Once notorious as the heartland of South London’s underworld, Brixton now finds itself infamous for it’s opinion-dividing regeneration. Dubbed a ’24-hour crack den’ by the Met police in 2002, just a decade later it became a ‘postcode en vogue’. Centred around the tantalising market, some tuck in to artisan truffles and Iberian charcuterie boards (guilty!) whilst others lament the influx of out-of-towners who previously turned their noses up and clutched on to their bags at the mere mention of the b-word.
The furore around the renovation of the marketplace has pretty much eclipsed surrounding developments, especially the restoration of another local landmark, Brixton’s grade II listed windmill, one of just a dozen in Greater London. Built in 1816 at a time when Brixton was a far cry from the pulsating urban centre that it is today, the area was largely farmland renowned for its game and strawberries, highlighting the fact that its most recent transformation is not its first.
The mill ceased production in 1934, and has since survived war-time bombings and threats of demolition until it was restored 5 years ago, producing its first batch of flour in almost eight decades earlier this year.
A walk past this seldom-appreciated piece of history got me thinking about the other less frequented parts of Brixton, a town which has much more to offer than just its marketplace. While you’ve probably dined in the original Franco Manca and enjoyed late nights at the O2 Academy there are many lesser known gems to discover, so here’s my guide to ‘hidden Brixton’…enjoy!
Gremio de Brixton
Escape the hustle and bustle of the ‘foodie haven’ that is Granville Arcade for equally good fare in this underground tapas bar with its attached nightclub specialising in ‘Latin groove and soul’. Found directly below St. Matthews church, another grade II listed building constructed in 1822, the under-utilised crypt was transformed into a commercial space in the 70s under the vicar’s initiative. The unassuming location and Pan’s Labyrinth style decor add to its charm.
The Chocolate Museum
Brixton isn’t just a place to indulge in food, you can learn about its history too, and what better grub to wise up on than chocolate? If the permanent collection of London’s only chocolate museum leaves you feeling inspired there are chocolate making workshops for both adults and children, but there’s also a well-stocked selection of ethically sourced bars from all over the world if you’re after instant satisfaction.
While this expansive common offers a beautiful skyline of the city and boasts an Art Deco lido and Georgian country house, my favourite parts have to be the Lottery-funded walled garden and adjacent greenhouse where fruit and vegetables are grown by and for the local community.
384 Cocktail Bar
The self-proclaimed ‘industrial-chic’ interior of this restaurant-cum-bar deserve a post of its own. The stylish furnishings can’t distract from the delectable food though, my tip: mozzarella arancini washed down with a Terry’s chocolate orange cocktail!
Of these go-to spots some are new – a testament to the changing face of Brixton, and others older; Velvet Orange founder Dee and friends were partying in the restaurant and clubs in the crypt of St. Matthews church back in the late 90s – a testament to their un-wavering popularity.
While rejuvenation of derelict parts of town, thriving new businesses and an increased sense of security are welcome additions in Brixton, it’s important to look beyond the glamorous newcomers and appreciate the longstanding quirks like the Windmill, as it is this variety of original character and more recent developments which make Brixton truly unique, and to forget about this in favour of a shiny new market would be a real shame.
Girl About Town