“Platform Nine and Three-Quarters!”
Hearing my exclamation as we navigated through the busy King’s Cross train station, Jackson turned to look at me over his backpack and shook his head. I guess my Harry Potter impressions are only cute the first four or five times I do them.
We’d come from a week in Paris, our second trip in two months, but this was our first time in London. And while we’re both familiar enough with the French language, we each felt the relief of hearing and seeing English words again as we made our way toward the exit.
With only two days to absorb as much of the city as possible, Jackson and I weren’t trying to waste a single second. We hopped on the tube—which honestly puts the NYC MTA to shame in so many more ways than just having a more pleasant announcement voice—and just like that, our UK journey took off.
So with the holidays over, it’s about time you start planning your first trip of 2018, whether you want to start the year with an adventure or just get extra far away from your family. And if you’re organizing an extended Eurotrip or just feeling a spontaneous long weekend across the pond, from cocktails to tattoos to gin classes, here’s our guide to making the most of 48 hours in London, separated by
After some consulting with friends and the Internet, the overwhelming consensus was to book an Airbnb in Brixton—”the Brooklyn of England” and birthplace of David Bowie. That’s all the convincing we needed for where to crash on our first night.
The neighborhood thrives on locality. They even produce and circulate their own currency which residents and visitors can obtain from vending machines located throughout the town. Not to mention, the hood has a some of the best restaurants and nightlife.
We settled into our first meal at Salon, inside the Brixton Market. All we’ll say is, order the ‘Nduja croquettes and the Negroni from the Forest.
From there we made our way through the rest of the market, popping into small vintage stores and corner food vendors. Brixton made it easy to feel like somehow we were home.
After lunch, we jumped back onto the tube and headed toward Oxford Street. Little did we know that we’d be bombarded by hoards of shoppers worse than Manhattan’s 5th Avenue, but the scene was still worth seeing. From there, Jackson and I parted ways for the afternoon to do separate activities—cause like, even if you love someone, when you’re spending every waking minute of a two-week vacation together, exploring on your own for a few hours benefits you both.
Back in New York, I’m a fairly active human who’s shamelessly addicted to SoulCycle, and after having spent a week eating and drinking everything (every. thing.) in France, I decided to take an afternoon to sweat a little of it out. I’d heard that Psycle in London was the place to go, and while it didn’t bring the exact same magic that Soul does (who can compete, ya know?), hearing instructions in a British accent made the class fly by and the music was a blast.
Jackson brought an old Canon film camera with him on this trip, so while I did a little sweating, he took a stroll around Soho to shoot some street photos.
Along the way, he stumbled upon a pub slash music venue called The Phoenix and grabbed a beer. Later, he told me one of his favorite parts of the pub was that there weren’t any stools at the bar, meaning patrons get their drinks and then, they can have a seat at a surrounding table—a perfect setting to people-watch over a drink in a strange city.
As the sun began to slowly fall below the English horizon, Jackson and I met back up in Shoreditch for our favorite activity—cocktail hopping. Our first cozy, accidental find? Map Maison. This daytime cafe turned nighttime liquor den welcomed us with open arms and open cocktail menus.
At this point, Jackson and I have spent probably a third of our relationship swapping sips in dark cocktail bars, so we each have quite an adventurous spirit when it comes to choosing stand-out drinks.
This time around, I went with the Butchers Martini—black pepper infused Butcher’s Gin with aged Iberico ham. That’s right. Ham. I love a good infused gin and figured I love Iberico, too, so why not give it a go? The cocktail surely tasted like smoked meat, which was delicious for three or four sips, but I found it tough to down the full cocktail. At least it came with a mid drink meat garnish, right?
Jackson went a bit untraditional with his drink choice, but in a much different direction. Map Maison has an entire Japanese whiskey drink menu, many of which come inside a smoked decanter contraption. Jackson ordered the Kanji in the Evening—Hakushu Distillers Reserve, yellow chartreuse, blood orange, pink pepper, pomegranate, and smoke.
The bar also offers “an array of nibbles” to keep you satiated between cocktails. All’s to say, this was a bar we’ll never forget.
We’d been told prior to this trip that London’s speakeasy scene is out of control, and we quickly learned that the most popular one required a reservation, but thankfully, after being turned down by doormen twice, we found Joyeux Bordel.
I ordered the Buttered Old Fashioned (Spiced butter washed Gosling’s Rum, young coconut water syrup,
Angostura bitters & bourbon spray) and Jackson the Italian Love Affair (Aperol, Green Chartreuse, Kummel Wolfschmidt, lemon, beetroot syrup & Absinthe).
Both were incredible and the best part? They were extremely reasonably priced. Winner, winner, cocktails for dinner.
After waking up just a wee bit hungover, we packed up and left our Brixton Airbnb and made our way to Notting Hill for an activity I’d been looking forward to for six months.
About a year prior to this trip, I’d caught wind of a bed and breakfast-type hotel that had just opened in London.
But instead of country quilts and communal meals, The Distillery offers a gin house, complete with a basement distillery, master gin-making classes, a bar with over 130 types of gin, two incredible restaurants, and three gorgeous rooms upstairs to stay the night.
Needless to say, from check in to check out, The Distillery made every one of our gin-filled dreams come true.
We arrived a bit before check in and decided to grab an early afternoon drink at the hotel’s main floor watering hole, The Resting Room.
We ordered drinks—A London’s Bloody Burning (Portobello Road Gin Director’s Cut No.2 Smoky Gin,
Distillery Bloody Mary mix, kebab of pickled vegetables, celery stick) for me and a The West India Gimlet (Portobello Road Gin, Roses lime cordial, celery bitters, dill, lime juice) for Jackson—home sweet home.
After an hour or so in afternoon cocktail heaven, we carried our bags to the third floor and checked into quite possibly the most wonderful room we’ve ever stayed in—complete with a full gin and tonic-making kit, a record player with a selection of records, and a gorgeous view of Portobello Road.
If you decide to stay at The Distillery, you’ll want to spend every second at the hotel itself. But if you have the time, an evening stroll up and down the Portobello Road market is highly recommended.
We wandered in and out of shops, weaving between streetside tables, trying on hats and scarves, and gawking at English snacks. I even bought a vintage Canon from the 1960s from a lovely old man.
Before we knew it, 5pm rolled around though, and we had to make our way back to our favorite activity of the trip—our gin making class.
Taught by Master Distiller Jake Burger and his team of Ginstructors, the class consisted of two 90-minute portions. The first, a history lesson on all things gin—a decade-by-decade look at the gin’s ever-interesting journey from its conception, through prohibition, and to most recently, its revival as the “cool-kid” spirit.
This was no ordinary sleeper history lesson though. For one, our history teacher hilariously told stories that were as interesting as information. Not to mention, he was pouring a few of The Distillery’s favorite gin cocktails for us to stay warm along the way.
After our history lesson, we made our way into the actual distillery to begin the process of creating our own blend of gin. We were tasting a variety of distilled flavors and learned the ratios necessary to create a gin worth drinking.
I’m not going to spill all the secrets, but let’s just say I created the perfect negroni gin that I’m still enjoying in my Brooklyn apartment as I type this.
The best part of the Ginstitute class is that the unique blends we created will remain on their website for future purchase, so I can order a refill as soon as I’m ready.
Jackson and I walked out of the distillery and up the stairs with drunken smiles and the same thought in mind, “That was the best thing we did on this trip. And like, should we make and sell our own gin now?”
After the class, and plenty of pregaming, our bodies begged us for some dinner. And boy, did the hotel’s tapas restaurant, GinTonica, deliver.
Some highlights included: Pan Catalan, Jamon Iberico Belotta, Patatas Bravas And Most Notably The Inka Roasted Duck. And of course, even after three hours of drinking gin-based cocktails, I ordered the West Winds Sabre (Cold Brew Coffee & Cocoa Bitters. Served With 1724 Tonic & Garnished With Orange, Lavender & Cocoa Nibs) and boy, was it worth one more drink. And when we finally tapped out and longed for our bed, all we had to do was walk upstairs.
Waking up a lot hung over this time, we slowly became humans, taking full advantage of our personal french press as the morning Notting Hill sun poured in through our room’s windows. We packed up our gin and memories and said an emotional goodbye to our room and The Distillery.
“English breakfast?” Jackson smiled. I did too. We walked a block to Mike’s Cafe.
Hangover managed. Our train back to Paris would depart in the late afternoon, and Jackson and I knew we only had one thing left to cross off our London checklist: Tattoos.
I have a tattoo from just about every place I’ve traveled, both in the U.S and internationally, and Jackson obviously warmed to the idea for this trip, too. A week prior to London, we each got small tattoos in Paris, and our artist there directed us to Old Habits Tattoo in London.
We walked into what felt like someone’s house, cozy and warm with a couch you might never get up from and walls covered with tattoo art. We met artist Mark Judges, explained what we each wanted, and before we knew it, Jackson was in the chair.
About two and a half hours later, Jackson and I each thanked Mark and walked out with a memory of this trip that we could never lose.
On the underground to the train station, Jackson grabbed my hand and squeezed it twice.
“Another adventure in the books, so what’s next?”
Written by Molly Tavoletti and Jackson Cook
Photography via Molly and Jackson