Living in Brixton
By Suzanne Hanrahan
Brixton is just south of the city, on the border of Zones 2 and 3, at the end of the Victoria line. It is a lively working class suburb that has in recent years (like many working class suburbs with great nightlife and energy) become somewhat gentrified. The appeal of Brixton isn't obvious as soon as you exit the tube. It isn't a leafy, beautiful suburb, but Brixton dwellers grow to love its gritty industrial feel, the cacophony of accents and traffic on its busy streets, and the nightlife which kicks on well after 11 at the Jamaican and Latin clubs in the area. It is difficult to ignore Brixton's notoriety as one of the highest crime areas in London, but if you can get used to the squeal of sirens, the raised eyebrows of the anticipatory drug dealer on the corner, and the police tape sectioning off the site of yet another gangland stabbing, you know you're a tried and true Brixtoner.
Brixton was a wealthy suburb until the beginning of the twentieth century, when many large houses were converted into flats and boarding houses. It was a popular spot with West End actors and other theatre workers, which is why Brixton still has a terrific arts scene. Today, rental prices are lower than much of London, particularly when you consider Brixton's convenient location. Most young people in Brixton rent apartments in buildings or old Victorian terrace houses converted into three or four flats. It is more expensive than some suburbs further south, but the high crime rate keeps the rental prices in check. Expect to pay around 80-85 pounds for a single room (unshared), but sometimes a lot less.
Brixton is a popular spot for antipodeans, other working holiday makers, travellers, and people staying in London for a short time. However, it retains its eclectic cultural charm with a blend of Caribbean, West Indian, African and Asian influences in the music, shopping, and clubs of the area.
Pubs, Clubs and Entertainment
The Dogstar is a large, tastefully decorated bar on Coldharbour Lane. Pumping out indie house and Latin beats even on a Sunday afternoon, it also comprises a Mexican restaurant, El Panzon. The prices are not the cheapest you might find in this working class suburb, but they offer large helpings, terrific burritos and seven different kinds of homemade salsa.
The Prince Albert is the sort of place you go if you're after a pint of lager, down-to-earth punters leaning on the bar, and none too fancy decor - except for the interesting art on the walls, which is actually for sale. It has a great vibe, similar fusion music to other pubs in Brixton, and is somewhat friendlier than the Prince next door. This is a newly renovated pub on the corner of Coldharbour Lane and the High street. Though it once boasted terrific service and a generally friendly atmosphere, it has changed a little in recent times. However, it still has some of the best music in Brixton, with fusion hip hop, funk, soul, jazz and disco beats on weekends, and an open mike night on Wednesdays.
You will also find a variety of Caribbean and Latin clubs, and many other small bars and house nights. Brixton has many warehouse parties which are not widely advertised as they are cited as 'private parties' - with many legal loopholes in place to keep the cops away.
Brixton has a few options if you want to get away from the traffic and bustle. Just a short walk up Brixton Hill will bring you to Rush Common, and to the other end you can find Milkwood Community Park, winner of a Green Flag Award and with a wildlife trail and amphitheatre for community festivals and events in the summer.
Shops, Restaurants and Takeaways
For shopping in Brixton, you have the option of all the regular outlets such as Marks and Spencer, and various sporting, footwear and fashion chains on the High St. But if you want the real Brixton shopping experience you must visit Brixton market, a short walk from the tube and just underneath the overland station. This is one of the most authentic and underrated markets in London. If you like to be jammed elbow-to-elbow with tourists and yuppies paying 25 pounds for kerchief skirts, Brixton market is not the place for you. With large meat carcasses jostling against stalls full of ten quid shoes, loud, pushy vendors yelling their wares, and the fusion of West Indian, Caribbean, Vietnamese and Polish accents browsing the overflowing tables, it is the undiscovered market of London. This area is where you will also find many independently owned stores, often with very low prices but surprisingly good value items.
The service at the New Fujiyama restaurant (7 Vining Street) is great and it is busy but not rammed, with traditional red Japanese decor and Carribean reggae playing on the stereo - a great example of Brixton's cultural fusion. Prices are much cheaper than they would be in the city, or anywhere else in London for that matter - you can get a main for under six pounds.
Brixton has a variety of takeout options on offer, many open 24 hours for the drunken stumble home. There is the typical chicken and pizza, fish and chips outlets, but also Indian, Turkish, Lebanese and Jamaican and prices are cheaper than many other parts of London.
It has terrific transport links - only four stops away from Victoria station in the city, from where you can explore the south of England from the overland Southeastern railways, or reach Gatwick in time for a flight. It has buses that cross section the whole of south London, including Clapham, a hub for antipodean working holiday makers, and arguably south London's centre for live music. It also borders Stockwell and Camberwell - which hosts many free local festivals in the summer.
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