If you want to know the best places to go – ask a local. Shoe label Ops&Ops take us on a tour of St Paul’s.
We were excited to move our studio to St Paul’s. It’s an area neither of us knew much about but felt at home in from the off. We’ve discovered what seems to be a still secret part of London with winding streets, narrow passages and alleyways, and we get to gaze at the cathedral itself any time we choose.
One of us will often stop by Carter Lane Coffee House on the way in. This small independent prides itself on provenance with coffee from east London roasters Climpson & Sons and Italian baristas.
Heading up Carter Lane, a small, seemingly regular, narrow alleyway Wardrobe Place opens into a delightful cobbled courtyard. This is where our studio is based. Once the home of King Edward III’s ‘wardrobe’ where royal robes and armour were displayed – the site burned in the Great Fire – it has a sense of calm and retains an air of time stood still.
If there’s one ritual we’ve stuck to since being in the neighbourhood, it’s look up. Do it outside of Wardrobe Place and you’ll see the original elaborately monogrammed facade of a one-time school for choirboys, a tangle of colour and images. This tiled building is now a youth hostel, complete with wood-panelled classroom and century-old graffiti. Ask to take a peek inside.
Chao!Now is a Vietnamese street-food café lunch spot with banh mi, pho, soups, salads and daily specials – try the lemongrass beef, rice and salad. We come here when we want comfort food and like to eat in, but hearty portions mean there’s often enough left to put in a take-away box for a pick-me-up later on. A good place to watch the world go by when the weather is good, is to take the alleyway just down St Andrew’s Hill, up past Wren’s St Andrew by the Wardrobe church and round to a semi-hidden green space and welcoming bench.
There’s so much to see around here, for a taste of lunchtime culture we’ll meander across to St Bride Foundation, an erstwhile community centre with gym, public baths, laundry, print rooms and library set up in 1891. The latter remains, but the Bridewell Bar and Gallery, in what was once the laundry, shows work by local artists and photographers. If you have time, allow yourself a midday snifter, before taking a seat for Lunchbox Theatre. Performances start at 1pm and last 45 minutes.
For a treat head towards St Paul’s and cut up Dean’s Court to Coppa Club for a bite to eat and a room with a view. Once a bank, this modern restaurant/bar serves delicious small plates and you get a sock-it-to-me view of Wren’s masterpiece at the same time. We sometimes stop by in the evening too, when it has a relaxed but lively atmosphere and an ace range of drinks.
For an after-work wind down The Cockpit is our pick. Locals have been enjoying a tipple here since the 18th century when they’d stand in the gallery watching the cockfights below. The gallery remains, but it’s a little more sedate these days. Warm and friendly, it has a good range of drinks and there’s always someone ready to strike up a conversation. Oh, and a couple of hundred years before it opened, Shakespeare lived on this very spot.
If we’re meeting friends, we might stray a little further, across Ludgate Hill to Fleet Street and past the tiered spires of St Brides, the journalists’ church. Legend has it that Wren’s second tallest church (St Paul’s takes top spot) inspired the traditional tiered wedding-cake design.
Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, accessible through Wine Office Court is Fleet Street’s most famous pub. Rebuilt after 1666, is appearance has hardly changed with vaulted ceilings and a dozen rooms spread over four levels. It doesn’t serve the best drinks or food, but just being in here is as close you’ll get to a time machine.
Then head up to El Vino – wine merchant, bar, restaurant and a favourite of ours. Originally converted from a Victorian hall of mirrors it has all the dark wood, nooks and booths, brilliant signs and follies since it opened. It has a riotous past from the heyday of Fleet Street, when journalists were regularly banned for drink-fuelled fights. Male journalists anyway, women were not allowed to stand at the bar nor order a drink until a court ruling in 1982. Lucky for us, it’s a little more evolved socially yet retains its charm, and in our opinion has the best selection of wine and olives in the City of London.