the Ritz." While that doesn't sound too encouraging, there were some surprising options. Pizza Express opened on Wardour Street in 1965 and, by jingo, it's still there. So too are a handful of Angus Steakhouses (some were also called Aberdeen Steak House). OK, so AA Gill may have said the dining experience was "like eating old Enoch Powell speeches" but it's thriftier than the Ritz.

Foreign cuisine was becoming an option in 1960s London, and suddenly Italian, Indian and Chinese restaurants were springing up all over the place. Apparently the Queen once ordered her takeaway from Shangri-la on Brompton Road (it doesn't exist anymore, and neither do many original 1960s joints). For the true 60s experience, find the most basic place possible and stick to something unadventurous: spag bol, chicken tikka masala and sweet and sour pork were the order of the day in the 60s.

None of these hip enough for you? As Len Deighton's guide puts it, "Wherever you see gigantic orange light fittings, and decor which looks like one huge fruit machine, you will know that the mods are inside eating square meals in round buns." There's no lack of 1960s-style burger joints in 2015's London, but to go the whole hog, we suggest the London Motor Museum's 1960s Leyland bus-turned-diner.

Evidenced in the video above, 1950s and 60s London was swimming in hip coffee shops. The plug's been pulled on most of the originals (many of them, quite recently), but you can still get the gist at Cafe Vintage in Highbury and Drink, Shop & Do on the Caldedonian Road. Bar Italia in Soho is from a slightly earlier era, but as the real McCoy, does the trick. As for the death cafes featured in the video, London should soon have one once more.

1960s-style boozing in London is easy enough. Plenty of pubs feel stuck in that decade, while others wilfully ape it; there's Formica galore in the Sylvan Post in Forest Hill. You can also drink martinis in the cells of what was a courthouse, and is now the Courthouse Hotel. Plenty of swinging celebs were hauled in front of the dock here, including Mick Jagger, who was fined 200 quid for drugs offences in 1969.

You can also go to any pub that still only sells bad beer: anywhere still selling draught Bass or Worthington's (yes, you can still find them — try a greyhound track or working men's club) will unintentionally give you a taste of the 60s.

Mods and rockers abound at Ace Cafe. Photo by Simon Crubellier in the Londonist Flickr pool

A night out

So you've explored Abbey Road Studios and the Jimi Hendrix Museum by day. Heck, you've even nipped into the vault at Hard Rock Cafe to see Eric Clapton's silver suit from 1969. But where for your evening music fix? The 1960s music scene never really died in London. Fill your boots with hits by the Shangri-Las at Great Big Kiss, or get your groove on to Soul of the 60s, held regularly at The Phoenix on Cavendish Square. For live sounds, book The Beatles For Sale (they regularly perform in south east London), go to see a gig a The Troubadour (it's been played by Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix), or catch the Sunny Afternoon musical.

For the full-on mods and rockers package, Ace Cafe is for you, daddy-o. This roadside pit-stop for retro petrolheads is frequented by Quadrophoniaesque Vespas and all manner of other 60s-style vehicles (eras do vary). Fill your ears with rock 'n' roll while stuffing your face with egg & chips. And then let it dawn on you that you're stranded in Alperton; they didn't have a night tube back then either.

Last Updated 13 November 2015

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