So you've finished work and you've got plans for later. But there are still two hours to kill. It's too late for cafés, too early for supper and you don't belong to a private members' club. Sure, the pubs are open but the good ones are standing room only.
In Paris, cinq à sept — five to seven o'clock in the evening — is a delicious opportunity. A time for meeting with friends, book signings, talks, exhibition previews and — if you're an old-school French politician — assignations with your mistress before returning to your country estate and the family meal. Here in London, it's l'heure de la mort.... or is it?
Here are a few suggestions for a capital cinq à sept in the centre.
Visit a museum
The obvious cultural choice. Most National collections and several smaller museums host a late opening one night of the week or month.
British Museum: Fridays, until 8.30pm. A civilised way to start the weekend.
Wellcome Collection: One of the very best places for a refined rush hour, the collection is open to 10pm on Thursday nights and, once a month, Fridays too.
National Portrait Gallery: another top choice. Thursdays and Fridays to 9pm, often with extra events.
National Gallery: Fridays, to 9pm
V&A: Fridays, to 10pm but can get crowded.
Tate Modern: Fridays and Saturdays to 10pm
Museum of London and Museum of London Docklands: an exception with no weekly late opening. However their galleries close at 5.40pm (for a 6pm kick-out) so you can at least enjoy 40 minutes of culture. Like most other museums they have one-off late events.
Royal Academy: another gallery with no regular late opening, though again open to 6pm, last entry 5.30pm
Wellcome Collection: First Friday, in addition to the regular Thursday lates.
Science Museum: Last Wednesday, until 10pm, though annoyingly it doesn't open until 6.45pm
Natural History Museum: Last Friday, to 10pm
Sir John Soane Museum: First Tuesday, by candlelight. Requires queuing; admission for first 200 people.
Visit a library
The traditional choice for losing that awkward couple of hours. Westminster's libraries are usually open to 7pm/ 8pm on weekdays.
Westminster Arts Reference Library: a delightful way to cram a little culture. Upstairs in Westminster Reference Library, it boasts arts-specific books that go way beyond Google...
Barbican Library: on Tuesdays the library is open to 7.30pm.
British Library: You'll need a reader card to visit the library itself, but the free exhibitions in the foyer galleries are open to 8pm Monday -Thursday
Attend a platform event
The National Theatre holds regular early evening events, from talks and courses to free foyer concerts.
Hear an organ recital
London has a thriving circuit of (mainly) free organ recitals in (mainly) church/cathedral settings. Check the schedule for dates and times.
Play the piano
More interested in playing than listening? At Westminster Music Library you can play the digital Yamaha piano for free, book a music room, browse the sheet music or check out Edwin Evans's 44,000-strong, historical press cuttings collection until 7pm on weekdays.
Play the ukulele
The splendid all-comers-welcome Ukulele Wednesdays jam has been going for more a decade. Turn up at 6.30pm if you want food and a gossip first.
Attend a lecture
In 1597 Sir Thomas Gresham founded a series of free lectures and, for the past 400 years some of the world's finest speakers have spent an hour speaking on all manner of strange subjects to any Londoners who care to listen. Sometimes held in Barnard's Inn Hall, Guildhall or the Lloyds Building, the Gresham Lectures are now so popular they usually take place at the Museum of London, usually at either 1pm or 6pm (the latter perfect for cinq à sept).
Take a swim
Bloomsbury Bowling Lanes will throw in a karaoke room for half-price if you book a lane for weekdays before 6pm.
Coffee and culture
Of course there are some cafés that don't close at 5pm, not least the venerable Bar Italia (which never seems to close) and the delightful Coffee, Cake and Kisses in Fitzrovia, which stays open to 6pm. A particularly fine choice is the Camera Museum in Museum Street which, in addition to a repair shop and teeny-tiny museum of — obviously — cameras, serves good coffee, has comfortable up and downstairs seating and is open until 7pm Monday to Saturday, 6pm Sundays.
Listen to a debate
The House of Commons and the House of Lords often debate into the night. UK residents and visitors can sit in the public gallery to witness proceedings. At busy times there will be long queues, other times you can walk straight in. Westminster Hall debates are also free and, on Mondays, go on until 7.30pm.
Go for a walk
There are hundreds of guided walks pounding what has to be every London pavement at every hour of the day with every conceivable theme. It's not within the remit of this feature to even scratch the surface of all the offerings but London Walks is as good a place to start as any.
Spend, spend, spend
Gone are the days of Late Night Shopping on Thursdays. In Oxford Street Land the stores open every evening until 9pm. Thursdays now see Ultra Late Night Shopping, until 10pm (Sundays 6pm). Go on pay day.
Yes, yes, we know we said we're avoiding pubs. But cocktail bars are different, no? Here's Londonist's pick of the best cocktail happy hours.
Quaff some oysters
Like the champagne you'll be drinking them with, oysters don't count as proper food, so necking them at a pound a pop during Oyster Happy Hour at Wright Brothers won't ruin your appetite for dinner later. Honest. 3pm-6pm every day.
Find yourself a lover
Take a leaf out of French politicians' little black books, find a lover and rediscover the romantic charms of cinq à sept. Of course if you're only looking for somewhere warm and dry between 5pm and 7pm you might want to make sure they live in zone 1.
We welcome your suggestions for other things to do in the dreary perineum of a London day…