Sunday, 22 April 2012

Ruby's Bar & Castle Gibson

Tucked away down a flight of stairs below an old cinema sign in Dalston, you'll find an alluring illuminated doorway which leads to Ruby's. Situated in the basement of Ruby House, this speakeasy-style basement bar is an absolute delight and it's hard to imagine it used to be home to a Chinese takeaway. The decor is wonderfully dishevelled and rustic with textured walls, wooden floors, exposed brickwork and glazed tiles. The random array of tables, chairs, artefacts and low lighting add to the cosy and inviting ambience.

A friend and I went along on Saturday to check it out and were very pleasantly surprised. We arrived early enough to secure a table and ordered a couple of the specially concocted cocktails on offer, opting for a Blackberry Mojito served in an original 1940's Manchester milk bottle, and a Passion Fruit Bison Julep made with Bison Grass vodka served in an enamel tin mug. Both stupendous! As well as cocktails, Ruby's also serves wine, beer, cider and other usual suspects. And instead of using a bog standard ice bucket, wine bottles are chilled in small milk churns. Nice touch.

With some cracking tunes playing in the background, and the friendly bar team doing a sterling job in the foreground, it was easy to kick back, soak up the atmosphere, drink a couple of cocktails and watch as the place suddenly filled up until it was standing-room only. Refreshingly, the clientele at Ruby's seem to be an interesting and eclectic bunch and not just full of stereotypical Dalstonites.

But Ruby's bar is not all you'll find at these unassuming premises. There's a whole other world going on upstairs where Castle Gibson lies. As well as sourcing unusual and unique furniture and props, Castle Gibson is also home to some fantastic locations including vast spaces and townhouse rooms which are often used for film and photographic shoots. In fact the likes of Adele, Rhianna and the late Amy Winehouse have all had photo shoots here.

Castle Gibson is a successful family-run business (of which Ruby's is a part of) and I was lucky enough to be taken upstairs for a sneaky behind-the-scenes tour of the Castle Gibson empire. A labyrinth of enormous rooms lead into more enormous rooms, each full of gorgeous old furniture, leather sofas, random props, giant illuminated letters, vintage signs, an antique dentist chair, huge photography lamps, oversized clocks and a couple of large signed photographs of Clark Gable and Marlon Brandon. One of the spaces is the old MC Motors warehouse which boasts 6,000 square feet and oozes industrial charm. Not to mention the various rooms upstairs in the townhouse, equally delightful, unusually decorated and each with their own style. It was quite wonderful and most unexpected!

I'm so glad to have stumbled upon both these places. They're right up my street and truly amazing. So, if you're looking for an unusual location for a photo/film shoot (or even a wedding), or want to hire some mad props or furniture, then look no further than Castle Gibson.  In fact, I love it so much, you may find me living there, just hanging out on one of the sofas, minding my own business. And if you're after a cocktail with a twist in a secret location, then clearly you must head to Ruby's. Where you may also find me lurking. Right, I think it's now time to try a Hemingway Daiquiri. Served in a jam jar, of course.

76 Stoke Newington Road
N16 7XB

Wed & Thur 6pm - 11pm
Fri & Sat 6pm - midnight
Cocktails £8

020 8211 8690

Monday, 16 April 2012

Cross Bones Graveyard

On a little street only a short distance from the hustle and bustle of Borough Market, is a very important site. Cross Bones Graveyard. During medieval times, it was an unconsecrated burial ground for 'single women', a euphemism for prostitutes, also known locally as 'Winchester Geese'. They were called this because the Bishop of Winchester gave them a licence to work within the Liberty of the Clink, an area outside the City of London renown for its brothels, bear-baiting and other such unpermitted activities. Even though prostitution was a 'profession' which was very much recognised and clearly in demand, it is sad to think that once these women were past their 'sell-by date', became more destitute and eventually died, they were deemed as outcasts and not even worthy of a proper burial. So they ended up here, at Cross Bones. And horrifyingly, when the site was excavated in the 1990's, it seems one third of the remains were of infants under a year old and even perinatal fetuses, which suggests many of these women suffered illicit childbirths. The majority of the adult remains were of women aged 36 years or older.

In the 18th century, the site became a paupers' cemetery used to bury the poor of St Saviour's Parish. It's incredible to imagine that up to 15,000 people are believed to have been buried on this site, and in 1853 it had to be closed as it was literally overflowing with the dead and it wouldn't be seen fit for public health, let alone decency to continue burials. The site is now a shrine to remember all those buried here, especially the 'single women', and the gates on Redcross Way are adorned with flowers, tokens, messages and keepsakes. On the 23rd of each month, the Friends of Cross Bones hold a candlelit vigil at the gates to honour the outcast dead and refresh the shrine. Anyone is welcome to attend.

As this final resting place is currently a derelict site, and Borough is rapidly becoming a desirable area for hot property, it seems the site is destined to be developed into luxury flats, offices or shops. However, there is a petition  campaigning for a Garden of Remembrance to be built on the site. Even if this garden is incorporated within the new development, I do hope TFL and Network Rail (who own the site) will show sensitivity and take this into consideration with their plans.

To all the single ladies, the outcast, the children and the Winchester Geese, may you rest in peace.

Cross Bones Graveyard
Redcross Way
London SE1
(Cross Bones Vigil takes place at 7pm on 23rd of each month)

Monday, 9 April 2012

ESPA Life at London Corinthia

As someone who has been lucky enough to experience several spas in my time, ESPA Life at London Corinthia is by far the best one I have been to in London. It's one of those spas where you can literally lose yourself in another world and is so relaxing that you almost forget where you are, and even who you are. Located within the London Corinthia Hotel (which is also fantastic and worth a visit, even if just for afternoon tea), every inch of ESPA Life oozes quality, luxury and professionalism. As you arrive along the corridors made of crackled 'mother of pearl' laquered walls and marble floors, you leave any stress and tension at the door as you make your way to the reception area. Greeted by a friendly and welcoming team, I arrived for the Spring to Life Day Spa Package. I started with a 25 minute Wellness Consultation with Hannah Yang, a Naturopathic Physician who definitely knows her stuff. She was really informative and helpful as we discussed nutrition, diet, aches, pains and various health queries.

Next stop was the Thermal Floor, via the changing rooms which are a haven on their own. They've got smart lockers to put your belongings; dressing tables complete with hairdriers, deodrant and hairspray; showers with complimentary ESPA shower gel, shampoo & conditioner; a special machine to spin-dry your swimwear and lots of resting areas with lounge beds complete with a warm fire, plenty of magazines and fruit-infused jugs of water. There is even a room full of sleep pods where you can curl up in a dimly-lit pod, listen to music and have a snooze. Ahhh.

Where was I? Oh yes, the Thermal Floor. Well this was just fabulous. I started off doing 50 lengths in the swimming pool which was a perfect tepid temperature. Luckily I was there mid-week when it was so lovely and quiet, I literally had the entire place to myself. The pool is calming with white sofas along the side and the mesmerising reflection of the water on the specially created ceiling. From there I went to the vitality pool which was great fun, much warmer and complete with jacuzzi corners, a waterfall option and a bubbling bench. I could have spent hours in there! After all that swimming, it was time for a quick steam in the luxury steam room, then into the most amazing sauna I've seen which has a wooden interior and glass walls, so not at all claustrophobic. In fact it felt like being in a Swedish mountain lodge (not that I've been in one of those). Next to the sauna is a large marble bowl where crushed ice sporadically cascades into it. Once you've done your time in the sauna, you grab handfuls of crushed ice and rub it into your hot face and body. You might let out a little squeal, but it's very invigorating!

After all that thermal action, it was time for lunch. Clad in my complimentary robe and slippers, I made my way to the Spa Lounge for a 2 course champagne lunch. To be honest, I don't drink champers, and I even said no to wine (which is a first), instead opting for a large super-active juice full of refreshing acai, goji, elderflower and cranberry juice. For lunch I enjoyed a whole grilled lemon sole with samphire seaweed and a tasty salad. Who knew eating such healthy food could be so delicious. As well as lunch, the Spa Lounge offers an extensive menu including breakfast, all day lunch, juices and afternoon tea. There's even cake.

Feeling completely refreshed, relaxed and content, it was time for an afternoon of treatments. Sarah, my therapist, took me to a lovely beauty room where I started with a sensory testing, using different scented oils to establish which ones were most suitable for my facial and massage. You get to choose what style of music you want which is a nice touch, so none of that irritating Tibetan dolphin nonsense (okay, I know dolphins are hugely scarce in Tibet, but you know what I mean). I had a fantastic 25 minute back, neck and shoulder massage where she did a great job getting into all the nooks and crannies and releasing all the left over tension. Then it was time for my facial which I can hand on heart say is the best facial I've ever had. It was a 50 minute re-hydrating facial, using ESPA products (which I'm now converted to) and felt so thorough that my skin felt great for many days to follow.

Everything about ESPA Life was spot on, from the mood lighting, interesting textures and calming atmosphere. It was absolutely a haven of pure tranquility and I thoroughly enjoyed every moment. When I left six hours later, I felt like a changed (and very healthy) woman. In fact I'm now off to buy me some goji juice, a samphire plant and a vitality pool.

Miss Immy was a guest of ESPA Life at Corinthia

ESPA Life at Corinthia
London Corinthia Hotel
Whitehall Place
London SW1A 2BD
020 7321 3050

Spa & Gym: Mon - Fri 06h30 - 22h00 Sat & Sun 07h30 - 21h00
Treatments: Mon - Fri 08h00 - 21h00 Sat 08h00 - 20h00 Sun 09h00 - 20h00
Spring to Life Day Spa package £215 (check website as spa package offers may change)
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