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A Cocky Day in London Town

The city has rebounded from a long economic slump to lay claim to the title of world culture capital. This renaissance rivals its heyday in the '60s.


Pubs mainly close at 11 p.m., making "clubbing" the lifeblood of young London after hours. About-town magazines such as Time Out list more than 100 clubs offering a dazzling array of hip sounds that devotees know as house, garage, Brit-pop, techno and drum 'n' bass. The beat pounds from British bands like Oasis, Blur and Spice Girls at midnight-till-9 a.m. haunts like Hanover Grand, the Gardening Club and the Cross.

"There is great variety and diversity," said Dave Swindells, clubs editor at Time Out. "In the last month or two, cutting-edge clubs have become more musically based, and some clubs are fusing music together. Drum 'n' bass is driving things forward just now."

Minor themes also sound strongly across the city: a quiet revolution in poetry from a new generation of poets; five resident symphony orchestras; an annual summer series called the Proms that drew 34 orchestras and 59 conductors from around the world to 72 concerts this year, selling nearly 90% of tickets.

Filming Thrives

A metropolis sometimes ignored for months at a time by the sun and shunned for a decade by movie makers as an impossible place to work, London had been the location for 3,500 days of shooting on feature films by mid-autumn, a 50% increase over a year ago.

"This is our renaissance. I think we have about the same level of production now as New York, if not the same value," said Christabel Albery at the London Film Commission. The new "Mission: Impossible" was a breakthrough for a city that is using relaxed bureaucracy and competitive prices to woo Hollywood and local movie makers back after inflexible, lackluster decades, she said.

"They did three major sequences in the center of London, including landing a chopper near Tower Bridge. None of that could have happened five years ago," Albery said. Disney, Warner Bros., Columbia and Universal studios all have production crews in London working on new feature films.

Hot Cuisine

Perhaps the most astonishing change is in London's palate. Only yesterday, the city's food was justly famous for being bad. Today, there are a dozen Michelin-starred restaurants and about three times that many celebrity chefs. Sixteen weekly TV shows are devoted to food. Breakfast bagels and the lunchtime sandwich baguette abide peaceably in coffee shops with cappuccino and taramasalata.

That is the appetizer, but the menu is longer: $15 billion in annual British food exports include pizza, pasta, pita bread, tortillas, salsa, Sri Lankan spice cake, American cheesecake, Italian ice cream from Wales and gourmet soups sold in France as soupe du jardin.

Sure, old ways die hard. Some people still eat in pubs, although it is no longer safe to assume that all pubs serve bad food. Londoners buy their share of mushy peas, greasy French fries doused with vinegar and baked beans--900 million cans, 16 cans of beans per capita, were consumed in Britain last year.

But there are options. Across the capital, upgraded and dazzling supermarkets provide variety and freshness in the competition to accommodate new tastes. Restaurants sprung from more than 50 national cuisines are the spine of a $6-billion dining-out industry: Mongolian to Moroccan, Arabic to Argentine.

Prize-winning British artist Damien Hurst, he of the cows and sheep in formaldehyde, will choose the decor, furniture and color scheme of a new maxi-restaurant where celebrity chef Marco Pierre White, he of the renowned temper, will run the kitchen. A shark in a tank of formaldehyde will support the bar. All of this in the building in London's Soho where Karl Marx lived from 1851 to 1856.

Cultural rebirth echoes across city icons: The Tate Gallery is expanding to the former Bankside power station south of the Thames not far from the newly opened replica of Shakespeare's Globe Theater. There's a plan to build a glass roof over the South Bank Center headquarters of the National Theater complex.

Upriver, the National Maritime Museum is being redone in Greenwich, designated site of principal millennium events. On the Westminster side of the Thames, a new state-of-the-art National Library is opening, the Natural History Museum has grown, and face lifts are underway or planned at the Royal Opera House, the Royal Court Theater, Albert Hall, the National Portrait Gallery and Sadler's Wells Theater. The Victoria and Albert Museum will get an architecturally controversial new wing, and renewal is coming for part of the British Museum.

'Like a Wild Garden'

In the fashion industry, London's pool of innovative talent runs deep, and not all of it is formally trained.

"Our young talented people emerge out of a sort of benign neglect. England is rather like a wild garden in that sense, where wonderful untended flowers suddenly shoot up," said Lisa Armstrong, fashion director of British Vogue.

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