For a city at the cutting edge of fashion and innovation, it may seem somewhat converse that London often gets its inspiration from casting gazes backwards. The capital has a great love of all things retro; whether you’re looking for a vintage market packed with classic threads from more fashionable, flared days, or a dancehall packed with lindyhopping, jitterbugging couples, or even a speakeasy, where you can sip gin cocktails out of teacups, it’s easy to leave the present behind and take a step back into the past. To help you turn back the clock, here are 5 IDEAL ways to live a retro life in London.
GO DANCING OLD SCHOOL STYLE
If you hanker for days when dancing was highly choreographed, co-ordinated and comprised a whole lot less fist pumping, take a step back into time and join Swing Patrol. This community of thousands of dancers, troupes and teachers hosts a range of classes and festivals across the capital. You can join in the at dance studios, dance halls and even pubs – a great way to make new friends and get some exercise at the same time. The ever popular Blue’s Kitchen in Shoreditch also hosts regular swing nights and there’s even a live big band playing the classic songs of yesteryear. If you’re looking for somewhere down south of the river, Lindy hop classes every Monday at Market House in Brixton is an excellent way to start your week.
If swing isn’t your thing there are plenty of other eras you can sample to seek best fit. From special nights for lovers of classic ska, reggae and soul to the glory days of 80s electro pop, you can find something in the capital to suit all tastes. Why not consider a Blitz Party by Bourne and Hollingsworth, with punters dressed up in 1940s garb, recreating the spirit that helped Londoners make it through the dark times by dancing the night away without care in the world.
ENJOY NOSTALGIC FOOD
London retro life is often best enjoyed through food and hospitality. The capital is now home to a number of 50s-style diners and American-style burger joints, many of which offer great grub in classic surroundings. Delightful touches such as red leather booths, and a jukebox filled with music from the era transport you right back to a place where you’ll enjoy great food and feel as though you stepped onto the set of Happy Days. For this experience we can’t recommend Fat Boy’s Diner enough – you can even rent out this amazing retro space in all it’s glory for your own themed party.
One of our favourite places is Coin Laundry in Clerkenwell, a laid back retro-themed joint serving up proper old school guilty pleasures, think chicken Kievs and fish finger sandwiches. They also have a great menu of 70s revival cocktails with bar snacks like cheese and pineapple and pigs in blankets – need we say more.
If you’re after lighter bites, head to one of London’s vintage tea rooms, such as Hillman’s in Walthamstow, or enjoy the retro charm of the Age Exchange Cafe in Blackheath which features its own vintage toy shop. London is also home to a number of old-fashioned tuck shops like Hardy’s replete with jars of cola cubes, rhubarb and custards and other treats for those with a sweet, nostalgic tooth.
For a blowout, Dinner by Heston Blumenthal is the place to take you back in time through food, with a menu exploring British gastronomy through historical recipes – meat fruit anyone?
RETRO THEMED BARS
London is brimming with retro-themed bars primed to take you back to a different era. If speakeasy 1940’s is your style, Cahoots is the ideal choice, set in a disused underground station with an elicit feel and cocktails to match. Nightjar brings the 1920s to the capital – expect the low hum of jazz and a mood of sophistication. If you’re after something a touch more lively, Four Quarters in Hackney is a fun retro arcade bar; expect pacman iconography, a game of space raiders and plenty of craft beer. To get your groove on, Strawberry Moons fabulous 70s style flashing dancefloor, with chart classics from the era, as well as the previous decade, is just the ticket.
GO VINTAGE SHOPPING
If you want to go that extra mile in your search for vintage styles, you’re spoilt for choice in London. One of the joys of searching through such shops is that there’s always a chance of finding a hidden gem that perfectly matches your personal sense of style and sets you apart from the crowd.
Beyond Retro in Dalston is an all time favourite of IDEAL. With vaulted ceilings and an enormous open floor plan, the space which was once a former factory is now a chic, vintage hangout where you can grab a coffee and peruse racks of handpicked retro clothing.
Other top destinations include Alfies Antique Market in Marylebone, the iconic weekly Portobello Market in the heart of Notting Hill and Frock Me Vintage, a collection put together by curated dealers all over the capital. In addition, there are regular pop up fairs to get stuck into in locations including East London, Hammersmith, Clerkenwell and Cabot Square.
If you’re looking for something specific that’s not second hand, Revival Retro is an independently owned store near Fitzrovia where you can find an absolutely stunning retro inspired outfits from the 1920’s to the 1950’s.
PLAY DRESS UP AT RETRO PARTIES
Playing dress up is the ultimate way to embrace retro themed nights in the capital. Events like the Bourne and Hollingsworth’s Prohibition Parties have become legendary. From flapper to retro dresses and even undergarments including modern-day corsets which are surprisingly light and comfortable for freedom of movement (how else would you do the charleston in one?) everyone always dresses up for the occasion. Of course, we’d always recommend finding your outfit from one of the previously mentioned vintage shops, but secondhand underwear and corsets, erm, maybe not. Worry not however, as you can find a wide range of new styles and designs at Corset Deal.
If you’re looking for somewhere that plays Disco classics, where you can boogie till you drop and dress head to toe in lycra, you can’t do better than Carwash, which holds the title of Europe’s longest running Disco and 80s Pop Club nights.
TAKE A STEP BACK IN TIME
Although the capital is always reinventing, there are some areas that have changed little since the 1960s or before. Even if the shop fronts have changed, it only takes a glance towards the upper floors of a building to see that the original facade remains in place. The London Palladium in Argyll Street still has much of the same frontage it did when the Beatles played there in 1963, and in doing so became a household name overnight. Ronnie Scott may have died some years ago but his famous jazz club on Frith Street remains. It was where rock band The Who game the first ever performance of their rock opera, Tommy, and also the place where guitar legend Jimi Hendrix gave his last ever performance. You can’t beat that for heritage.