IF I RUB MY SPECIAL LAMP later today and a blue, beer-bellied genie siphons his way awkwardly into my poky lounge via a violet smokescreen, I know what I’m in the mood to ask for. I’d demand that this fish out of water carpet me away for one more ‘Dirty Weekend’ in Brighton on the South Coast of England.
If Brighton was a person it would be a vegetarian with fluorescent dreadlocks and a healthy love for cider and real ale. The genie could drop me off in London to make things a bit more realistic. As Friday loosens its tie I would board the train from London Victoria (leaving at 19 and 49 past the hour if I’m not mistaken). It may as well leave from platform Nine and Three-Quarters — it gives me the same buzz I imagine the Weasleys get. I’d have an overly priced beer on the train as it peels away from London through the fields of Surrey and into the rolling hills of East Sussex. In under an hour you jailbreak from the quick-stepping capital to find refuge in a beanbag town where everything is in walking distance from pub to restaurant, club to beachfront. And you will walk a lot.
I would arrive in Brighton just as night falls and fuzzy yellow lights set the train station aglow. As you exit the station you will pass a well-fed, high-visibility jacketed ticket inspector (who usually has nondescript crumbs freckling his blue sweater).
My recommendation if you’re going to Brighton for the first time would be to check out couch surfing options — this would be the ideal way to tuck into the city for the weekend. If that’s not your kind of thing, there are numerous hostels you can find online. There’s an underpass that falls in front of the station and takes you directly into the Laines (a lively network of semi-pedestrian shop and stall-lined streets). My feet would sail me unaided to my first port of call, which would be The Dorset for a pint of something cold. Even if I wasn’t smoking at the time I’d probably have a cigarette as I people-watched under the timid shelter of a heater.
After dropping off my things I would make a pact with my front door that I would only see it late at night with fumbling keys or minutes after I wake. You have to spend as much time in and out of Brighton’s haunts and as little in your accommodation as possible. After throwing my things devil-may-care onto the mattress, I would slam the door behind me and make my giddy way into the evening.
Brighton has more pubs per capita than any other city in the UK (or so we all used to tell one another smugly). Even if that’s not true, there are a bunch of them. It’s also home to thousands of students who spend more time drifting aimlessly around town than they do at home doing whatever it is that students do.
Seeing as it would be a Friday night in Fantasyland, I would grab something quick to eat, maybe a pizza at Aldo’s in the Laines. I’d then skip merrily down the road to have a drink and possibly catch some live music at Fitzherberts, a closet-sized ‘Old Man’s’ pub draped with hip 20-somethings, rolling tobacco and kettle chips. To drink I would order a Bitburger (German beer) and a gin and ginger beer, or as it’s affectionately known by its slurring followers, a Jauni Jaunge (the ‘J’s and ‘G’ are pronounced like the ‘S’ in Asia). The accessibility of everything in the centre of town makes a night out a stone-throw pleasure. If I was in a dancing mood, I’d leave the cosy crowd in Fitzherberts for grimier pastures.
There’s a main street in Brighton called West Street. I wouldn’t go there and neither should you. It’s the place where fights, fake tans, and crap music find shelter under flattering neon lights and bad conversation.
I’d check what’s on at one of the clubs on the beachfront (there’s a good flow of quality DJs that frequent many of the beachside venues). If you want the polar opposite of clean lights and Rhianna mixtapes, The Volks is your dirty, dub-stepping mistress. It’s generally dark, loud, and sweaty…in a good way. But if there’s something decent happening at Concorde 2, a household name a little further down the promenade, I would probably end up there, lost in a mass of people and not far from a fumbling meeting with my front door. It’s a massive venue, and their events always tend to pay due attention to the quirky details that etch a night into memory.
As the sun aches its way through the infinitely annoying gap in the curtains, I would rest assured that I could look forward to a (relatively) healthy cocktail of hangover cures. After a shower, humanity’s gift for the booze-weary soul, I would slam my door once more and make my way towards Bill’s Grocer and Restaurant. You will be provided with some seriously tasty food here and the prices aren’t too bad. Everything is fresh, and the walls in the dining area are panelled with stockpiles of chutneys, jams, oils, and loads of other goodies. It’s like eating in a giant farmer’s pantry. Even just going in to stare at the impressively decorated cakes is quite an experience (I have done this in the past and had quite a good time).
After my healthy breakfast, I would buy a newspaper and walk slightly faster than standing pace through the Laines, which would be a colourful hive of activity on a Saturday. Different streets are sectioned off with popup tables, some selling vintage goods, others selling fresh produce. Busking hopefuls find a patch amongst the crowds. Incense and coffee hang between shopfronts.
I would eke out a nest for a late morning read between thieving seagulls and fugitive toddlers in the Pavilion Gardens. The Pavilion is Brighton’s ostentatious monument to the Dirty Weekend. It was the home away from home for the Prince Regent in the 1800s and is modelled on the Taj Mahal. The Prince used to migrate to the seaside town, mistress in hand, and get up to all sorts of mischief.
After I feel like I’ve soaked up enough information from the paper to be able to feign a knowledge of current affairs, I would make my way down to the shore. Don’t expect sand and swimming. Expect a plastic pint on pebbles. The plus side of Brighton each is that you don’t get sand everywhere and you can play with the stones when you get bored.
There’s a small pub on the beachfront called The Fortune Of War. Its interior is modelled on an upside-down boat. For some unspoken reason, everyone I know and all of the people that they know flock to the section of beach in front of this bar, so out of habit I would go there. This pub is a pillar of any weekend in Brighton. Lunch would be a greasy and thinly fleshed fish ‘n’ chips from any of the beachfront stalls. I wouldn’t expect anything less than notably average. My afternoon would be spent on the beach until the sun squeezes itself behind the old West Pier which burnt down a few years ago. Its blackened skeleton is the focus of a classic sunset. The sky’s warm tones are interrupted intermittently by swathes of starlings drawn to the pier’s shell as the sun hits the ocean in the background.
As it would be my final evening before I’m ‘genied’ back to reality, I would try to visit as many pubs as possible. Back in the Laines there’s one called The Basketmakers. It’s the definition of cosy. The walls are adorned with little vintage boxes that contain scribbled jokes, messages, and general gibberish crafted by its patrons. I’d grab a pen and jot something abstract down to stow away in the nearest cigarette tin, where it would stay until the next inquisitive customer decides to pop the hatch. They also offer great food, so that’s where I would have an early dinner. After some unplanned pub hopping, I’d head over to The Blind Tiger Club for a final hoedown. It was founded by a creative collective who run a yearly festival called Playgroup just outside of Brighton. They usually have a bouncy mishmash lineup from live string-plucking bluegrass to shuddering DJ sets.
After a feast of chuckles and bad dance moves, I would join the rest of the pedestrian traffic as we assuredly snaked our way home.
Sunday would hold nothing more than the prospect of making sure I consume a hearty English roast before the day is done. It would be the one plan I could plausibly commit to. The rest of the day would consist of wafting in whatever direction made sense in my slightly sedated state. My establishment of choice for a roast would be The Setting Sun, which is in an area called Hanover (unsurprisingly a five-minute walk from the Laines). As I watch my final sunset in the bubbly city, I’d gear myself for reality, say a few words, and wait for a fat blue fellow to stride through the door unimpressed by his unusually downgraded role in my nostalgic tale.
Dirty itinerary (check the websites for directions and more information):
The Fortune Of War
The Blind Tiger Club
|The Setting Sun|