By Christian L. Wright
Right after Christmas, London opens up. Traffic unsnarls, the sales start at designer shops and department stores, theater tickets are available, and it might even be possible to get a table at the Ivy. Daytime temperatures hover in the mid-forties and rain is as sure as death and taxes—but the latter is true year-round, so there's little chance of disappointment. In fact, the city looks proud and stalwart under the pallid sky. Monet thought so, anyway, when he painted The Thames Below Westminster (on view at the National Gallery; 44-207/747-2885) in shades of gray. The best approach to seeing the city: Divide and conquer by objective, whether it's art (Anish Kapoor's gigantic industrial sculpture at the Tate Modern in Bankside, through April 6; 44-207/887-8008), theater (Ralph Fiennes as Carl Jung in Christopher Hampton's latest play, The Talking Cure; 44-207/452-3000), shopping (the Jimmy Choo boutique at Harvey Nichols in Knightsbridge), or the next great neighborhood (see below).
Silver toast caddies, naughty 60's playing cards, and more at Alfie's Antiques Market (13-25 Church St.; 10-6 Tues.-Sat.), the new Portobello.
Hot Spot: Marylebone
Once a stodgy enclave of old ladies and badly lit ethnic restaurants smack in the middle of town, Marylebone (mar-le-bone) is changing faster than Time Out can make it to print. On Marylebone High Street, cafés, galleries, eclectic boutiques (browse the Edwardian travel galleries of Daunt Books; try Brora for Scottish cashmere), and the aptly named holistic day spa Calmia (44-207/224-3585) have the independent spirit that New York's SoHo did before chain stores moved in. The O'Conor Don (44-207/935-9311), a traditional Irish pub, is just down the way from the Providores (44-207/935-6175), a groovy restaurant and bar run by renowned tastemaker Peter Gordon, and Orrery (44-207/616-8000), Sir Terence Conran's intimate restaurant on the top floor of an old stable. Wander the lanes north of Oxford Street and stroll through Regent's Park, the oasis of green separating Marylebone from Notting and Primrose Hills.
WHERE TO STAY
The Lanesborough Now a St. Regis hotel, this Buckingham Palace neighbor is offering a $490-a-night demi-suite, including airport transfers in a Mercedes. (For more hotels, see the T+L 500.) Doubles from $600; Hyde Park Corner; 800/325-3589 or 44-207/259-5599; www.lanesborough.com
Threadneedles The stunning $30 million renovation of an old bank provides luxury and history. Below the 70 Frette-clad rooms and lively bar lies a 17th-century well. Doubles from $425; Weekend rates from $250; 5 Threadneedle St.; 44-207/657-8080; www.theetongroup.com
WHERE TO EAT
Locanda Locatelli Chef Giorgio Locatelli knows his way around a modern Italian kitchen. His newest venture is stylish and well priced. Dinner for two $95; 8 Seymour St.; 44-207/935-9088
Ottolenghi A long, narrow, multi-level gourmet haven in Notting Hill with fresh pastries and salads, served at a hip communal table in back or to go. Lunch for two $27; 63 Ledbury St.; 44-207/727-1121
Andrew Edmunds This dark, seductive spot has a dinner-party ambience and dishes such as grouse with red cabbage and bread sauce. Request an upstairs table. Dinner for two $90; 46 Lexington St.; 44-207/437-5708