When I was looking for places to stay in London, I went to the city's official tourism site and searched for gay-friendly hotels. And I found them, but not before reading the following notice: "London is very inclusive and LGBT couples, groups and individuals are welcome at any accommodation provider." I began to question my gay-centric plan.
"Why do I need a gay friendly hotel anyway?" I thought. Why should gays limit themselves to a hotel that caters only to sexuality? I'm all about supporting local gay businesses, and there's certainly a time and place for gay hotels and B&Bs, but when visiting a massive city, I want what's new, hip and exciting, and that's not always what you get when you stay in the gay box. So, I looked elsewhere and found the South Place Hotel, a fusion of sexy-modern, fashion, art, and international spies.
The first hotel from D&D London, the restaurant group behind some of the hottest spots in town, including Kensington Place, Old Bengal Bar, and the always luxurious Sartoria, I knew this place would indulge more than my visual senses, but my taste buds, too. Indeed food and drink are central here: two restaurants, the clubby 3 South Place and the more elegant Angler, and three bars await travelers who want to stay close to home.
(South Place Hotel room via the hotel)
The hotel's interior is brimming with pieces from local artists, including a chandelier of metal model airplanes and a bizarre yet whimsical array of disembodied mannequin parts. The hallway leading to the elevators features a massive glass display filled with classic British shoe molds made exclusively for the hotel, and the rooms, controlled almost entirely by touch screens, plays up Britain's spy-loving culture, and the Bang & Olufsen entertainment system delivers tunes and video with full force.
Once you're willing to venture out, you'll emerge in the Financial District, but you're only a short stroll from the city's affordable and artsy East End neighborhood. A cornucopia of international communities coexist here, and there's a distinct element of the unknown around every corner. It's easy to get lost in diverse cultures here, so to keep myself on a coherent path, I signed up for a culinary expedition along Eating London Tour's East End Food route (PS59/person). The group's new to The Swinging City, but has an excellent reputation for their Italian excursions, and I wasn't disappointed. Spending three-and-a-half hours sampling the local flavors is a great way to get to know a neighborhood.
(London's East End, photos by David Duran.)
The tour started off with a one of a kind bacon sandwich at St. John Bread and Wine, where the bacon is made just for this restaurant, making it truly unique. Being in England, it was no surprise that we would eat some bread pudding along the way, but The English Restaurant served up something different; banana bread pudding that both warmed and filled our foreign tummies. At Poppies, we were treated to the most famous English dish: fresh battered fish, mushy peas and loads of vinegar to splash on the chips. Meanwhile, at Aladin, we sampled three different curries, ones still on my tongue as I bought some spices of my own in Banglatown, where vendors are constantly competing for your hard-earned pounds. If you play your cards right, you can come out with quite a deal. And if nothing else, you'll get a better understanding of what London's all about, something that's not necessarily the case when travelers stick to the well-curated gay path.