Late Night Eats
You can easily find cheap-and-nasty places to grab a bite late at night, but if you want to find something that won't come back to haunt you, it's best to be a little more choosy. Tinseltown, 44-46 St. John St. (tel. 020/7689-2424; www.tinseltown.co.uk; Tube: Farringdon), open till 5am Monday to Thursday and 4am at weekends, is an American-style diner that serves up flamegrilled burgers and milkshakes to a post-club crowd.
In Soho, Bar Italia, 22 Frith St. (tel. 020/7437-4520; www.baritaliasoho.co.uk; Tube: Tottenham Court Rd.), is a Soho institution that has been serving revelers 24 hours a day for decades -- and over the years has been a popular haunt of pop- and rock-stars relaxing after a show.
If you're on Brick Lane, ignore the overrated curry houses and head to Brick Lane Bagel, 159 Brick Lane (tel. 020/7729-0616; Tube: Liverpool St.), where at weekends you'll find a long but fast-moving queue of those in the know lining up for salt-beef specials. It's open 24 hours. If you prefer to end your night with a face full of kebab, the chicken shish at Damascu Bite, 21 Shoreditch High St. (tel. 020/7247-0207; Tube: Old St./Train: Shoreditch High St.), is too good for drunken revelers.
Late nights at the NHM
Generations of children have stood in the great hall at the Natural History Museum and gawped at the giant Diplodocus that greets them. Thanks to a monthly late-night opening, adults can now have the place to themselves between 6 and 10:30pm, and enjoy a bite to eat, some soft music, and a glass or two of wine beneath the fossilized remains of the great beast itself. After-hours events happen on the last Friday of every month, and are an eye-opening opportunity to see one of London's great Victorian edifices in a whole new light. Check www.nhm.ac.uk for details of upcoming events.
Visiting the cinema -- in central London at least -- can be an expensive experience, especially those on Leicester Square. Plus, given that mainstream Hollywood films are shown at most theatres, you could be in any city. Scratch beneath the surface, however, and you'll find alternative cinematic experiences. The Curzon in Mayfair, 38 Curzon St., W1 (tel. 0871/703-3989; www.curzoncinemas.com; Tube: Green Park), caters for true cineastes with screenings of foreign and art-house films, Q&As with directors, and one-off screenings of classics. Tickets cost around £15.
If you prefer more audience participation, and have a high tolerance for the camp, head to the Prince Charles Cinema, 7 Leicester Place, WC2 (tel. 020/7494-3654; www.princecharlescinema.com; Tube: Leicester Sq.); the last Friday of every month is "Sing-A-Long with The Sound of Music" (www.singalonga.net), a long-running and inspired combination of fancy-dress karaoke and a classic family film. Advance tickets cost £12.
Also, keep an eye out for Secret Cinema (www.secretcinema.org). Every few months they host a large-production extravaganza in a different venue, bringing a film to life on an epic scale. You're kept in the dark as to what film is showing, but you will be given a theme to ensure you dress appropriately. On arrival you're catapulted into a complete reproduction of the film's universe -- it's spectacular. Buying tickets in advance is a must.
Long the preserve of octogenarians in drafty village halls, bingo has enjoyed an unexpected renaissance, and a number of alternative bingo nights have sprung up. Those in search of a full house can choose between a number of flavors including Gay Bingo and Australian Rules Bogan Bingo, running weekly on Thursday at the Underdog, 16a Clapham Common, SW4 (tel. 020/7978-2691; www.boganbingo.com). Better still is the anarchic mix of music, drinking, dancing, shouting, and of course bingo that is the now international Underground Rebel Bingo Club (www.rebelbingo.com). Keep an eye on the website for "secret" parties.
London has plenty of places where enthusiastic amateurs can do terrible things to popular songs. Despite the British reputation for reserve, you'll find karaoke nights in pubs and bars all over the city, not to mention dedicated karaoke bars such as Lucky Voice, 52 Poland St., W1 (tel. 020/7439-3660; www.luckyvoice.com; Tube: Oxford Circus).
For something a little more memorable, we prefer Hip-Hop Karaoke (www.southernhospitality.co.uk) at the Social, a place to let loose your inner Jay-Z and bust out some rhymes in a raucous, yet friendly atmosphere.
Alternatively, head east to Hot Breath (www.thehouseofhotbreath.com) at the Bethnal Green Working Men's Club, 44 Pollard Row, E2 (tel. 020/7739-2727; www.workersplaytime.net; Tube: Bethnal Green), one of the funniest karaoke nights in town, running monthly. Out-of-tune singing is just half the fun, so leave your inhibitions at the door and prepare to get involved in everything from synchronized dancing, through to hot dog eating competitions, while making liberal use of the dressing-up box.
A growing number of literary events have brought books out of silent libraries and into London's noisy nightclubs. The capital's premier regular event is Book Slam (www.bookslam.com), which takes place on the last Thursday of every month at the Clapham Grand, 21-25 St. John's Hill, SW11 (tel. 020/7223-6523; Train: Clapham Junction). Heavyweight authors such as Hanif Kureishi and Nick Hornby have all guested alongside a variety of book-loving pop- and rock-stars. Expect everything from poetry and book readings to live music and DJs.
Although numbers have decreased in recent years, London still boasts an impressive number of bookshops -- ranging from the esoteric to the populist -- and many regularly hold literary evenings. Waterstone's (www.waterstones.com), the largest chain of bookshops in the U.K., has stores dotted all over London, and their website lists all upcoming instore events.
Websites such as Flavorpill (www.flavorpill.com) and Londonist (www.londonist.com) carry information on forthcoming literary events.
Ever since Jeff Bridges played the role of "the Dude" in The Big Lebowski, ten-pin bowling has been the coolest sport on Earth. London now has the bowling lanes to match, in the shape of the All-Star Lanes (www.allstarlanes.co.uk) in Bloomsbury (Victoria House, Bloomsbury Place, WC1; tel. 020/7025-2676; Tube: Holborn) and Brick Lane (95 Brick Lane, E1; tel. 020/7426-9200; Tube: Aldgate East) and the Bloomsbury Lanes (www.bloomsburybowling.com) at the Tavistock Hotel, Bedford Way, WC1 (tel. 020/7183-1979; Tube: Russell Sq.). All are open 7 days a week, and offer live bands and cool DJs at the weekend.
Any wannabe Paul Newman can perfect their hustle in style, because London boasts several classy pool halls. Best of all are the Elbow Rooms (www.theelbowroom.co.uk), whose venues in Shoreditch (97-113 Curtain Rd., EC2; tel. 020/7613-1316; Tube: Old St.) and Westbourne Grove (103 Westbourne Grove, W2; tel. 020/7221-5211; Tube: Bayswater) have set the standard for cool pool. Rack up a game, enjoy a few drinks, and chow down on generous portions of American cuisine, all before working off those calories dancing to the in-house DJs. Venues are open late (normally till 2am).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.