The Old Police Station 'ello, 'ello, 'ello

There’s always been a defiant element to urban renewal: Reclaiming spaces abandoned by the powers that be, and repackaging them for the enrichment of the local community. It’s contemporary cultural Robin Hoodism is what it is — just with the nice, green trees of Sherwood forest replaced by crumbling masonry.

Down in deepest, darkest Deptford this sentiment certainly rings true, where an old police station on Amersham Vale has been coerced out of retirement to serve a new purpose as an artistic hub. Imaginatively rechristened The Old Police Station, the former clink is now home to a bunch of artist studios, project spaces, radio stations, recording studios and social spaces. Running on a ‘do-it-yourself’ kind of basis, anyone is free to to rent out one of the spaces for as long as they like and fill it with whatever they like.

This makes for an eclectic program, meaning on any given day you might come across a heady blend of art installations (which tend to lean to the funky, experimental side of things), gigs, supper clubs, and so forth. They also hold exhibitions in the prison cells too, so you can flirt with life behind bars — only you’ll have interesting stuff to look at as you wile away your incarceration, not just a toilet.

Peters & Co. Gin Palace Sippin' on gin and jellied eels

You’d be hard pressed to find anything more British than a plate of pie, mash and jellied eel. Purveyors of this heinous sounding yet awesome tasting Cockney staple even outdate fish and chip shops (so stick that in your deep fat fryer and… I don’t know… fry it?). One such traditional pie man on Broadway market, the venerable F. Cooke, has recently out-Britished its peers, though, by teaming up with the undisputed fuel of the empire: Gin.

Or, more specifically, by hosting a gin pop-up bar — Peters & Co. Gin Palace — proving that even the most old school of East London institutions can’t withstand Dalston’s pop-up onslaught anymore. Thankfully, though, such Dalstonification isn’t apparent when you step inside Peters (as it becomes from 7pm onwards from Thursday to Saturday). It still looks and feels like a pie shop. There’s the vertigo-inducing lino floor, dated tiling, and the no-bullshit feel that’s effortlessly maintained during the day — when real locals hammer through piles of meat and crust, and talk in code (i.e. Cockney rhyming slang) to each other.

This puts the focus firmly on the liquid libations, and deservedly so. Peters stocks a mean list of fine and artisan gins (Hendricks, Sipsmiths, Death’s Door etc.), and they make a world beating G&T — served straight-up in a heavy duty tumbler with chipped ice cubes and a fat wedge of lemon. The cocktail list is a little too slimline perhaps, but what is on there definitely impresses. The Death Sting Martini, for example, has enough firepower to ruin you, your mother, and grandmother too.

White Lyan Cocktail nerdistry

Nomadic bartending extraordinaire Ryan Chetiyawardana has made a hell of a name for himself throwing curveballs at the cocktail rulebook in recent years. White Lyan, formerly the White Horse pub, now a stripped-down, paint-it-black enclave of experimentation, is the mound that he’s currently pitching from.

Perishables (translation: Ice and fruit) and branded products find no home here. Everything in those elegant, stoppered glass bottles (mixers, bitters and even the pre-made spirit mixes) are produced, painstakingly, in-house. You’ll understand why when they’ve been imaginatively blended to form a drink like nothing you’ve ever come across before.

Case in point, the Moby Dick Sazerac: Rye whisky, Peychaud’s bitters, absinthe-soaked rice paper and ambergris. Yup, ambergris—because it adds body, obviously. If such liquid wizardry is lost on you, there’s a wine of each colour and a czech lager to tide you over. To opt for one of the three is to miss the point though. This place does cocktails, and you won’t find the like of what they mix anywhere else.

Topolski Out of the bunker

Formerly the bunker-cum-studio of expressionist painter and illustrator Feliks Topolksi, this under-the-arches spot on the South Bank is making sure the Polish-born artist’s legacy in the area lives on. Works by the man himself loom large all around, held aloft by a network of metal supports that extend overhead—framing a rust-red, circular sculpture at the cavernous space’s depths.

There’s an Eastern European slant to the menu (both food and drink) with pickles, cured meat and fish, as well as house infused vodkas at its core. For the persistently Anglocentric, the lengthy wood-panelled bar also carries a who’s who of craft local beers including Camden Hell’s lager, Portobello London pilsner and Kernel pale ale.

Come sundown there’s a curated programme of cultural events too, where music flows, cabaret kicks and artists exhibit to keep the spirit of Topolski’s former tenant alive.

Shimmy London Leave your inhibitions at the door

Daring eccentricity rules supreme at this late-night den of decadence. Optical illusions and Victorian trinkets are dotted about the secretive, candle-lit space—complete with exposed-brick alcoves and a wardrobe-cum-staircase in the corner. Behind the scrabble-tiled bar meanwhile, the staff, dressed in Gatsby-esque getup, mix and blend cocktails with a healthy twist. Amongst them is the ‘Smoking Gun’—a Glenmorangie, Laphroaig, honey water, ginger syrup, lemon Juice and soda concoction that’s sure to put your mind in sync with Shimmy’s surrounds. Prudes, beware—there’s a chance you’ll catch an eyeful through the peepholes in the toilets.

The Happenstance Slick schizophrenia underneath St Paul's

There’s no such thing as lie-ins or early nights at The Happenstance. This sprightly Ludgate hangout is up at the crack of dawn to serve up your pre-business breakfast, there to fill you up at lunch and is still going strong well after you’ve got your face glued to your pillow. Such are the benefits of a multi-layered case of split-personality…

Indeed, this slick and savvy schizophrenic has a bar and restaurant (with monster views of St. Pauls), a deli counter, a mixology desk, a secret subterranean speakeasy and an in-house florist. And it’s always looking fine, no matter whether it’s got its monochrome-fitted, industrio-austere bar face on or its warm wood-panelled, designer-furnished, dining-room alter-ego’s.

Food-wise, breakfast is all about eggs cooked any-which way (Benedict, Florentine, Royale) you can think of, while lunch and dinner lean in more of a sharing flatbread and antipasti direction. The concoctions coming from the mixology desk (a blueberry and curacao gin-based mojito included), meanwhile, are a lesson in inventive blending.

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