Under the Radar London: 10 Stops for Fans of the Offbeat

You’ve seen the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace and queued for the Crown Jewels. Now that you’re covered the basics, dig into the destinations locals love, from a David Bowie cocktail bar to a shocking Damien Hirst artwork you can eyeball over dinner.

Photo By: Vanilla Black

Photo By: Lauren Oster

Photo By: Courtesy of Provisioners

Photo By: Lauren Oster

Photo By: Courtesy of Rüya

Photo By: Andrew Meredith

Photo By: Lauren Oster

Photo By: Courtesy of Tramshed

Photo By: Lauren Oster

Photo By: Sheekeys

Next-Generation Meatless Marvels

At Vanilla Black, a vegetarian and vegan restaurant in Chancery Lane, you won't find a bunch of self-righteous tree-huggers preparing your food. What you will find is a playful, stereotype-smashing group of gourmets who decided people who don't eat meat or fish deserved better than ho-hum pasta bakes and mushroom risottos. Their cutting-edge, ever-rotating menu has made them one of the best vegetarian restaurants in the world — even the Michelin Guide has taken notice. Bring omnivorous friends, order up a tasting menu for the table, and prepare for everyone to be blown away.

Modern Theatre at the New Globe

Splashy, Broadway-esque productions in London’s West End are well and good, but some of the most exciting work in the city is staged along the Thames at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, an intimate, candlelit Jacobean-inspired space in the Shakespeare’s Globe complex (which also includes the larger, reconstructed Globe Theatre) and hosts both radically new interpretations of the Bard's work and cutting-edge productions by other playwrights. A recent standout: Adjoa Andoh and Lynette Linton’s spectacular Richard II, which was the first-ever production of a Shakespeare play on a major UK stage featuring a cast and crew composed entirely of women of color. Find tickets for upcoming shows at both venues here.

Eclectic Eats in a Former Magistrates' Court

If you make your way south of the river for an afternoon at Tate Modern (housed in the industrial Bankside Power Station building), stick around for a meal at Provisioners, the impossibly hip eatery at The Dixon (a new boutique hotel that occupies what was once the Tower Bridge Magistrates' Court). To fully appreciate the space's historic bones, move on to The Dixon's Courtroom Bar, a sunken space beneath the judge’s oak canopy — where cocktails are served from the former bench.

A Bold New Bookstore

Tucked like a treasure chest at the end of a narrow alleyway in Soho, The Second Shelf has offered bibliophiles rare and notable works by and about women since November of last year. Whether you’re starting a collection of your own, after a first-hand look at Jane Austen's best friend’s personal copy of Sense and Sensibility (follow along with the shop’s Instagram account for glimpses of its innumerable gems), or looking to connect with the coolest readers in town, this bookstore should be the first stop on your tour of literary London.

Anatolian Elegance

Forget what you think you know about Turkish cuisine — and cocktails — and head to Mayfair for an evening at Rüya, a coolly contemporary new restaurant that showcases sexy dishes and drinks inspired by regional classics hailing from the coast of the Mediterranean all the way to the Black Sea. Save room for an after-dinner sip of the Fal Martini (rum, Turkish coffee, and oolong tea, topped with caramelized cocoa nibs).

An Ace Across the Pond

The first overseas Ace Hotel is in stylish Shoreditch, a creative hub east of the city center and teeming with new businesses. And this Ace offers visitors a custom-made, English twist on the hip modernism that characterizes the brand’s American outposts. You’ll find locally-inspired brasserie fare at Hoi Polloi, spectacular neighborhood views on The Rooftop Bar and Terrace and events like live music, DJ sets and film screenings every day of the week. Want to keep the vibe going? The Ace sells a take-home version of its custom A.P.C. chambray bedspreads (developed with London-based designer Jessica Ogden).

Toasting David Bowie

In 1973, Bowie threw a "retirement party" for his Ziggy Stardust persona at Hotel Café Royal, a luxurious property he haunted with his rock-royalty coterie. Forty-four years later, the hotel created Ziggy's, a permanent tribute to the ultimate chameleon. Come for pitch-perfect '70s décor, rare Mick Rock photographs of Bowie and deep cuts you’re unlikely to hear anywhere else in town (hats off to the Ziggy's DJ for spinning tunes like "Underground," from the 1986 Labyrinth soundtrack). Stay for inventive quaffs like the Loaded Man (pictured here), a mezcal-based, candyfloss-topped drink that bears a striking resemblance to you-know-who.

Nose-to-Tail Gallery Dining

Damien Hirst's dining-room-dominating Cock 'N Bull installation (above) is an apt introduction to what Tramshed, which takes its name from the East End former tram-generator building it calls home, is all about. Beneath that imposing cow and chicken, diners enjoy locally-sourced and -celebrated poultry and beef (as well as items from a vegetarian and pescetarian menu). One floor lower in the subterranean art space, a basement gallery hosts modern exhibitions that rotate every eight weeks.

History and Hellions

Don't let The Old Blue Last's laid-back afternoon look fool you: While the ground-floor bar area is a fine place to put up your feet with a local pint, this century-old Shoreditch pub (which still boasts the massive bar mirror — visible in the background here — installed in 1876) now belongs to Vice, and the frequently-free, sometimes-secret and always-no-holds-barred live shows it hosts upstairs in the evenings have already collapsed the ceiling three times.

Oysters and (Much) More

J Sheekey Atlantic Bar, the informal sibling to a more buttoned-down seafood restaurant next door, doesn’t have to work at recognition: Josef Sheekey had an oyster stall in the Theater District spot back in 1886, and the eatery's modern exterior is hard to miss. What about it is secret or novel, then? This sister space sidesteps clichés like seafood, seafood and nothing but seafood (when was the last time a raw bar also served a flawless cheese soufflé?), it offers price points for eaters who aren't A-listers and it collaborates with artists on one-of-a-kind details like the reimagined Plateau de Fruit de Mer (above), with a stand designed by fashion darling ERDEM (which you can order up through this September).

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