Last time around, we shared a few points-of-interest in the West End, so this week we’ve wandered a short distrance east to explore some of Bloomsbury, Holborn, Old Street and Clerkenwell’s best kept secrets.
Go behind the scenes at University College London
Curios abound in the cloisters of this central London university, where the little-known Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology hosts an estimated 80,000 objects illustrating 4,000 years of life in the Nile Valley. Current exhibition ‘Fit Bodies’ is worth a peek if human biology is your thing. If you venture on to the campus you will also discover the Grant Museum of Zoology, where bisected heads, rattling collections of skeletons and glass models tread a path between art, science, nature and history. If you’ve not quite had your fill of the living dead, hunt down the bizarre glass cabinet holding the bones of Jeremy Bentham. The father of utilitarianism is on display for visitors, with a wax replica of his head and a body made of hay. Sadly, his actual head had to be removed because the students wouldn’t stop messing with it.
Do Korean karaoke, really badly
SushiHiroba is a delightfully Korean take on the karaoke experience. Here, everything is in the Korean language – the drinks list, the equipment, the song lists. And if it’s quiet you can usually get prices knocked down. Hilariously, when you choose an English-language song the videos are entirely random: Radiohead’s ‘Creep’ illustrated by a pretty girl flying a kite, for example… The backing music is terrible, often far too fast or slow, but it’s funny and oddly charming. This, we imagine, is what they call Seoul music.
Get your nails done in a replica Boeing 737
Hungover after your night of Korean cocktails? Buckle up and let MWNails treat you to the high life, 1970s-style, at this aeroplanethemed nail salon. It’s a journey from the minute you check-in: the space is completely decked out with the interior fittings of a 1970s Air France first-class Boeing 737 cabin. With nail technicians dressed like the cast of ‘Pan Am’, luxuriously upholstered plane seats, no extra charge for baggage and refreshments readily available, this is a much more relaxing trip than most real airlines can offer.
Bonus fact: Headless ghosts stalk Holborn. Red Lion Square is supposedly haunted by three parliamentarians – Oliver Cromwell, John Bradshaw and Henry Ireton – whose bodies are allefed to have been dumped there after being exhumed and posthumously beheaded by vengful royalists in 1661.
Taste absinthe smoke
Now your cuticles are tinted, you’ll want to take them out on the town. Why not show them off at Nightjar, a mock-Manhattan speakeasy, all tinpanelled ceilings, black leather booths and dark wooden furnishings? Its pre-Prohibition drinks menu features killer cocktails made from things like absinthe smoke and dry ice. The earliest it ever closes is 1am (it’s open until 3am Thursday to Saturday), and live jazz, blues, swing and cabaret bands play regularly, as do DJs spinning retro tunes.
Play trendy ping pong
Table tennis was big in London long before this summer’s Olympians brought their reverse penhold backhands to the city. Case in point, King Pong – a monthly ping-pongand-pints tournament held at easygoing Shoreditch bar Book Club. The next is Tuesday August 14, but the Club is currently operating an alfresco party space across the road called the Basecamp, with a King Pong competition every evening, 7pm-9pm, Monday to Friday until August 10. When in Beijing, Mayor Boris Johnson declared: ‘Ping pong was invented on the dining tables of England.’ Now’s the time to take our sport to the streets.
Spare a thought for the children
After all that fun, maybe it’s time to contemplate a more poignant aspect of London’s hidden history. The Foundling Museum tells the story of London’s first home for abandoned children, the Foundling Hospital, which numbered William Hogarth and George Frideric Handel among its patrons. Heart-rending stuff, but the collection of art and period interiors is beautifully arranged and displayed. The eighteenth-century hospital for ‘reluctantly deserted infants’ stood on nearby Coram’s Fields, now a beautiful park for children (adults are not allowed in unless accompanied by a child) with a city farm, giant musical instruments, climbing frames and sandpits populating its walled green space.
Discover more hidden spots in our Secret London hub.