Monday, February 16, 2009

NYC Girl in London Day 1: Topshop, Billy Elliot and Cheese-arama

After a fairly short flight from Newark International Airport to Heathrow, my Continental flight lands safely Thursday morning around 8:30AM. Touchdown in London town! Then, in lightning speed, about 1.5 hours later (gate-customs-baggage-Heathrow Express-Paddington-Old Street Tube) I was unpacking at my friend MC's phat flat and getting ready to grab some lunch and hit the town.

MC lives in east London (EC1) in the Shoreditch - Barbican - Clerkenwell area, right near the Old Street tube station. Apparently this whole area is the grittier but hipper area of town, kind of like East Village/Lower East Side in NYC. Lunch was at a new restaurant close by called Albion at The Boundary Project (read about my meal there by clicking the link) which was housed in a trendy new hotel/bakery/food shop on a deserted street in Shoreditch. The more deserted the hipper it is, right?

After lunch, we took a bus to Oxford Street where I wanted to check out the world famous Topshop flagship store. Not unlike some of the mega branches of H&M and others in NYC, this place, a largest retail space in the UK (or is it the world) was completely overwhelming, with multiple floors of clothing, shoes, accessories for men, women, girls, boys, pets. Between the jetlag, the food coma from lunch and the chaos, I was not my usual shopaholic self so made it in and out the store in 10 minutes flat. I think I will continue to shop at Topshop's online store instead or wait until the first location hits NYC Soho in the spring.

My first night out in London was to Victoria Palace Theatre to see Billy Elliot the musical based on the 2000 film with the same name. Elton John wrote the music and in 2005 the show won Best New Musical at the Laurence Olivier Awards (the UK's equivalent of the Tonys) before opening on Broadway. The show as you all know is about a talented young lad living in a mining town in northeastern England during the mid 80's when things were pretty tough and how he persevered and got accepted to the Royal Ballet School in London. I had a hard time understanding the accent at times and wondered if they had to change some of the lyrics for Broadway to make sure an American audience can understand it. Regardless, it was a a bit of a tear jerker and a good overall show. The young actors were all very talented and the 13 year old kid playing Billy the night we saw it was actually from Nebraska. The best part about seeing the theatre in London is they let you bring drinks to your seat (in plastic cups but still awesome) and you can even pre-order your drinks at the start of the show so they will be ready for you during the interval (intermission). Broadway should take note!

I was pretty exhausted but MC insisted we grab ONE drink. We wandered around Victoria a bit but nothing was really opened (it's more of a business district) so we cabbed it to Piccadilly Circus to find the cheesiest bar we can find. We did not have to look very hard and found what we envisioned at Tiger Tiger, a bar/lounge/club/restaurant. A 5 quid cover got us into meat market heaven. Guys in suits drinking beers and chatting up fellow female colleagues. Cougar types dressed like drag queens with too much makeup luring floppy haired young lads with promise of free shots. Tourists looking to have a good time in what they believed was a classy establishment because Fodor's recommended it. Despite the red alert level of cheese factor, I had tons of fun observing the sexual rituals of the Brits and noticed that the women were quite aggressive AND that ultimately everyone just gets totally sloshed and slobbers on each other on the dance floor. I also noticed that the men dance...they may not be great dancers, but they dance like they are truly enjoying themselves and with no hint of insecurity.

Leave it to my friend MC to be the one gay guy getting picked up at the straightest cheesiest joint in town. While the boys who were eyeing him were cute (and one of them danced the whole Beyonce Single Ladies routine perfectly right in the middle of the bar) and friendly and fun, I took that as our cue to call it a night. Afterall, it was only night 1, I had 5 more to go and had to pace myself!

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