London Street Guides: Brixton

By Leah Harper

When it comes to finding cheap eats alongside a party atmosphere, Brixton is London’s place to be. At first glance, much of Brixton might appear to be crowded by residential buildings, especially in comparison to central London locations, but look a little closer and you’ll encounter some of the most vibrant venues and events in London town.

Brixton is a real mix of people, cultures, tastes and traditions, something that is largely courtesy of the multiethnic community, which has populated the area since as early as the 1940s. Whilst areas such as Westminster and Chelsea might often be thought of as quintessentially ‘British’, it is places like Brixton that are London’s soul.

If you want to take a look behind the scenes and get a really good feel for London life, then escape the tourist-heavy locations and head south of the river for great pubs, music and food; all of which can be found just a short distance from Brixton tube station itself, the very last stop at the bottom of the Underground’s Victoria line.

Eat

Brixton is spoilt for choice when it comes to food. Whilst the area might not exactly be known as the home of fine dining, there are plenty of eateries available with food to rival that of London’s more up-market dining establishments; plus, at a fraction of the price.

Franco Manca is a pizza place with a difference. It’s perfect for the indecisive diner, as there are just six varieties of pizza to choose from, all of which come heavily laden with delicious toppings, and priced at around €8 or less. Located on Market Row, Franco Manca is also ideal if you’re keen to sample the delights of Brixton’s famed marketplace, aka the Larder of Lambeth, where you may find yourself tempted to skip the pizza and head straight to The Breadroom for a seriously tasty selection of pastries and great coffee; a godsend the morning after a Brixton night out!

Just the other side of Atlantic Road, you’ll also find Brixton Village, full of ethically-aware haunts such as Brixton Cornercopia, a cross between a corner-shop and a sustainable food restaurant, and Honest Burgers, which has a rather similar philosophy to burger-making. Also worth a visit is Federation Coffee, Brixton Village’s very own roastery, with amazing coffee at better-than-Starbucks prices.

If you are looking for a menu more diverse than Franco Manca’s, however, then head up Brixton Hill to The White Horse. Whether you fancy an Indian feast or a Sunday Roast, you’ll be well-catered for at this slightly alternative pub, which boasts bare brick walls and scruffy sofas; perfect for whiling away the hours and catching up with friends over a pint. This place tends to get a little more lively on Fridays and Saturdays, when it’s open until 3am, for what feels like one big house party, but if you’re in need of a quiet one come Sunday, you’ll be glad to hear it returns to laid-back folk and jazz from a range of live musicians at the end of the weekend.

Drink

The Dogstar is another venue which has become somewhat legendary with late-night revellers across London. Recently refurbished, it boasts a decadent VIP suite and an intriguing ‘golden ballroom’ seamlessly blended with a tasty pizza menu that’s sure to satisfy anyone with the midnight munchies; and for less than a tenner (£10), too.

If you’re willing to go looking for it, then Brixton’s Grand Union pub is well worth taking the time to find, especially in summer. 123 Acre Lane is the address to remember, but don’t worry, you’ll know this venue when you see (or hear) it. The beer garden is particularly impressive, with two outdoor bars, Thai huts, TV screens for summer sports, and regular BBQs making for something of a secret sanctuary away from the hectic high street. Indoors, you’ll find vintage furniture, freshly prepared food, and a Happy Hour that is likely to leave you smiling all night long.

Dance

Brixton might be best known for Brixton Academy – which remains one of the biggest live music venues in London – but this is far from the only place to hear great tunes in this area. Just next door, for example, you’ll find Plan B, which has previously played host to the likes of James Blake, Basement Jaxx and Norman Jay within its walls.

If you love listening to live acts, then head down to the Hootananny on Effra Road, a pub which might claim to have its musical roots in reggae, but don’t be surprised if you wander in hearing a jazz group, a folk band, or a dubstep DJ doing their thing on the small back-room stage. With entry usually free before 11pm, you’ll have plenty of time to get a drink, soak up the relaxed atmosphere and chat to a few quirky characters before your evening even really begins.

You might also want to turn left out of the station, and head down Brixton Road to find Brixton Jamm, a venue which is always ahead of the trend when it comes to London’s music scene. As well as welcoming a diverse range of live music acts, Jamm has also hosted many an infamous after-party, as well as community events, comedy nights and, naturally, regular jam session. With two separate rooms and bars, you’ll have plenty of space to throw a few shapes throughout the night.

Chill

Fancy something a little more low-key? Turn left out the station and you won’t have to walk more than five minutes before you encounter the Ritzy Picturehouse cinema, complete with a retro overhead sign listing each film currently screening. This venue offers a plentiful selection of screenings, from the latest blockbuster releases to independent art-house productions, some of which are even accompanied by live Q&A sessions from various film writers and directors.

That said, you won’t actually need to make it as far as the cinema itself in order to have a memorable night in this area of Brixton. Outside, the illuminated steps and small green have become a great place simply sit and watch the world go by. At the weekends, and particularly in the summer months, this seemingly insignificant area acquires something of a festival atmosphere, with small crowds of trendy types finishing their drinks and conversations before hopping on the night-bus home.

Inside the Ritzy, the upstairs cafe/bar isn’t just for killing time whilst the adverts are on; this is a far cry from your average Odeon, after all. Instead, the space is put to good use as another of Brixton’s top live music spots, featuring regular jazz, swing and reggae musicians (amongst others), as well as open mic nights. When they’re not showcasing short films or holding film-themed events, the Ritzy also plays host to some of the best comedy and quiz nights in town. In short, you’ll never grow tired of visiting this venue, or indeed, Brixton in general.

Want more street guides to London? See our guides to Notting Hill, Soho and Shoreditch, all written by locals in the know.

Looking for budget London accommodation? See our guide Help! I need some cheap accommodation in London. Or, click for a full list of hostels in London.

Author Bio: Leah Harper studied English with creative writing at London’s Brunel University, and has been writing about the city in which she lives ever since. When she’s not busy tracking down all of the London’s hidden gems for bar and restaurant guide, Fluid London, she can be found listening to Fleetwood Mac, drinking coffee and eating eggs royale. Follow her on Twitter @theharpsbizarre

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Thanks to bortescristian, Ewan-M , Matt from London and Magnus D for the images off Flickr. Please note, all images were suitable for use at the time of publication according to the Creative Commons License.

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