If we’re honest, the summer has not been great. The weather in London has flattered to deceive, and ongoing uncertainty over Covid-19 has affected many people’s holiday plans (which is why I’m not writing this from Cape Cod). But this weekend is the last breath of summer proper, the late August bank holiday (except for viewers in Scotland), and the weather forecast is not terrible: it seems as though the capital will bask in at least a bit of warmth.
Where to go, then, to squeeze the very best out of this valedictory festival of sun worship? What are the suntraps, obvious and more obscure, in which Londoners can pay their obeisence to Ra, Nanahuatzin, Inti and the others?
Shaftesbury Avenue’s Century Club (members only) is a divine hideaway, a spacious terrace high above Soho with excellent views. The drinks are not cheap—well, where is?—but there is a decent choice, the cocktails are well-made and they sell a range of cigars for those who like a stick in the afternoon rays. It’s billed as “Soho’s undisclosed secret”, which is hardly true since the phrase comes from the club’s website, but if you’re a member or have a weak-willed friend who is, then it’s worth visiting when the weather is fine.
Another membership venue is the Ned in the heart of the Square Mile. Named in honour of architect Edwin Lutyens and a favourite haunt for finance types, it offers sprawling surroundings for food and drink, and there is a charming domed bar area if the unpredictable weather betrays you. The Virgin Mary is excellent (and I assume the full-throttle version is equally so), and the dining is good, though, as ever, prepare for a reasonably hefty bill (but what else are you going to spend it on?).
In terms of more accessible venues, Bar Elba by Waterloo station has staggering south-of-the-river views and a beautiful prospect of the Old Vic; I haven’t visited since lockdown was abolished and they struggled with service last summer but, assuming that has been addressed, it’s a great space with sun and shade for a few beers in a relaxing environment.
The Rooftop at the Trafalgar St James
The Rooftop at the Trafalgar St James may not be an easy place to find a table, but if you can, they have stunning views over Westminster and the Southbank, and the Asian-style tapas will keep you going if you need to soak anything up. Definitely worth a phone call to establish availability.
Aqua Nueva, on Regent Street, boasts extremely fine Spanish food (look out for the enormous porcelain bull in the lobby), and the terrace there is large and welcoming, and, on the fifth floor above one of London’s retail centres, its views are sprawling and breathtaking, especially after the sun goes down. Again, a decent range of cigars is available for those who want them.
National Liberal Club
One of the more venerable establishments is the National Liberal Club. I will set aside my, ahem, disagreements with them in the past, and aver that the terrace which overlooks the embankment and the Thames is a deliciously private, if not especially lofty, place in which to enjoy summer’s lease and a gin and tonic. Again, members only, but doesn’t everyone know a member of the NLC?
The White Hart
Finally, if you just want a simple pint or glass of wine, the White Hart in Southwark is a tidy boozer (Fuller’s) with a small but charming terrace. No exciting views—just a quiet street below—but the beer is fine and the staff are extremely friendly. Check it out if other places are booked up.
I realise I’ve focused on the city centre, but that’s for ease of travel and because it’s where I’m most comfortable. I’m sure there are achingly trendy sun spots in Dalston and Peckham and Old Street, and you may have your own preferences (and may not wish to share them!). But I hope those of you seeking a last bit of summer sunshine will be rewarded somewhere and will enjoy the bank holiday to its full. After all, we’re back to work soon.