London by Michael Flatt

London Nightlife

London is commonly thought of by Americans as the “New York” of Europe and like New York, its renowned nightlife won't disappoint those students who like to enjoy a night out. The night scene here is unique in that it caters to everyone's own tastes. I have separated nightlife into three main areas: 1) pubs/bars, 2) dance clubs/live music venues, and 3) comedy clubs.

As a note, the legal drinking age in the UK is 18. However, be prepared to be ID if you look under 21. Also, tipping is not done for cultural reasons at any pub, bar, or club. Bartenders are paid by the hour, so expect the service to be slower than in the US. It is important to know that beer is served in pints (not bottles) and that a British pint is slightly larger than an American pint (20 fl. oz. vs. 16 fl. oz.). If you choose to drink, remember to drink responsibly.

Pubs

Pubs are the lifeblood of British society. TheLondonTraveler.com said of pubs, “[it] is one of those experiences that you have to have in London.” Britons love to socialize and there is no better place to grab a pint after work with friends than a pub. Furthermore, pubs are ideal places to watch major football matches. My favorite local pub for such occasions was The Dickens Inn, which can be accessed via the Tower Hill Tube stop. Another good pub is The Crooked Surgeon in Leicester Square.

Many people want to know the difference between a pub and a bar. The main difference between the two establishments is that in a pub the atmosphere is more casual and the food selections are usually better (most bars don't serve meals, just snacks). It is typical to have lunch or dinner in a pub, but not a bar. On the other hand, an average bar will typically serve a wider variety of mixed drinks and hard liquors than a pub.

There is one last thing to mention regarding pubs: If you want a drink or something to eat you have to order it at the bar. Pubs do not offer table service.

Closing Hours:
Most pubs close at 11 PM, although you will see a few open until midnight.

Bars

Bars have a much livelier atmosphere than pubs. The music is louder, the crowd is different, and more people are dancing. My favorite bar chain is O'Neill's. If you are looking to celebrate St. Patty's day, there is no better place to be than O'Neill's in Leicester Square.

I also enjoyed the O'Neill's in Soho for any weekend night out. There were two bars within walking distance of my room that offered some fun times: 1) The Big Chill House, and 2) The Rocket. Both are located at the King's Cross Tube stop.

The Big Chill House is a DJ bar with great rock music, three floors of space, and no entrance free (except after 10 PM on Fri/Sat). If seating is unavailable on the first floor, take the stairs across from the bathrooms up to the overlooking layer. This level has three rooms, all equally impressive.

Closing Hours:
Most bars are open until 2 AM - much later than pubs.

Clubs/Live Music Venues

If you are looking to dance the night away, then these venues are for you. Standard entry into a club is £20 which is about $32 given the current exchange rate of 1.6 to the dollar. Ladies, however, are always able to get in at a discounted (or free) rate. If you are new to the London club scene, the West End is a good place to start. Some of the big names on the club-going list include: Ministry of Sound, Fabric, Café de Paris, and Vendome Mayfair, all of which offer a fun time.

With that said, there are several clubs that offer student discounts during the week:

Student nights at clubs
Monday - Tiger Tiger (Piccadilly Tube stop) and Metra Bar & Club (Leicester Square Tube stop)
Tuesday - Ministry of Sound (Elephant & Castle) or Pacha (Victoria Tube stop)
Wednesday - The White House (Clapham Common Tube stop)
Thursday - Zoo Bar & Club (Leicester Square Tube stop)
Friday - Funky Buddha (Green Park Tube stop)

To find out up-to-date information on the club scene, pick up a copy of Time Out from one of the newsstands near the Tube.

My favorite live music venue in London is KOKO in Camden Town. KOKO is an old theatre that has been renovated into a modern dance club. The website View London said in its review of KOKO, “KOKO's long and varied history gives its décor an authenticity by staying true to is theatrical roots.” Not only does KOKO offer an inviting décor, it has new and upcoming bands play live music on a weekly basis.

Closing Hours:
Clubs and live music venues are open very late – most don't close until 3-4 AM.

Comedy Clubs

I had never been to a comedy club until London and interestingly enough it became a highlight of my study abroad experience. When I first arrived in London, I was focused on learning and assimilating into the British culture. When I went to The Funny Side in Covent Garden, the comedy club offered a different but refreshing perspective on how European countries interact with and view one another. I was able to leave my American bias at the door and learn new idiosyncrasies of countries I would be visiting later on other trips. The most memorable thing I heard that night was how no one from the UK (not even the Irish) can understand a “bloody” Welsh accent. Pretty funny, but true.

Safety

With a big nightlife comes potential safety issues, but don't worry as London is a fairly safe city considering its size. I only have a few words of advice. One, if you're catching a cab after a night out, make sure to only get in a black cab or a licensed minicab. Also, be aware that knife crime is much more prevalent than gun crime in the UK, so always be aware of your surroundings and be with a friend. As a final note, be sure to keep your passport in your room and not with you when going out.