From Fitzrovia to Covent Garden, London is embracing its charming—and sometimes cheeky—past. Every era, from the roaring ‘20s to the swinging ‘60s, is represented, with new takes on old-fashioned locales: chip and sweets shops, hidden Prohibition-style hangouts, even ballrooms. But rather than flaunt themselves as fusty Churchillian relics, these new spots are drawing stylish Bright Young Things who can’t get enough of the city’s collective nostalgia trip. They’re celebrating inspired design, tastes, and bygone lifestyles with zeal.
At the forefront of London’s retro renaissance: sugar. Behind a shiny strawberry-red façade in Covent Garden, British confectionary is experiencing a resurgence at Hope and Greenwood, a sweet 1950s-style candy store named after its sugar-loving owners. Glass jars and cut-crystal candy that grandma would love brim with classic and all-but-disappeared “pick and mix“ English candies—Minty Humbugs, Raspberry Ruffles, and Traffic Light Lollies. It’s the kind of place that will even inspire adults on a strict diet to indulge in sweets (and sweet thoughts) of yesteryear.
Over in the trendy, up-and-coming neighborhood of Marble Arch, Cocomaya is attracting followers with its jewel-like handcrafted chocolates tantalizingly displayed under glass domes on marble counter tops and antique mirrors. And places such as East End’s Treacle are delighting locals and visitors alike with a return to the no-nonsense proper British teahouse, serving up comforting classics like Jammy Dodgers and buttercream cupcakes.
Bourne & Hollingsworth (named after the department store that once existed on its site) is decidedly more adult; the quirky basement bar in Fitzrovia is tricked out to feel like grandma’s—complete with signature floral wallpaper and consciously stodgy décor. Still, zany accents, like a fireplace full of discarded Champagne bottles, reflect the underground boîte’s joie de vivre spirit of excess. On Prohibition themed nights, vintage gin cocktails arrive hidden in teapots, as Billie Holliday sets the mood.
Geales, in Notting Hill, is the ideal spot to start—or end—an evening on the town, London-style. Now a shadow of its former 1939 no-frills self, the newly renovated fish and chips shop is giving a lighter gourmet twist to an old London standby; golden, delicately fried cod and haddock is the restaurant’s main event, supported by more elegant briny treats like raw oysters and classic shrimp cocktail.
No matter where you go in London town these days, vintage style is everywhere. What’s old is new—again!—in England’s retro-mad city.
The shelves at Hope and Greenwood, in Covent Garden, are filled with crystal dishes of handmade confections and glass jars brimming with British sweets, from humbugs to giant gobstoppers. A 1950’s feel reigns, thanks to the decorative antique tins (for sale), a sound track of jaunty jazz, and packets of sweets labeled Rations.
The resurrected Geales, in Notting Hill, which first opened in 1939, draws families and fashionable types alike for upmarket beer-battered fish and chips. An original wooden specials board listing dishes of yore, such as mushy peas and shandy, pays tribute to the previous incarnation.
At Bourne & Hollingsworth, a louche basement bar in Fitzrovia, a stylishly retro crowd downs gin fizzes and channels the spirit of prewar Bright Young Things. The DJ’s get the crowd swinging to big-band hits.
Light-footed Londoners are also stepping into the Rivoli Ballroom for the swing and rock ’n’ roll nights—and to lounge amid the original scarlet 1957 interior, all velvet draperies, flocked wallpaper, chandeliers, and oversize Chinese lanterns.
Unashamedly basic Treacle is keeping the British teahouse alive. Open only on Sundays (as well as Saturdays during the high season), the shop sells tea and ginger beer—no coffee!—and a selection of fairy cakes, Victoria sponges, and other treats. Vintage tea caddies, teapots, and china are for sale.
For more glamour, head to the Waldorf Hilton, which has reintroduced its afternoon Tango Tea in the sumptuous Palm Court; guests can relive 1920’s elegance and take to the floor, accompanied by a five-piece band.