LIKE many metropolis-dwellers, Londoners tend to think they’re the centre of the universe – and certainly of England – regardless of where they’re from.
But if you’ve recently had your toe trod on at rush hour, been barked at by an angry commuter or ignored by a surly waiter – oh, and charged £10 for a 2 minute black cab journey – you should head to Liverpool for a weekend of friendly, affordable fun.
The Beatles home-town was last week voted the friendliest city in the UK by Conde Nast Traveller. Combine such welcoming locals with an impressively glossed-up cultural offering – Liverpool was Capital of Culture in 2008 – and you’ve got a destination that’s absolutely worth a night or two.
Up we zipped from Euston, pulling up to Lime Street station two hours after we departed. Sure, we could have been in Brussels in that time, but then we’d have had to deal with Euros, foreign tongues and high prices and possibly le snobisme.
Liverpool’s history is formidable – it was a shipping centre of the world, launching the first direct steamship to China in 1866, and shipping out a full half of all European emigrants to the US by the mid-19th century. “Liverpool…is incomparably the greatest city in the British Empire,” declared Lord Birkenhead of Chester in 1924.
But before delving into the city’s past at the impressive (free) Museum of Liverpool on the spruced up Albert Docks, we had Friday night to do.
We were staying at the Malmaison on Princes Dock (www.malmaison.com) which has been renovated into a sleek box-like building fusing Beatles heritage (as practically everywhere here does) with plum-coloured minimalism and the odd bit of studied boho-luxe (plump, purple felt arm chairs and chaise-longs; golden cushions).
Many Scouse women live for weekend nights where they parade their fashion finds in an intense peacocking environment. “It’s like the terracotta army in stilettos,” joked one local of their march through the streets to the bars and clubs. So we got our glad rags on and headed out for dinner to Marco Pierre White’s be-seen-at steakhouse in the businessy new Indigo Hotel. The female clientele was preened within an inch of its lives with sculptural hair and architectural dresses, but the prices reminded me of how differently Londoners live. Champagne was £8 per glass, and good luck finding a main over £19. When the dishes came out, they were mammoth – lots of different bits to tease the tastebuds.
The showstopper came next, after a £3 cab journey, at Alma de Cuba, one of Liverpool’s most famous dance bars, a favourite of the footballing set. Here, at 11pm, rose petals are thrown from a mezzanine over the gyrating bodies of some fabulously – and minimally clad – dancers. My friend and I instantly felt dumpy and shabby. Our glad rags were veritable pyjamas next to the locals’ Versace-style mini-gowns.
Liverpool has a Tate Modern, which shows some interesting exhibitions that don’t always come to London. I’d had my eye on the Belgian surrealist Magritte show, and this was the perfect chance to see it. Unlike Tate Modern in London, Liverpool’s version was quiet, small and cool on Saturday morning. We made our way round in quiet contemplation, then popped next door to the Liverpool Museum, a dense fanfare of history, relicry, pop culture. It was full.
A quick lunch at arty Leaf on arty Bold Street (£6), a look round Cricket (where Colleen shops regularly) and Vivienne Westwood (London prices) and it was time to head back to London. Next to Liverpool, London’s weather seemed tropical. Next to its spirit, London seemed distinctly grumpy.
WHAT TO DO IN LIVERPOOL
•Museum of Liverpool: it’s free, it’s child-friendly and, strangely enough, it’s a great museum about Liverpool’s culture and history. liverpoolmuseums.org.uk
•Tate Modern. Much smaller and more pleasant to visit than its London parent, with some good collections. www.tate.org.uk/liverpool
•Alma de Cuba: Glimpse those famously fashion-mad Scouser women knocking back cocktails and getting their groove on. alma-de-cuba.com
•Shoppers should head to the Closet, a dress renting agency founded by Hollyoaks actresses. Rent a Herve Leger dress worn by someone famous for £100 a night. theclosetliverpool.com
•Take a Mersey cruise. Yes, it was raining and yes, it wasn’t quite like the Nile, but it’s a fun way to see the city. merseyferries.co.uk
•Go to the Beatles Story museum. Memorabilia paradise, with real passion. beatlesstory.com