Fear, exhaustion, love and mournfulness: these are just a few of the twists and turns I experienced on the emotional rollercoaster that my weekend in Brighton proved to be. Fear, because I watched a strange girl playing music on a handsaw; exhaustion, because I danced for almost four hours solid to possibly the greatest mash-up of blues, swing and jazz; love, because I met and tangoed with Brighton's very own Prince Charming; and finally, mournfulness, because inside this bizarre vintage sub-culture, I had discovered some of the best alternative things to do in Brighton... and then I had to go home. If this sounds like fun to you, then here's how to do it:
Everyone knows The Lanes in Brighton are the top spot for shopping, and this alternative itinerary will not deny you the pleasure. But make sure you head to Snooper’s Paradise and the above cooperative Snooper’s Attic, on North Laine, for a myriad of antiques and beautifully handcrafted vintage accessories. Beware though; you could spend hours in this shop so limit your time (and budget), then move on to the Brighton branch of Beyond Retro for – you’ve guessed it – all things retro. For something a little more special try Hope & Harlequin on Sydney Street, who specialise in bespoke re-creation of event dresses and vintage wedding originals.
A night out in Brighton needs preparation, and what better place to get ready than at the Parlour Rooms on Dyke Road. This quaint little tea room has more than meets the eye: beneath all the scrumptious tea and cake lies a wonderful little vintage salon where 1950s up-dos are the fashion and ruby red lipstick is an obligation. And, if you can fit it in, there’s also a craft workshop where you can make your own accessories, and a lingerie rack full of saucy handmade delicates – this, combined with copious amounts of English tea and a vintage makeover is an afternoon well spent!
You might think a tea dance sounds a little limp after the weekend so far, but don’t be fooled by the village hall style venue and country-bumpkin bunting. The Ragroof Theatre Tea Dances are regular Sunday occurrences where the members will get you up on your feet and, no matter how two-left-footed you are, spin you every which way during lively jazz tracks. There is tea, cake and champagne to order, and dancing lessons where partners aren’t required – the divine Champagne Charlie is on hand for any single ladies who need a lead. Beware though girls, don’t look directly into those eyes – you may never love again! Each tea dance is themed so be sure to purchase the appropriate attire from some of those excellent vintage shops.
For some vintage wine and cocktails head to the Bistro at Hotel du Vin. Using 40-year-old Campari and Martini Rosso, and 1950s gin and Maraschino, the cocktail waiters can mix you a truly vintage Negroni or a perfectly smooth Martinez. If cocktails aren’t your tipple though, try some of the excellent vintage wines recommended to you by one of the 14 in-house sommeliers – their cellar has over 500 wines from around the world so don’t be afraid to ask for advice. (Many of the wonderful reds go superbly with the fillet steak, might I add.)
If you were looking for the definition of quirky, look no further than the Marlborough Theatre’s cabaret nights. A rather unsuspecting pub from the outside, and a relatively average looking bar inside, this venue has a secret stage upstairs where bizarre but hysterically witty musicians and drag queens play the night away for a select few with tickets. You can see the likes of Joe Black, the “gin drinking cabaret darling and acid tongued ringmaster”, and world famous Dolly Rocket, a giant lady with a giant voice, all hosted by the terrific-in-tights Tariq. For an after party, head to The Mezmerist where you can dance ‘til you drop (or until the lights come on) and there isn’t a chart song in sight.
If the Hotel du Vin suites, with their free-standing baths and four-poster beds, aren’t in your price range then there are plenty of other places to crash after a heavy night. The lovely little Artist Residence boutique hotel has 12 individually designed art-themed bedrooms just a stone’s throw from the seafront, and Snooze Brighton guesthouse is a funky place to rest your head, each of its six rooms created with “equal amounts of flair”.
Find out about these events and more at www.visitbrighton.com.
Lottie Gross is Web Editorial Assistant for RoughGuides.com and can be found tweeting at @Lortusfleur.
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Top image: Merry-go-round, Brighton © MorganStudio/Shutterstock