Three Perfect Days: London - United Hub
Hemispheres

Three Perfect Days: London

By The Hub team, April 02, 2018

Story by Chris Wright | Photography by Tom Parker | Hemispheres, April 2018

Every city has its intriguing juxtapositions—the trendy cocktail bar overlooking the crumbling palace, the high-end fashion boutique next to the hardware store—and every city works to find a suitable blend of these things. London, however, is a little bit different. There has always been a mix-and-match quality to this place, which is not so much a city as a patchwork of villages. While Londoners do value their traditions and institutions, they are also restless, preoccupied with novelty and change. As a result, the city is constantly sticking new bits onto the old, very often without any discernible logic, creating a jumble of styles and sensibilities that can leave visitors feeling utterly confused. How do you make sense of the chaos? You don't. Rather, you adopt the organizing principle of the city as a whole: Get out there, give it a go, see what happens.

Day 1

Skipping and sipping around stylish Soho

The odd thing about waking up at the Ham Yard Hotel is that your room tends to be more dreamlike than your dreams.Tucked away in a courtyard in Soho, central London, the property is one of the latest projects from exuberant British designer Kit Kemp, and she has gone full-on March Hare with this one: life-size crocodile sculptures applied to an expanse of butterfly-print wallpaper; a 20-foot spiral of cascading oranges in the basement bar. The arrival of the Ham Yard, in turn, speaks to the ongoing transformation of this neighborhood, which used to be a place of burlesque shows and boho boozers, and which today, it seems, cannot go a week without someone opening a hot new shop, restaurant, or drinking establishment.

The Bar at the Ham Yard HotelThe Bar at the Ham Yard Hotel

I have plans to explore the neighborhood later, but first I want to take a look at an even more surreal example of interior design. So, after a hasty breakfast—chili beans on granary toast, served with chorizo and Greek yogurt, eaten below a cluster of mismatched light fixtures—I head off toward Holborn, home to Sir John Soane's Museum.

Soane, a distinguished 19th-century architect, had a hoarding problem. Luckily, he tended to hoard things like statues and paintings rather than receipts. Today, his former home is packed to the rafters with so many marvelous antiquities it makes your head spin. I particularly enjoy the candlelit crypt, which has an ancient sarcophagus and a set of rusty manacles on the wall—although the Canaletto upstairs isn't bad either.

From here, I head south, past the Gothic Royal Courts of Justice, to Temple Church, built in the 12th century by the Knights Templar. Inside are effigies of these knights, many bearing the scars of a World War II bombing, which also scattered the bones buried below. (When I ask an attendant where I can find the remains of über-knight William Marshal, he replies, pointing: “There, there, and there.")

My next stop is Piccadilly Circus and the nearby Dover Street Market, a multi-story emporium selling high-concept clothing via art-installation floor displays. It's a must-visit for anyone interested in being the least fashionable person within a 200-yard radius. The shop is also within sashaying distance of the place I'm having lunch: Ikoyi, a new West African–inspired eatery that's been getting rave reviews.

After the visual excess of Dover Street, the interior of Ikoyi seems almost stark. The food, though, is sensational, not to mention eye-wateringly spicy. To start, I have dambu nama (dried beef floss) and whipped bone-marrow tarts, followed by succulent grilled octopus with ndolé (stewed greens with nuts). Now and then, the chef pops up to explain to a diner what banga is, or moin moin, which gives the meal a theatrical feel.

"The French House has two rules: Beer comes in half-pints, and no being boring."

From here it's on to The French House, a storied pub in the heart of Soho. You could fill a book with the notable people who have drunk here: Brendan Behan, Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, Salvador Dalí. Charles de Gaulle is said to have written his wartime rallying cry on the premises, while Dylan Thomas reportedly mislaid his manuscript for Under Milk Wood here in 1953. One of the regulars now is Russell Norman, a restaurateur, author, and TV personality who has been called “The King of Soho."

“The French House is probably the last remaining drinking hole that connects directly with the heyday of Soho," he says. “It's eccentric, it's authentic, and I love it."

The entrance to Warren Mews, in FitzroviaThe entrance to Warren Mews, in Fitzrovia

There are a couple of rules here: They sell beer only by the half-pint, and patrons are not allowed to be boring (said to be “a bannable offense"). So it's with some trepidation that I strike up conversation with Lesley Lewis, the pub's garrulous landlady, who is sitting at the bar with a white wine.

Lewis took over the French House in 1989—one of only three owners in a hundred years—and did not set about trying to jazz things up. “We've tried to keep the essence," she says, taking a sip of wine. “Everything is changing so fast around here. There's not many old-school places left." Another sip. “But I still believe in Soho." Sip. “You have to be positive about what is rising out of the ruins."

Things liven up when the anecdotes start, the best of which belongs to Lewis: “There was a guy named Billy, who owned a [burlesque] club. One day, the council told him he had to black out the windows, so he's standing on the street outside with a tin of paint when Francis Bacon comes by and offers to help. That was Billy's only claim to fame. He'd go around telling people, 'I have an original Francis Bacon.'"

"There aren't many old-school places left. You have to be positive about what is rising out of the ruins."

Leaving The French House, I follow Norman up Compton Street—“The main river running through Soho"—for a caffeine boost at Bar Termini. A stylish coffee shop/cocktail bar located in a former strip club, Termini is owned by one of Britain's most famous mixologists, Tony Conigliaro, a lapsed artist who describes his job as “painting with flavor." He's certainly adventurous—one of his cocktails is infused with clay, flint, and lichen to evoke the taste of the earth. A more recent creation is a drink he calls Snow. “The premise is, wouldn't it be amazing if we could recreate the experience of catching a snowflake on your tongue?" he says. “That took two years to work out."

I'm catching a show later, so, after a bit of people-watching and boutique-browsing, I head for an early dinner at Kettner's Townhouse, which was founded in the 19th century by a man who was rumored to be a former chef to Napoleon III and has entertained the likes of Oscar Wilde, Agatha Christie, and Robert De Niro. This year, it was refurbished and reopened as a hotel and restaurant by the people behind the achingly fashionable Soho House members club. The restaurant has more or less kept the feel of the original: a tinkling piano near the entrance, thin candles on the tables. I order rillettes of rabbit with pickled radishes, followed by a vol-au-vent of kidneys, sweetbreads, black truffles, and baby carrots. It's a fine meal, but the real star here is the place's see-and-be-seen energy. Speaking of which…

Neal's Yard, a colorful bohemian alley in Covent GardenNeal's Yard, a colorful bohemian alley in Covent Garden

A quick hop west takes me to the Apollo Theatre, which is running the hit musical Everybody's Talking About Jamie, a coming-of-age story about a schoolboy who longs to become a drag queen—basically, Billy Elliot in heels. It's a charming, lively production that has people grinning and bobbing in their seats.

I end the night at the Rosewood London's jazz bar, Scarfes, named for satirical cartoonist Gerald Scarfe, whose creations decorate the walls. While there's a clubby refinement to the place—high ceilings, low lighting, antique books—the atmosphere is far from stuffy. I take an armchair in a shadowy corner and attempt to read the menu. The cocktails are named after celebrities the bar's namesake has lampooned; I summon the waiter, point at a sketch of Alfred Hitchcock, and say I'll have one of those. The drink, a tequila-based concoction called A Bird in the Hand (get it?), comes topped with a bird's nest. It looks cozy.

An hour or so later, I'm in my room at the Ham Yard, gazing at the tailor's dummy standing near the gray-green striped wall, the forest-scene fabric on the headboard, the small monkey riding a unicycle across the carpet. In fairness, that final touch may have happened after I fell asleep.

Day 2

Perusing the posh shops and restaurants of Chelsea and Notting Hill

Certainly, there was nothing like Chel-Ski back then. Situated in a former warehouse for the Christopher Wray interiors store, this indoor ski center was opened a few years ago by Wray's son, Ben. So it is I find myself, before breakfast, slaloming on a huge lubricated treadmill. The velocity and gradient are adjusted according to the ability of the skier. For me, the instructor keeps the dial on "Nervous Baby," but I still emit a succession of noises that call to mind Johnny Rotten's debut gig at the Roebuck pub, circa 1975.

Brunch is a more sedate affair, in a plant-filled atrium in the popular Ivy Chelsea Garden, where I have a juicy rib eye, seated across from the impeccable Olivia Newman-Young, who has agreed to show me around the neighborhood. A makeup artist and onetime cast member of the reality show Made in Chelsea, Newman-Young has a pedigree such that even the chillingly exclusive nightclub Raffles doesn't faze her. "It's meant to be members-only," she says, barely looking up from her tuna carpaccio, "but you can get in if you're the right kind of person."

"As well as being a playground for punks and princesses, the Kings Road has long served as a catwalk for local kooks."

With this, she leads me along the Kings Road, pointing out stuff she likes along the way—The Kooples for fashion, the Bluebird (“obviously") for food. She's been going out here since her teens and recalls many a fun night at places like Jak's Bar, “where all the posh kids go to let loose." As well as being a playground for punks and princesses, the Kings Road has long served as a catwalk for local kooks. “I love the Chelsea grandmas, wearing the clothes of a 20-year-old and looking fabulous," Newman-Young says. “You don't get that in Shoreditch."

An antiques shop on Portobello RoadAn antiques shop on Portobello Road

I leave Newman-Young at Sloane Square and head into the Saatchi Gallery, which is housed in a grand 19th-century building and puts on exhibitions that skew heavily toward the inscrutable. The first thing I see upon entering is a huge canvas by Los Angeles–based English painter Danny Fox, a naïve depiction of two seated women titled Planned Parenthood Waiting Room. It has a touch of Gauguin to it, but also a touch of off-kilter dilettante. Very Saatchi.

Wandering toward Kensington, I come across The Map House, a treasure trove that has counted Winston Churchill and Ernest Shackleton among its customers. One wall contains a 19th-century “Poverty Map of London" with a color-coded index ranging from yellow (“wealthy") to black (“vicious, semi-criminal"). Nearby is a 17th-century map of the world—which, the dignified store clerk informs me, is valued at £950,000. I ask how long it has been hanging there, and he gives me a thin smile: “A while."

If it's an impulse buy you're after, you may be better off at the nearby Conran Shop, a colorful lifestyle showroom established by one of Britain's most influential designers, Sir Terence Conran. The store is located in the Michelin House, a tiled-and-domed Art Nouveau masterpiece that was built as the tire company's British headquarters in 1911.

In the same building is another celebrated Conran enterprise, Bibendum. Opened three decades ago and recently relaunched with French master Claude Bosi at the helm, the restaurant has already earned two Michelin stars. However, I opt to eat downstairs, in the building's old forecourt, at the Bibendum Oyster Bar, a less formal space with intricate tilework and a menu that makes you eat like a whale (I get a seafood platter over-flowing with fresh crab, oysters, shrimp, and cockles).

Next, I head to the new Harry's Dolce Vita, which looks like a bar from a 1930s railway station and has a staff that greets you like a long-lost friend. As I scan the menu, a white-coated bartender suggests I try an Infinite Negroni, explaining that the ingredients are determined by rolling three dice—one for the type of gin, one for the vermouth, and one for the aperitivo. “It is a gamble," the bartender says, deadpan. I roll the dice (Occitan London Dry, Bordiga, Aperol), raise my glass to a photo of Sophia Loren, and take a sip. We have a winner!

The Design MuseumThe Design Museum

A quick cab ride takes me to the Design Museum, which opened its new Kensington home to great fanfare in 2016. The museum pays homage to high design (there's a Ferrari exhibition on when I visit), but the real joy is in the everyday objects—telephones and turntables, computers and cameras—that have become redundant in terms of function but have been saved from the trash heap thanks to their being easy on the eye.

Next, I cut through Holland Park, whose narrow pathways crisscross thick woodland, creating the illusion that you're in the countryside—until you come across the refined Japanese garden, or the remnants of a Jacobean mansion, or one of the many peacocks roaming around. Emerging from the park's northern end, I head up toward Notting Hill, stopping to ogle a gorgeous aqua-marine overcoat at Paul Smith Westbourne House, then hit Portobello Road, which on the weekends is a carnival of musicians, antiques stalls, and street food vendors, and is also home to scores of trendy shops, restaurants, and bars.

"Portobello Road on the weekends is a carnival of musicians, antiques stalls, and street food vendors."

For a pre-prandial drink, I've opted for Trailer Happiness, a quirky basement tiki joint that's become a local institution. I sit at the bar and order a Hell in the Pacific, a sweet and alarmingly potent rum drink that, the bartender tells me, will pick me up. “Or knock you down," says the Irish guy next to me.

Dinner is at 108 Garage, a refurbished auto shop with industrial-chic decor that's offset by a large portrait of Henry the Pious. Chef Chris Denney, a onetime art student and pot washer, opened this spot along with his colorful business partner, Luca Longobardi, in 2016, with little money and almost no advance publicity. Yet, within a few months, 108 Garage had emerged as one of London's hottest eateries (it claimed Tatler's Restaurant of the Year prize for 2018) and Denney as one of its hottest chefs.

Tonight, Denney works the kitchen as if playing an extended game of whack-a-mole. I sit at the counter, trying to keep up with the hail of dishes placed before me: hogget loin with a lamb-tongue lollipop; crispy pig head with wild watercress; octopus with black garlic, kohlrabi, and harissa. It's a bold, creative meal, but Denney is not one of those chefs who see themselves as the star of the show. “I know it sounds corny, but it's the farmer who does all the work," he says. “We just send the produce on its merry way the best we can."

Bivalves at the Bibendum Oyster BarBivalves at the Bibendum Oyster Bar

Flagging, I head out for Mayfair and The Connaught, one of the loveliest hotels in London, where I'm met in my lavish suite by James, the butler. I tell him I'd like to check out the famous Connaught Bar before turning in, and he offers to show me the way. I decline but tell him I might need someone to guide me back to my room afterward, a weak gag that elicits a big laugh. Now that's what I call service.

I start the day in Chelsea, at the western end of the Kings Road, contemplating a morning on the slopes. Forty-odd years ago, not far from where I'm standing now, a rabble of proto-punks started milling around a tiny boutique run by a designer named Vivienne Westwood. The World's End shop is still there, its storefront clock spinning backward, but little else remains to remind us that the swanky Kings Road was the birthplace of the Sex Pistols.

Day 3

Getting hip in East London

Today's adventure starts in Shoreditch, an East London industrial area that most people used to avoid but which now boasts the densest concentration of street art and flamboyant facial hair in the city. I exit the Old Street Tube station amid a stream of coffee-clutching humanity—employees, for the most part, of the many tech firms that have set up shop around what is now called Silicon Roundabout.

For breakfast, I pop into Passo, a new venture from the Goodlife Projects, the outfit behind London crowd-pleasers like Love Brunch, Foley's, and Rum Kitchen (a reputed favorite of Prince Harry). Billed as “contemporary LA-inspired Italian," it's a bright, airy restaurant with huge wicker lampshades and soft reggae on the sound system. I order Passo's spin on the Full English: poached eggs, Italian sausage, pancetta, tomato, mushroom, baked borlotti beans. It's a hugely fulfilling meal, but it's going to play havoc with my skinny jeans.

"East London boasts the densest concentration of flamboyant facial hair in the city."

There's time for a coffee at the nearby Strongroom Bar & Kitchen, which is now in its 20th year and has an interior adorned with original works by Jamie Reid, the artist who designed the cover for Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols.

Recharged, I keep on toward Brick Lane, which is known for having some of the best curry houses and bagel shops in town, along with a bunch of very cool galleries and shops. The centerpiece is the Old Truman Brewery, a complex of restaurants, bars, and indie retailers, including the Vintage Market, a subterranean warren of multicolored boots, psychedelic shirts, leopard-print skirts, sloganeering T-shirts, and floppy felt hats.

I could spend all day down there, but I have lunch booked at Red Rooster, so I unwind the feather boa from my neck and point myself back in the direction of Shoreditch. An offshoot of Marcus Samuelsson's beloved Harlem soul-food eatery, Red Rooster is located in The Curtain, a hip new hotel with street-style art on the walls, a heated pool on the roof, and a dogsitting service for jet-setting pups.

Marcus Samuelsson's Red RoosterMarcus Samuelsson's Red Rooster

The restaurant's interior is an artful clutter of mismatched furniture and playful signage presided over by an unflaggingly cheerful wait staff. I order the B.E.C. Biscuit to start (with pork belly, egg, and parmesan), followed by the Fried Yard Bird, crisped to perfection and served with yams, hot honey, collards, and green beans. After a meal like that, a man should really undo his trouser button and go sit on a porch. But I'm going to go get my hair cut in a pub.

The Gunmakers, in nearby Clerkenwell, has a lot going for it: great beer, delicious food. It also has a tiny hairdressing studio in the attic. Sipping a Banana Boulevardier (bourbon and banana liqueur), I ask the owner, Tim, to give me something a little different—buzzed at the sides, shaggy on top—after which the talk turns to the collision of barbering and booze, and whether this is a good idea. “If someone comes in a little drunk and asks me to do something dramatic," he says, “I might suggest they come back another time." That said, he gives me the 'do I asked for, and everyone's happy.

From here I stroll over to Farringdon, another area that has seen a slew of hip openings in recent years. I pop into Fergus Henderson's nose-to-tail eatery, St. John, near the historic Smithfield meat market, for a cup of tea with Max Fraser, a consultant for the London Design Festival and author of several books on the subject. A local, he has offered to show me around the area.

The sundial in Covent Garden's Seven DialsThe sundial in Covent Garden's Seven Dials

“London has so many layers," he says, nodding at the restaurant window. “Just outside here they used to march the cattle into Smithfield, then sold them upstairs. This restaurant is built under a smokehouse. The city moves on." So do we: to The Charterhouse, a complex of buildings dating back to the 14th century. “Charterhouse is built on a plague pit," Fraser says, pointing at a patch of grass. “Now there's a Crossrail station being built here. Imagine what they found!"

From The Charterhouse, we walk past the Fox & Anchor pub, where the doors open at 7 a.m. on weekdays to accommodate the Smithfield porters who have been drinking here for generations, then make our way to St Bartholomew the Great, which was founded in 1123 and today stands as one of the finest Norman churches in England. Inside, amid the pitted pillars and Romanesque arches, is a fresh, eye-catching addition: a gilded statue of a man holding a scalpel and a pair of scissors, with his skin draped over his right shoulder. This is Damien Hirst's Saint Bartholomew, Exquisite Pain, on loan from the shark-pickling artist.

One of the city's enduring red phone boothsOne of the city's enduring red phone booths

I say goodbye to Fraser and head off to the recently opened Smoking Goat, a “Nu-Thai" eatery that serves small dishes inspired by Bangkok's late-night canteens. The stripped-down dining area is jammed with a chatty after-work crowd, which makes life complicated for the servers, who bustle back and forth with plastic plates of “drinking food"—chicken hearts, Cornish octopus, beef sausage, chili fish sauce chicken wings, crispy mackerel, steamed oysters. Eating this food feels like an adventure, and not only because there's so much of it—apparently, Bangkok's after-hours diners like their snacks with a zing.

I have a comfortable bed waiting for me at The Curtain, but all that drinking food has left me wanting a nightcap. The best place to get one, I decide, is the stylish basement bar Happiness Forgets (motto: Great Cocktails, No Wallies). I plant myself on a stool and order a Two Doors Down. I don't recall what went into the drink, but I do remember that I enjoyed it, and that I was happy, and that I stayed that way long after the night had come to an end.

Search flights

United's regional presidents join respective Governor's COVID-19 task force

By Ryan Wilks, May 21, 2020

As a member in the tourism, travel and transportation industries, United offers a unique perspective into the economic and operational effects rippling across the U.S. To advocate United's efforts, and in anticipation of a bright future, New York/New Jersey President Jill Kaplan and California President Janet Lamkin have both been named to their states' respective governor's COVID-19 response task force committees.

A message from Scott Kirby, United’s new CEO

By The Hub team, May 20, 2020


Hello. I'm Scott Kirby, the new CEO of United Airlines. I'm a proud Air Force Academy graduate and have spent my entire career in and around aviation, including the last four years as President of United.

While I had planned for my first communication with you to be about the meaningful investments we were making to the travel experience and our continued growth across the U.S. and expansion to exciting new destinations around the world, today, the situation rendered to us by the COVID-19 pandemic leads me to a different type of message.

First, I graciously and humbly thank you for your business. Now, more than ever, our customers' loyalty is so deeply appreciated by every member of the United family.

As essential workers, the men and women of our airline have been hard at work over the past two months to transport vital medical supplies and critical goods to places that need them most, to provide free travel to healthcare professionals and to help thousands of individuals repatriate to their home countries.

Safety has always been our top priority, and right now in the midst of an unprecedented crisis, it's our singular customer focus. We recognize that COVID-19 has brought cleanliness and hygiene standards to the front of your mind when making travel decisions. We're not leaving a single stone unturned in our pursuit to protect our customers and employees.

We are installing plexiglass in lobby and gate areas, we're using the same equipment used to clean hospitals to disinfect the interiors of our aircraft, all crew and customers on board are required to wear face mask coverings and we're taking the temperature of our employees before they start work.

But at United, we're not stopping there. We're teaming up with experts from Clorox and the Cleveland Clinic to set a new standard for cleanliness and healthy flying that we are calling United CleanPlus℠.

Clorox is working closely with us to improve how we disinfect common surfaces and provide our customers with amenities that support a healthy and safe environment.

Physicians and scientists at the Cleveland Clinic, will advise us on new technologies and approaches, assist in training development and create a rigorous quality assurance program. And, as scientists learn more about how to fight COVID-19, Cleveland Clinic experts will help us use those discoveries to quickly implement new ways to keep our customers safe.

While we may not know when this pandemic will subside, what we do know is that travel is so deeply woven into the fabric of our global culture. We all desire to visit family, dance at a friend's wedding, hug parents…and see the wonders of this beautiful world. No matter how sharp the picture quality – or how strong the WiFi signal – there's simply no substitute for being there – in person – to collaborate, celebrate, explore. We are confident that travel will return. And when it does, United Airlines will be ready to serve you again in the friendly skies.

Thank you. Be well. And I look forward to seeing you on board.

Making every step of the travel journey safer for you

By United Airlines, April 22, 2020
United Clean Plus | Clorox

We remain passionate about connecting the world safely

United CleanPlus SM is our commitment to putting health and safety at the forefront of your journey, with the goal of delivering an industry-leading standard of cleanliness. We're teaming up with Clorox to redefine our cleaning and disinfection procedures, and over the coming months, we'll roll out Clorox products across our U.S. airports, starting in select locations, to help support a healthy and safe environment throughout your travel experience.

At the airport

  • At check-in:

  • 1
    Implementing temperature checks for employees and flight attendants working at hub airports
  • 2
    Installing sneeze guards at check-in and gate podiums
  • 3
    Encouraging use of the United app for contactless travel assistance and more
  • 4
    Promoting social distancing with floor decals to help customers stand 6 feet apart
  • 5
    Introducing touchless check-in for customers with bags
  • At the gate:

  • 6
    Disinfecting high-touch areas such as door handles, handrails, elevator buttons, telephones and computers
  • 7
    Providing hand sanitizer and
    disinfectant wipes
  • 8
    Allowing customers to self-scan boarding passes
  • 9
    Boarding fewer customers at a time and, after pre-boarding, boarding from the back of the plane to the front to promote social distancing

On our aircraft

  • 1
    Providing individual hand sanitizer wipes for customers
  • 2
    Requiring all customers and employees to wear a face covering and providing disposable face coverings for customers who need them
  • 3
    Temporarily removing onboard items like pillows, blankets and inflight magazines
  • 4
    Disinfecting high-touch areas, like tray tables and armrests, before boarding
  • 5
    Reducing contact between flight attendants and customers during snack and beverage service
  • 6
    Ensuring aircraft cleaning standards meet or exceed CDC guidelines
  • 7
    Applying social distancing to seating procedures when possible, including:
    • Limiting middle seat selection
    • Moving customers seated closely together
    • De-planing in groups of five rows at a time to reduce crowding
  • 8
    Using electrostatic spraying to disinfect aircraft, to be completed on all flights by mid-June
  • 9
    Using state-of-the-art, hospital-grade, high-efficiency (HEPA) filters to circulate air and remove up to 99.7% of airborne particles

Cleveland Clinic We're working closely with the experts at Cleveland Clinic to advise us on enhancing our cleaning and disinfection protocols for the safety of our employees and customers. Visit Cleveland Clinic's website to learn more about COVID-19.

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