A Local's Night Out: Great London Moviehouses
By Tracy Turner
After I moved to London, friends in the States couldn't believe I wasn't taking in the latest West End stage production every weekend. "Not at £40 a ticket!" became my stock response. A night out at the movies is a great alternative to the sometimes-expensive London theater scene.
Seeing the next The Full Monty, Calendar Girls, or Love Actually months before they hit the States is bragging rights for any visitor. Neighborhood art-house cinemas are packed with character, making an evening out a locals-only experience. London's buzzing restaurants, "foodie pubs," and in-house cinema bars guarantee a good night out — only a Tube stop away.
Films often change nightly; check a listings magazine (such as Time Out) for times and prices. If you're hoping to see the latest on a Friday or Saturday night, call the cinema and reserve tickets in advance with a credit card. "Phone bookings" or online reservations are a good way to nab the seat assignment you want and avoid long "queues" at the door.
My favo(u)rites, by neighborhood, include:
Not technically an art-house cinema, the Chelsea Cinema is the epicenter of culture on the King's Road. The 700-plus seats are red velvet armchairs, and there's a full bar upstairs. Food/furniture guru Sir Terence Conran's gastrodome, Bluebird (an Art Deco garage now converted into café, bar, restaurant, upmarket grocery, and shop), is a few blocks down the road (350 King's Road at Beaufort Street). Tube: Sloane Square.
Everyman Cinema (5 Holly Bush Vale, Tube: Hampstead) is the oldest art house in town and is set in London's hillside village, with cobblestones, gaslamps, and brickwork galore (Hampstead is home to media luminaries and rock stars, as well as lots of expat Americans). Recent refurbishment and a full liquor license means you can enjoy a film while sipping Champagne and nibbling on Mediterranean olives or chocolate truffles. In addition, faux-French and Italian eateries abound on the nearby High Street.
The best pub grub in North London is a quick stroll down the hill: The Freemason's Arms (32 Downshire Hill, Tube: Hampstead), bordering Hampstead Heath, serves frosty pints of German, Czech, and English lager and huge plates of food. Summertime brings their huge beer garden to life and is a perfect stopoff after a ramble on the Heath.
While there aren't any distinctive cinemas nearby, Knightsbridge is a great area to find atmospheric pubs. The Wilton Arms pub is tucked down a tiny mews street, Kinnerton, just off Wilton Place; while The Grenadier is more difficult to find (ignore the "Private Mews" signs) but worth the five-minute walk to 18 Wilton Row. This incredibly small pub has the requisite resident ghost and serves solid British food in the rarefied surroundings of its tiny back dining room. Prices are high, but so is the Ye Olde Englande quotient — it's a locals-only step back in time.
Two cinemas vie for eyeballs in this trendy enclave northwest of Hyde Park: the Gate Cinema (87 Notting Hill Gate, Tube: Notting Hill Gate), with beer and wine served in-house, and just down the the street, the Notting Hill Coronet Cinema, where Hugh Grant took Julia Roberts — but not his glasses — in the movie Notting Hill.
Outstanding nearby pubs include The Churchill Arms (boasting Thai food in their butterfly-themed back conservatory, 119 Kensington Church Street) and The Windsor Castle (best for Irish oysters and glasses of Guinness in front of their open fire, 114 Campden Hill Road, Tube: Notting Hill Gate).
The French Institute's Ciné Lumière (17 Queensberry Place, Tube: South Kensington) is a modern art house above their cultural center, sponsored by the French Embassy. This is the place to see the latest in French film; the complex is a little French universe in itself. The Brasserie de l'Institut dominates the ground floor, perfect for a petit verre before the flick, with seafood specialties to enjoy afterwards.
However, if you fancy Londoners' favorite food, the closest curry house is half a block away — but stuck in a '70s time warp. The Khyber Pass Tandoori Restaurant (21 Bute Street) isn't retro; the beige and brown, flocked wallpaper interior is the real thing. Attentive waiters ply patrons with subtly spiced creations; tourists as well as "South Ken Mrs. Slocums" crowd the 30-seat restaurant. Best of all, the Khyber Pass is open every night until 11:30 — an essential post-pub destination.