Pointy shoes prised from soured, beer-stuck floors. The vinegary tang of a bag of chips from legendary Dionysus huddled close at the N20 bus stop. The frazzle of onion from the hot-dog cart wafting as you have one last snog on the corner of Virgin Megastores. There are so many prompts to the memory of a night well had around Tottenham Court Road. But in order to possess these bon mots, you have to be upwards of 35 because for the past 14 years, since Crossrail yanked the heart out of the area’s underbelly, St Giles (as it has now been rebranded) has been a Bermuda triangle devoid of late-night fun. But not any more. Dust off your dancing shoes: the much-maligned ‘Midtown’ is having an open-all-hours comeback.
The parcel of London where Camden and Westminster collide at the unassuming end of Oxford St was once a haven of activity due to a Central Saint Martins building up one end of Shaftesbury Avenue, Soho’s film houses down the back and a proximity to the cruising cross-hairs of Old Compton Street. Legendary nightspots like The End and The Astoria attracted big-name DJs and bands, Ghetto round the corner was packed with the likes of Kate Moss, Björk and Boy George at Nag Nag Nag, and raucous drinking at any of the nearby three Blue Posts could culminate in a spur of the moment Wednesday big one on the dancefloor at AKA, Retro, Plastic People, G-A-Y Late or The Roxy.
For me, this part of town was the heart of my London experience. Every Monday from the age of 16, I would make the pilgrimage to Erol Alkan’s night Trash at the End, tucked just off New Oxford Street. The iconic queue of scenesters snaking past the Victorian umbrella shop always promised a good night, with 2ManyDJs mashing up the decks, shoulder to shoulder with Kings of Leon and Amy Winehouse on the cramped dancefloor, or seeing Bloc Party or Yeah Yeah Yeahs playing a tiny live set swinging from the rafters of the underground arches. These moments rest in a collective memory that has spurred a new set of founders to reframe the area for a fresh generation of night owls. The major new addition is Here at the Outernet, an 1,800 capacity venue, with a sister bar, Lower Third, holding a more intimate 250 people and hosting DJs seven nights a week.
“Growing up in London, central was where we went to meet, to drink, to dance. This was where we did a lot of our growing up, and so little of it remains”
With its hard-earned 4am license, it promises to become a linchpin of a new scene with its spot under the glowing Outernet hoardings at the end of music industry landmark Denmark Street.
Karrie Goldberg, the event entrepreneur who set up Here and Lower Third with Outernet, is bringing her background in house music booking in her old home towns of Chicago and New York to return the spark to the lost end of the West End.
‘We always wanted to have really broad programming. So we just had LTJ Bukem and Roni Size. Then Paul Van Dyck came and played last night, Kruder & Dorfmeister did a live music set recently. And then Louie Vega is starting his residency in January, too.’
Those few extra hours really brings the party — and give more breadth of what you’re likely to hear on a night out, Goldberg believes. ‘Having the late licence allows me to do a live music gig on a Friday followed by a club night. We’ve just announced Priscilla the Party — a 30-week run of an immersive experience based on Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Previously we couldn’t do two gigs because we had to end by 2am, so we also missed out on a lot of big DJs. So, before we always had to be so laser-focused on booking artists that would reach a certain threshold financially, whereas now we can work with under-represented subcultures. I can do something that’s a loss leader before I do something that’s a moneymaker.’
There are smaller venues popping up all around the area that promise just as much impromptu late-night fun. Jackson Boxer, the chef behind Orasay and Brunswick House is injecting some of the old edge and energy into the strip with his new bar Below Stone Nest, just down Charing Cross Road. ‘Growing up in London, central was where we went to meet, to drink, to dance. Astoria, Moonlighting, Madame JoJo’s, Garlic & Shots, Crowbar, Gaz’s, Trash... this was where we did a lot of our growing up, and so little of it remains,’ Boxer remembers. ‘The purpose of Below was to restore to central London a casual place, welcoming and affordable to young people, with a progressive music policy and a friendly and relaxed vibe, to give all of London somewhere to meet, drink, dance and live beautifully, if only for those few ecstatic moments.’
The restaurant scene in the area is also buzzing, with Charlotte Street enjoying a resurgence. Ed Templeton, co-founder of Carousel, the chef-residency concept, feels that it’s the return of independents to the area that has given rise to the vibe shift. ‘The chains that have dominated this side of Oxford Street appear to be on the way out,’ he says. ‘There are a few new cocktail bars opening in and around Charlotte Street, which will be great for late-night trade. Back in the day I had friends at UCL and we used to go out to places like the End and AKA on New Oxford Street. Those places closed a long time ago, so it’s so nice to see nightlife making its way back. That can only be good news for places like Plaza Khao Gaeng and Carousel.’
Goldberg is hoping that the proliferation of smaller drinking dens popping up around will also feed into the club nights, too. ‘A couple of very cool guys have just opened a whisky bar on Denmark Street called Dram. They’ve built this really cool niche bar, they’re brewing their own beer. Then you’ve got another bar and restaurant opening on Flitcroft Street in 2024, which I’m not sure what I can say about yet. Roland is on Denmark Street and we do a lot with them. That street is really being revitalised. Rose Morris the music shop, we have a great relationship with. It’s really kind of rebuilding the community here. Thirteen bar, which is part of Chateau Denmark, is directly across from the Lower Third. It really has become this kind of unique neighbourhood of owners.’
“The chains that have dominated this side of Oxford Street appear to be on the way out. There are a few new cocktail bars around Charlotte Street — great for late-night trade”
With gig line-ups that have included the likes of Metronomy and Sam Ryder, and club nights that span drum’n’bass, EDM and house, Goldberg feels like there’s something in it for everyone. ‘It is super broad. When we first opened the venue, we always said we’re going to reach audiences of two to 72. I’m really proud to say truly the demographic is so broad, the age range, where they’re coming from in the city. It is wildly different every night. And we haven’t done the kids’ stuff yet, but we’re going to!’
No need for that fake ID then…