Camden town is still a number one attraction for visitors looking for something more exciting than Tower Bridge and the changing of guards. However the spirit that contributed to Camden’s reputation as the very alternative heart of London with a strong hippie, punk and progressive vibe, has been ground down to a much blander freak show.
Sadly I haven’t seen Camden in its heydays – assuming that between the 70s and the 80s was the right time to be there – but during my first visit, 10 years ago, this area of London struck me deeply. A mayhem of market stalls, music, punk mohawks and mods outfits, everything was mixed together, with little more than a handful of tourists and a bunch of tattooed old timers.
Now a whole area of market has been refurbished and revamped after the big blaze, and shops and market stalls are gradually changing according to the hordes of tourist daily invading the area. Is the authentic Camden soul dead and sold out as a souvenir?
Nearly, but there are many places where it can still be found. And there is no better place to start from than the old glorious Camden pubs, of which these are my favourite, in geographical order from the tube station:
The Good Mixer
30 Inverness St, NW1 7HJWalking up the High Street from the tube station, you’ll see Inverness Street to your left. At the end of this short street is the Good Mixer. Unchanged in the years, this scruffy pub doesn’t fail to collect some of the most interesting fauna of Camden. Enjoy watching the pool matches in the afternoon – would you dare to challenge the resident champs? – or dive in the drunken night crowd.
224 Camden High St, NW1 8QR
Keep walking up the High Street and you’ll find this beautiful pub to your right, at the junction with Hawley Crescent. I don’t know how it managed to keep intact, a rock’n’roll oasis right in the middle of the alternative-punk shopping centre in which Camden Market has been recently transformed. Here you’ll find the best (or worst) of Camden. Wrinkled punks covered in faded tattoos, leather-clad Lemmy Kilmister lookalikes, are mixing up with younger goths and quiffed rockers. The later you get there the better, and you’ll soon be outside smoking a fag and listening to some old geezer’s pirate stories.
2 Castlehaven Rd, NW1 8QU
If the Elephant’s head wasn’t your last stop then keep walking until you reach the rail bridge, the famous one with “Camden Market” written on. Turn right on Castlehaven road and you’ll bump in the Hawley Arms pub. I admit that this one doesn’t have the same degree of roughness of the others in the list, but has an interesting story: famous for its impromptu gigs in the room upstairs, performed by drunk customers of the likes of Pete Doherty and Amy Winehouse, became the most notorious victim of the Camden Market blaze. Remarkably has been rebuilt adhering to its past without any visible distortion or gentrification.
65 Kentish Town Rd, NW1 8NY
Oh, good old Quinn’s. I know few people who quite remember walking out there. Few steps away from the bustling Camden Town, this pub is probably exactly the same as it used to be 40 years ago, when its current landlords were already 80 years old. You can still find them there, cute old couple, the last ones to leave the place, giving the place a different pace, and keeping the crowds quiet just with their presence. Drinks are cheaper than any of the surrounding places here, and the unpretentious look will make you feel immediately at home.
94 Parkway, London NW1 7AN
Missing out a night at the Dublin Castle on a weekend would be a terrible mistake. It would have been even a bigger mistake for Martina and I, as we met here in its sweaty sticky-paved dance floor.
This place is so good and rough that I fear it might be closed down any time soon, as happens to the most genuine and fun things. Being a pub it can be visited any time of the day but the pictures on the wall will give away that it’s more than just an ordinary pub: its name is in fact deeply sewn in the rock history of Camden. At the end of the pub room there is a double door leading to the live venue, most of the big names of the alternative British rock scene have tread its stage…nowadays I suspect that the average level has slightly decreased but you can always check out the bands online or take the plunge just for the experience: the entrance fee is usually £5-6. When the bands are over the room becomes a rock’n’roll alternative disco, happy crowds, good music and careless fun until 2am. Will you be the first to join the local legend on stage?
When to go?
I won’t surprising anyone suggesting to avoid the area on the weekend. Unless you want to witness how wild a crowd can get, or if you actually enjoy being part of it, Camden at night is best enjoyed during the week. In those least popular night, my favourite are Monday to Wednesday, only the hardcore freaks are out and about.
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