The wide-awake club

Once it was world famous as the city where all fun stopped at 11pm sharp. Now, the determined London reveller can eat, drink and shop for groceries until the sun comes up. James Sherwood joined the growing nocturnal throng

On what we British still laughingly call "The Continent", a night on the town which begins before 10pm is unheard of. We, however, leave our offices at 6pm, faster than a rat up a drainpipe, and we drink. We drink as if prohibition were being imposed at closing time. By 11pm, London's streets are swarming with the city's sons and daughters, behaving like extras from Tom Jones. Inebriated secretaries lurch arm-in-arm through Soho, caterwauling like fishwives. Suited city boys devour the rankest kebabs on street corners and the mutter of "hashish, Es, whizz, mini-cab" emanates from the dark. This, dear reader, is where we begin our tour of London by night.

11pm: Swathed in an overcoat, I cross the bustling Oxford Street. It could be high noon on London's main shopping artery. The cashpoints are ten deep and people are actually queuing for tables in McDonald's under the strip lighting that shows up every pore. Tempers are frayed as a woman in a beige mac practically garrottes the man behind for trying to push in. Outside, a business man retches his guts up in a side street; trying to keep them from landing on his Hugo Boss.

11.30pm: I make it to cafe-bar Kudos near Charing Cross station and hook up with my friend Anthony. My red wine had been waiting since 11pm. Within minutes, the barflies will be unceremoniously ejected from sundry watering holes. I notice that even the trendier hairdressers, tattoo parlours and clothes shops around Soho have closed their doors by now. So, no chance of late-night shopping unless I want a jumbo sausage from the stall in Trafalgar Square. Outside Kudos, three police vans screech to a halt. "Another bomb scare," says the security guard, wearily.

Midnight: Everyone knows the night-clubs are waiting to take your pounds 10 entrance fee in exchange for even more alcohol until the wee small hours. But that's not what a 24-hour city is all about. By now the hordes have either leapt into mini cabs or clubs. The streets are considerably clearer, so I can see exactly what London has to offer. I still hear the street carrier rap every 500 paces: "Hashish, Es, whizz. mini-cabs". Leicester Square's funfair is in full swing. I pay my pounds 1 and go back to childhood on the carrousel. (The experience is enhanced by a girl in front of me trying to ride side-saddle and flashing her knickers to all and sundry while eating Haagen-Dazs.) Crowded round the street-portrait artists, a woman nudges her friend, points to the sitter and says, "Her nose is more bulbous than that."

lam: London clearly does not want to go home yet. But what the hell do I do now? The Prince of Wales cinema is already an hour into its midnight showing of The Rocky Horror Show and I've forgotten my fishnets anyway. I veer up to Chinatown. Crispy duck is roasting on revolving spits in restaurant windows. Weary diners are chowing-down on prawn crackers and beer. The Chinese supermarkets are open along Gerrard Street and I try to buy beansprouts. The wizened Chinese woman eyes me suspiciously. Does she think I'm a plain-clothes policeman?

1.30am: I pass the once-fashionable Atlantic Bar beneath the eternally sleazy Regent's Palace Hotel. The same crowd of wannabes are being treated with disdain by a suit with a clipboard. The interior resembles one of the old Cunard Line cruise ships, with glossy magazine kiosks, coat checks and Issey Miyake perfume in the loos. The Atlantic still has a sense of occasion about it. You pay through the nose for a Stolly Bolly or a dry Martini, but they taste so much better in one of The Atlantic's plush banquettes. Make a mental note to avoid fashionable hang-outs until the social X-rays and silly It Girls have moved on.

2am: If anyone tells you Soho has cleaned up its act and turned into Disneyland for gays, don't believe them. The 7-Elevens do a mean trade in condoms and cigarettes, while the live sex shows and casinos still swing. A tired-looking hooker says, "Live show, gentlemen," as I walk up Rupert Street. You almost feel like shouting back, "Once more with feeling".

2.30am: Soho may look deserted, but behind closed doors are the "Knock three times and ask for Ada" illicit drinking dives. These places are the homes of humanity quite low on the evolutionary scale. If you didn't know to press pounds 5 into a doorman's hand, you'd miss the sheer delights of drinking neat vodka a floor below a knocking shop. The legitimate private members clubs are more Cabaret than Trainspotting. I went to one on Beak Street, open since 1917 and once the haunt of Burgess, Meredith and (allegedly) the Duke of Edinburgh. Our hostess was just ejecting one of her regulars with an, "I love ya, my darlin'. But I'm a lady. And don't you f***ing well forget it."

3am: I go for breakfast at Balans in Old Compton Street. This 24-hour restaurant would not be out of place in Madrid or Paris. The joint is humming with conversation and the waiters skip round like chorus boys in Hello Dolly! Clever regulars have ordered their hooch before last orders and still sip cocktails. A smattering of dinner jackets stand out against the disco tops, drag queens and party girls. Our waiter tells us about one of the infamous sights of London by night. At around 2am in Earl's Court, all the rent boys gather by the tube and sing "No Regrets". Sadly, I'd missed it.

4am: As I stand on Tottenham Court Road, a drunk harangues me for looking at him. I will, I learn, "be kicked down" if I don't avert my gaze. I realise, on reflection, all my friends have been mugged or assaulted at least once in London. I spot a black cabby who is going south of the river and hop in.

5am. You've seen the ads, you've wondered why bother, now experience Sainsbury's 24- hour opening in the flesh. My cabby thinks Sainsbury's are "a godsend" for thinking about London's legion night-shifters. I feel like Sigourney entering the alien pod as I approach the multi-coloured strobe lights of Clapham High Street's Sainsbury's. One till is open and Mary, a welcoming big momma, sits like a beacon of light waiting for her next customer. I bump into "Kaz" and her gang, who have just left Southside night-club. "Fabulous, innit darlin'?. I've got my shopping list. I go clubbing then we all come to Sainsbury's for a giggle." Kaz's friend Steve is making mischief by the frozen-food counter. "Have you met Felix?," he says. Felix is another valiant Sainsbury's night-shifter. Steve then proceeds to call "Felix" and mew like a kitten. "If you do that, he mews back," says a delighted Barry. Felix does. "And over there is our lovely security guard for the evening, Barry with buns of steel." I've got to tell you, Sainsbury's is a riot. As Kaz says goodbye, she adds, "If they had a bit of music I wouldn't even bother going to Southside."

6am: Post-mortem time over a fry-up at Tattler's in Battersea. It's been open for a century and they still have the original staff. I feel dirty and over-tired - and I don't even like fried bread.

Frankly, all-night London has nothing to offer which is really worth waiting up for. Sainsbury's may have been fabulous at 4.30am, but that says a lot about the rest of the city. Until the whole town adjusts its body clock to 24-hour living, there is no point losing sleep over it. Unless you want to club till dawn, everything else can wait.

Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Sport
The Pipes and Drums of The Scottish Regiments perform during the Opening Ceremony for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park on July 23, 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland.
Commonwealth GamesThe actor encouraged the one billion viewers of the event to donate to the children's charity
Sport
Karen Dunbar performs
Entertainers showcase local wit, talent and irrepressible spirit
Sport
Members of the Scotland deleagtion walk past during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park in Glasgow on July 23, 2014.
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
News
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
news
Life and Style
Listen here: Apple EarPods offer an alternative
techAre custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?
Arts and Entertainment
Top guns: Cole advised the makers of Second World War film Fury, starring Brad Pitt
filmLt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a uniform
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
News
Joining forces: young British men feature in an Isis video in which they urge Islamists in the West to join them in Iraq and Syria
newsWill the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
books
News
i100
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    BI Manager - £50,000

    £49000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

    BI Project Manager - £48,000 - £54,000 - Midlands

    £48000 - £54000 per annum + Benefits package: Progressive Recruitment: My clie...

    VB.Net Developer

    £35000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: If you're pa...

    SAP Business Consultant (SD, MM and FICO), £55,000, Wakefield

    £45000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP Business...

    Day In a Page

    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
    Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

    Take a good look while you can

    How climate change could wipe out this seal
    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

    Farewell, my lovely

    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
    Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

    Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

    Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

    John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
    Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

    Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

    The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
    The 10 best pedicure products

    Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

    Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

    Commonwealth Games 2014

    Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
    Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

    Jack Pitt-Brooke

    Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
    How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game