If you find yourself in Brixton, heading to the Academy for a gig, you'd be forgiven for assuming dinner has to come from Nandos right across the road from the venue.
But Brixton has a wealth of fantastic watering holes and restaurants where you can fuel up before a great night of music. I've lived in the area for 14 years and there are some places I regularly recommend to people who ask me where to go before hitting the mosh pit.
Coldharbour Lane is a bit rough and tumble but has a lot to offer. My favourite pre-gig bar is The Prince of Wales - a large old pub with a small beer/smoking garden. It does decent plates of bar food, has table service and doesn't get crazily busy before gigs as it's in the opposite direction to the Academy when you come out of the tube station. Definitely my top tip.
My perfect night in Brixton might also include some noodles or sushi at the brilliant New Fujiyama restaurant which you'll find very near Coldharbour Lane on Vining Street. It's a real Brixton institution and serves lovely big portions of fresh Japanese food, Asian beers and good wine. It's open until midnight on Fridays and Saturdays so you might even have time for a sneaky bento box after the gig.
Cheap and cheerful noodles can also be found at Speedy Noodle on Brixton Road, near McDonalds.
On Coldharbour Lane you'll also find a couple more Asian restaurants, Wes Indian takeaways and the legendary Dogstar. It's a club/bar which did used to serve excellent Mexican food. Not sure if it still does but it's a fun place for some drinks at least. It's also open late into the night and often hosts after-parties for gigs at the Academy if you're looking to keep on dancing once you leave the venue.
Another fun place just on the corner of Coldharbour Lane and Brixton Road is the bar at the Ritzy cinema. There's a large bar in the old foyer and if you head upstairs, you'll find another cosy bar serving tasty pizzas and other meals at a reasonable price.
Heading in the other direction, towards Brixton Academy you'll find a couple of bars and pubs on Brixton Road. The Beehive is a big chain pub popular with older local Brixtonians (and by older I mean those in their 70s!) but it's a good place to grab a cheap, while pint en route.
Across the road you've got the ubercool The Rest is Noise which has gone through a couple of revamps in the last few years. It was a Goose chain pub, then Ivan's Retreat and now it's an ubercool bar with a 3am licence at weekends.
Another hideaway you'd never find unless you knew about is The Hive - a small, cute restaurant next to Brixton Recreation Centre. It's warm and cosy and serves modern food and wicked cocktails. It's popular with gig goers so make sure you book a table if you're heading there on a music night.
So next time you're down south, give the Peri Peri chicken a miss and support Brixton's local establishments. It'll be money well spent!
Love it or hate it, you can't deny that Brixton is one of the most lively parts on London. There are good and bad sides to this but once you've got to know the place, you'll realise that Brixton no longer deserves the bad PR it's had for years. A LITTLE BIT OF HISTORY Brixton has existed, in one form or another, for a thousand years. In the 1800's it was an affluent area - many of the big houses built then have been split into nice flats. In the 1940's and 1950's large numbers of immigrants from the West Indies moved into the area and formed a close knit community. THE MARKET There are few better examples of multi-cultural London than Brixton Market (open Monday to Saturday). There are several long streets with shops and stalls selling food and household goods. Here you'll find traditional British fruit and veg stalls next to shops selling yams, plantain and okra. Next to that might be an African clothing shop and a reggae music stall. It's a truly fascinating place to shop and very cheap. Keep an eye out for Electric Avenue when you're at the market - it was the first street in the area to be lit by electric lighting. It also inspired the Eddy Grant song of the same. THE SHOPS Brixton Road has had a pretty major revamp over the last few years. Many of the cheap, tacky shops have gone and more high street names have moved in. Brixton's small department store Morleys has been open for more than a hundred years ( mind you, it does show!). It's got a small Top Shop and a Box Clever inside as well as the usual department store range of goods. There are also small local branches of stores like Marks & Spencer, Boots, WH Smith, Foot Locker and Woolworths. Over all, the shops in Brixton outside the market area aren't much to write home about, especially when central London is so near. There are a couple of good unique ones though. Joy on Coldharbour Lane
sells fun, kitsch gifts while the Brixton Cycles Co-op (which recently relocated to an empty supermarket next to Stockwelll skate park) is one of the best bike shops in London. RESTAURANTS & CAFES The international make-up of Brixton's community is well represented in the huge variety of places to eat. There aren't many places you could class as posh but there's a great selection of good quality offerings. At the top end of the scale there's the wonderfully creative vegetarian offerings of Bar Humbug (located in a crypt at St Matthews Church). There are also a few decent Japanese joints - the most popular of which, Fujiyama, has fantastic, wholesome noodles and bento boxes. Cafe Goya is a bit further away from the centre of town on Acre Lane. It's a small cosy place serving a great range of home cooked European meals - it's perfect for a romantic dinner. Eco, a tiny pizza place in the market also sells yummy pizzas and is so popular that it has spawned a larger sister restaurant in Clapham. There are also some great stalls and small cafes around Brixton offering West Indian and African food at great prices. The smell of the jerk chicken stalls just cannot be beaten! BARS Again, many new bars have opened in the area over the last few years. A few I'd recommend include the Bug Bar - a dark, funky late night joint in the other crypt of St Matthews Church. The Brixtonian Havana Club, hidden in Beehive Place , near the recreation centre, has killer rum cocktails and usually plays very sassy salsa tunes. It's also one of the few places you can drink in the area until 2am at the weekends without having to pay an entry fee. Dogstar is a Brixton institution you'll find after running the gauntlet of crack dealers on Coldharbour Lane. It's hard to categorise as a bar or a club because it's a cool, mellow hangout by day and a packed club by night. Dogstar has a different atmosph
ere and style every night - one day it'll be a hiphop session, a drum and bass night the next. It's always best to check what's on if you want to know what you're letting yourself in for! My personal favourite though has got to be the Duke of Edinburgh, on Ferndale Road. Only locals really know about this place and you'll rarely meet one who doesn't love it. It's a 'proper' pub with stripped wooden walls and a huge fire in the winter. It's really cosy in the winter and has a huge beer garden for late night drinking in the summer. CLUBS There are a couple of great clubs in Brixton. The original is the Fridge which hosts an eclectic mix of events from trance nights to the long running 'Love Muscle' gay night. It's open until 6am and scarily, many people simply leave then and head next door to the Fridge Bar which opens at 6am on a Saturday morning! Mass, in St Matthew's Church, is also worth a mention. This place opened a couple of years ago and usually has a great line up of internationally known house and breakbeat DJs. It's worth visiting the website and getting on their mailing list to get cheap entry prices and advance warning of the best events. The Living Room bar in Coldharbour Lane also turns its upstairs room into a club at the weekends. On Saturdays it's packed with trendy young things dancing to their old 80s and 90s faves. Duran Duran and Tiffany ahoy! If you like nasty nosebleed techno you could try the 414, also on Coldharbour Lane. Looks a bit scarey though... GREEN SPACES Brockwell Park is another fantastic place to hang out. It has great views over the city and acres of grass to play on. There's also a walled garden, a large play park, a duck pond, a basketball court and a cafe. However it's best known for the Lido - the open air pool that is THE place to hang out in sunny south London summers. It's usually open from June to
September. Another great summer event is the Lambeth County Fair. It's a weird mix of traditional country fair (complete with prize vegetables and cream cakes) with a bit of Notting Hill Carnival thrown in! OTHER WAYS TO AMUSE YOURSELF Brixton Academy is one of the best live music venues in London. It has a gorgeous ornate stage and sloping floors meaning that even the shortest of us can see if we stand at the back! You can always tell when a big band is in town - the tube station will be full of touts buying and selling tickets. Brixton's Ritzy cinema is also one of the few independent cinemas left in London. It shows the biggest blockbusters but still has time for great arthouse and retro films. It's pretty cheap for London (£6.50 at peak times) and has a good range of late showings and a kids club. Brixton Recreation Centre is also worth a visit. It's got an Olympic size pool (closed for repairs until mid-January), a climbing wall, squash courts and an excellent, cheap fitness centre. The aerobics classes here are great - lots of great garage and ragga music. One of the female instructors usually raps all the way through her classes - it's hilarious. GETTING THERE Brixton has excellent public transport links. It's the last stop (Zone 2) on the usually reliable Victoria line. There are also lots of buses to central London, Clapham and Streatham and there's a mainline railway station if you want to go further afield. SAFETY I can't say Brixton is the safest place in the world. It's not. Muggings, car thefts the like do happen frequently. However if you exercise a bit of caution and a bit of common sense you should be fine. I'd recommend not using your mobile phone in public and a close keeping an eye on your purse or wallet at all times. BRIXTON WEBSITES The guide to alternative Brixton http://www.urban75.com Brixton Online http://
www.brixton.co.uk Mass nightclub http://www.massclub.co.uk The Fridge nightclub http://www.fridge.co.uk Brixton Academy http://www.brixton-academy.co.uk