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Secondhand books, topless waitresses and walks on the heath: it’s the best bits of Kentish Town

Posted at 10:15 am, October 25, 2014 in Arts & Entertainment, Food & Drink, Fun London
Hampstead Heath

Enjoy yourself, then work off the booze on nearby Hampstead Heath.

Why go there?
To feast on free-range books, ale and chicken.

What’s Kent got to do with it?
Absolutely nothing. Kentish Town is a civilised halfway house between the goth shopocalypse of Camden Market to the south and the yupster belt of Hampstead to the north. Home to Ms Dynamite and Jon Snow, its Victorian streets are mostly haunted by yesterday’s baby boomer bohemians, today’s Parisian tax exiles, and provincial teen rockers who took a wrong turn on the way to music venue The Forum on Highgate Road.

knowhere special ©Rob Greig©Rob Greig

Just how gentrified is it?
It’s certainly gone up in the world since Charles Dickens’s day, when Kentish Town Road was a boggy track haunted by footpads and cutpurses. Excellent 30-seater speakeasy Knowhere Special now serves cocktails in the subterranean cells that once housed those desperate crims. But there’s still a trace of grime. Witness legendary BYOB nudist sauna Rio’s, also on Kentish Town Road, where topless waitresses serve cheese sandwiches into the small hours. Blimey.

Is there anything for the classier type of gent?
You could sharpen your haircut next door at Flaxon Ptootch where charismatic owner Michael will regale you with tales of his days as a club-scene legend, and try to sell you bargain-basement art. Then improve your mind a few doors down at Owl Bookshop, recently adopted by Daunt Books, and Walden Books (Harmood Street), a charming trove with eccentric opening hours that’s genuinely one of the best secondhand bookshops in Britain.

camden town brewery©Rob Greig

How about a drink?
Duck into Tapping the Admiral on Castle Road for a backstreet jar of real ale. Sample crafty styles at the Camden Town Brewery under the arches by Kentish Town West station – also home to excellent indie coffee shop The Fields Beneath. Then stagger north to The Southampton Arms on Highgate Road, which has rewritten the rulebook for proper pubs with its superb roster of foaming libations and trad treats (pickled onion, anyone?).

I’m starving now. Where can I eat?
At cheap-ish and chic-ish Chicken Shop – the Highgate Road epicentre of the posh fast food trend.

©Oliver Knight©Oliver Knight

And if I only do one thing?
Has to be an ale crawl, followed by an autumn walk on Hampstead Heath.

By Caroline McGinn, who definitely never ever ever goes to Rio’s sauna. Ever.

For more of London’s best bits take a look at Elephant & Castle or Tooting.

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