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New Angles on Anglo Classics

March 2013

By Martha Alexander, London

Even with a ferocious hunger to do something original and fun, Londoners tend to be both nostalgic and resourceful. Updating our favorite activities is what we do best.

Going to the gym seems old-hat these days. Hitting the treadmill might tick the box for purists, but plenty of Londoners find it too dull of a way of keeping fit. With so many huge green spaces in the capital, people are making use of them with exercise. Having someone treat you like a solider by barking orders as you stagger around one of central London’s parks might sound terrifying, but it’s meant to. British Military Fitness is about old-fashioned, no-nonsense exercise; and the ex-soldiers who lead the classes make you work out like you are going to war. The group aspect reminds Brits of games lessons at school, when it was cold and miserable, but they were the fittest they’ve ever been.

The long working hours of the average Londoner, teamed with long and hectic commutes, means that there is a call for exercise to be portable. Hot yoga is so in demand in London that new company Hotpod Yoga has produced an inflatable yoga studio that is transportable to any venue. TRX training is another popular alternative to traditional gym equipment. Transportable suspension cables enable people to use bodyweight as resistance, and it can be done almost anywhere. Small doses of agony will leave your muscles toned and body taut.

Londoners are taking a step back in time when it comes to drinking, too. With a drinking culture that is so mainstream in Britain, people are crying out to be part of something new. They want rare or old-fashioned beverages, which offer a sense of exclusivity. Sherry is no longer what your Gran has on Christmas Day; a crop of dedicated bars, like Fino and Bar Pepito, are popping up all for sherry connoisseurs. Similarly, Mezcal—a traditional liquor made in small batches in southern Mexico—is becoming popular for bored tequila drinkers. Hoxton’s Happiness Forgets and Soho’s Bodega Negra both serve the tipple.

Entire cocktail bars are also harking back to a bygone era, as the speakeasy theme continues to reign popular. Londoners love the ‘secret’ aspect. It’s like a strange hangover from the class system, where people want to feel part of an elite group that is small, discreet and different. Big shiny bars are now considered tacky, showy and impersonal. 

Rev JW Simpson, on Goodge Street, is a den of peeling wallpaper, low lighting and cocktails with an old-fashioned feel—port is the basis of at least two of them. Experimental Cocktail Club in the heart of China Town uses only premium or super-rare ingredients. The cocktails are scarily ambitious, but that’s the appeal. Even learning has taken on a rather offbeat twist from England’s tradition. Tours of Sipsmith Distillery, in Hammersmith, feature Prudence, the first copper still launched in London in 200 years. The tour allows visitors to see exactly how the vodka and gin are made before they enjoy a tasting lesson. It’s not enough to just enjoy drinking; Londoners want to show off their knowledge of what they are drinking. The Whisky Exchange also offers master classes in tasting spirits.

With so many advancements in technology, there are some things that Londoners want to hang on to. Downing hundred-year-old drinks in dingy dens will always be in fashion.

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