Anyone who ever stepped over a nodded-out junkie while being careful not to knock the needle out of their actual arm in order to get to a ratinfested (fun, but rat-infested) nightclub in King’s Cross throughout the ‘90s laughed when they heard that the area was to be redeveloped. Not sniered, full head-back laughed. Quite apart from anything, where was Prime Suspect going to film the bodies of murdered prostitutes if not in King’s Cross?
Well, we may have laughed heartily while at a big night out at Bagley’s Warehouse or Fiction or Drama or Popstarz, some of which might have been the same place, but it seems like those big-dream developers are having the last laugh with King’s Cross, now one of the jumpingest areas packed full of smart bars and restaurants and hotels and, erm, stations. Yes, even the stations – Kings Cross and St. Pancras International – are smart with the longest champagne bar in the world, massive art by the likes of Tracey Emin and rinky-dinky shopping allées. In fact, the area has become so lively, if you were arriving by train from Scotland or Yorkshire or on Eurostar from Paris or Brussels, you could actually decide not to leave the area. As in not go into proper London but hang out there in Kings Cross, where hookers once roamed free.
Where would you stay? Well, there’s the St. Pancras, the Gothic revival palace where the Spice Girls filmed the Wannabe video, which is full-on grand with sweeping staircases and huge church-like windows. It’s now a Renaissance, so they’re not pushing any envelopes very far, but there’s no getting away from that built-in wow factor.
Then there’s the Great Northern, one of those Victorian grand terminus hotels that really has been restored to probably much better than it ever was with a contemporary vibe that never steps on the sheer henchness of the building, now housing the excellent Plum & Spoon restaurant and cute little bars. And if you wait a while, that rather cool 60s Town Hall just across the Euston Road is going to be a Standard. Yes, like in America!
As for eats, just take your pick as you wander the huge area, that has cunningly preserved huge Dickensian warehouses while slotting in sleek modern bits by all the right architects. The Ivy has one of its brasseries, with terrace and chandeliers, there’s the German Gymnasium, an old warehouse that has been transformed into a cavernous brunch/lunch/ dinner/business breakfast spot with booths down here and up there in the very high up balcony. Then there’s Caravan, another huge warehouse of a place and Spiritland with the huge retro speakers where you can’t hear yourself think and your drink vibrates like the glass of water in Jurassic Park.
Granary Square, in front of the brand new St. Martin’s School of Art – so there are always interestingly dressed young people to spot – is probably the liveliest bit of King’s Cross mainly due to the 1,000-plus jet fountains that by day attract squeaking children, who run through them, and by night are lit up to create a light sculpture. You can even hook them up to your mobile phone and have a game of Snake with your mates, if you can figure out how to do it.
Sit on the grassy steps looking at the canal and have a lunch from KERB, a street food
market, before a spot of shopping in the brand new Tom Dixon design store in the building where you’re pretty sure you once felt someone up while giddy on vodka and Red Bull.
Meanwhile Thomas Heatherwick, he of the new Routemasters and that Olympic torch, is busy turning some old coal storage units, where condomless sex was once negotiated, into Coal Drops Yard, an area of shops, galleries, restaurants, music venues, no doubt all serving only Fever Tree mixers with their spirits. He’s actually manipulated the roofs of two adjoining buildings, in quite a surreal way, to make a whole new visitor-friendly area, which will be unveiled in full in October.
And they are really pushing the cultural side of things with the House of Illustration, which puts on the biest festival of illustration in the country, the Gagosian Gallery and free performances at the Lewis Cubitt Square.
Yes, Google is there. Yes, it’s a property developer’s dream and yes, it has pushed out a lot of very good gay nightspots but gay nightspots are only going to get the bits no one else wants – until they want them – so in the meantime, we’ll see you in Romford. • gnhlondon.com