A Gin-Soaked Evening Out in Carnaby Street

London, affectionately called “the smoke” by English residents to throw back to its polluted industrial days, splays out from the central Thames river. Historic buildings I had heard about all my life rose above the banks: St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Tower Bridge, the Tower of London and London Bridge. The Gerkin – the phallic shaped office building – rose above the old and new buildings of the South Bank. It’s nickname is “the towering innuendo.”

Our first night in London had Tonia and I walking along the South Bank of the Thames. It was crowded with tourists and we joined the flow: out the train station, down the stairs, past the cathedral and past the riverside pubs and attractions. Most attractions advertised London’s gory history of prisons and executions, which thematically fit along darkness and age suggested by the cobblestone streets and walkways closed in by buildings.

That night we were going to something very “London.” It was London in the sense of surprise, avant guarde, and new. An exhibit called “Alcoholic Architecture” was opening on Carnaby Street, the swinging area of town in the 1960s. The gallery hosting it was going to spray it’s attendees with a mist made of gin to give them an ‘experience’ of being inside a drink. What it turned out to be was very psychedelic and trippy.

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First, Tonia and I were given full body white jumpsuits, very 2001, and ushered into a coat room where we had to wrestle with other attendees to fit them over our dresses. Fully covered from hood to footie, we stopped at the bar. The exhibit of course was sponsored – Hendricks Gin was the lovely benefactor of the gin-based exhibit. The bartender, also suited up, poured us our drinks and we looked at each other in between drinks and giggled. What the hell? we thought. More people poured in and they were all wearing the goofy suits and holding drinks, a little alcoholic liquid before the mist.

The space was bare white walls moving with thumping techno music. Tonia and I carefully stepped down the slippery white stairs, full of condensation from the mist, to the gallery space. We entered through the rubber barriers and into a very crowded, misty, dim room fully of squirming white suited people. A camera flashed in my face and disoriented me only slightly more than the sight of fully covered people covered in a gin mist could. He said he was capturing people’s reactions when they entered the room. I’m sure my mouth was open in surprise and also to capture some of the gin mist.
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Tonia and I started to pose for each other and snap funny pictures of each other, because the room turned out to be small – about 13 X13 – and what else were we supposed to do?Everyone else was doing the same and we were all having fun doing it. Squeals and laughter and camera snaps over the music. It was like a futuristic nightclub, hard to see anything, music blaring, people dressed funny, and milling about in a crowded hot space holding drinks. The event was a science fiction experiment.

Tonia’s friend Tom joined us about 45 minutes late for the event, he suited up too, except he was so tall that the suit hugged some of his parts very creatively. Again we went down and introduced him to the crazy event. More silly pictures, but this time introductory conversation, which I tried to conduct without pausing and laughing at the fact that I was wearing a white suit and a hood.

A horn blared when our hour was over and the group filed upstairs and out the gallery, disrobing in the process. More wrestling with girls to find space to de-suit. After, the three of us walked down the streets, which had a definite party – going out vibe, and strode to meet up with Ish, her boyfriend Julian, and friend Donna. The restaurant they had chosen was closed so we chose the nearest one – the Bistro. It had a prix fix menu where we could eat for cheap (read: $27) and have a couple courses. Most of the food was good and the wine tastey, but the place had a Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares vibe and I expected the loud, lion-like Brit to appear from the kitchen and yell at the staff for not caring.

All of us were tired, Tonia and I from our misty experience, and the others from the theater, so we walked to Piccadilly Circus to catch the bus home. Picadilly Circus is the Times Square of London. Lit up by neon signs and LED building signs screaming brand names. It was seedy and had all types – I think I saw a guy being frisked for a gun like in the movies when gangsters meet each other and there’s no trust. There were restaurants, chain fast food, strip joints, and stores all lit up and playing music to attract the throngs of tourists looking for London night life. Of course, real Londoners do not go there or if they did they are as tacky as the I heart London T-shirts for sale.

We boarded the double decker bus back to Ish’s and slept in until the next morning.

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