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How to experience Brighton like a local

Welcome to Britain’s boho heartland — with its booming arts scene, vibrant cafe culture and irreverent nightlife, nowhere does quirk quite like this south coast city.

By James Draven
Published 9 Apr 2019, 00:20 BST
Brighton Palace Pier and beach.
Brighton Palace Pier and beach.
Photograph by 4Corners Images

Top bites & flat whites
Brightonians went vegan decades ago. Need proof? The award-winning Terre à Terre opened its doors in 1993 and has been serving herbivorous haute cuisine ever since. Tucked away in The Lanes, the restaurant has a delicious menu stuffed with tongue-in-cheek puns — go for the How’s Ya Vada, a spiced, stuffed potato vada served with lentil daal, paneer, pickles and purees.

For veggie bites on the go, pop into Iydea and grab a tray to sample this canteen-style lunch spot’s daily changing menu. The enchiladas and quiches are particularly worth stopping by for, as are the tamari wedges, smothered in tzatziki and sprinkled with roasted seeds.

Omnivores can head to Chilli Pickle, run by a British couple with a passion for Indian cuisine. Decor is vibrant and fun rather than white tablecloth, and the owners revisit India each year, helping them create an evolving menu that focuses on bold, fresh flavours.

While North Laine is crammed with top places to grab coffee, locals get their caffeine fix in Kemptown’s MetroDeco. Glamorous, with Jazz Age genes, opulent ambiance, herbal teas and dainty cakes, the cafe continues its deco theme with a 1930s, java-jive soundtrack.

Outrageously arty and very much Brighton, Marwood bar & Coffeehouse perfectly encapsulates the city: eccentric, extravagant and a whole lot of fun. It’s crammed with mad artefacts, from a Chewbacca-head hunting trophy to a mannequin sprouting a water tap between its legs, with a menu of great cocktails and coffee to boot.

Ace arts & events
One of Brighton’s quirkiest spots, Bom-Bane’s blurs the line between dining, arts and entertainment. The diminutive cafe serves alongside regular film and poetry nghts, and, if you’re lucky, you’ll catch the titular Jane Bom-Bane playing a harmonium and singing while wearing madcap mechanical revolving hats. But bizarrely, the tables are also a highlight — pull up a pew at the Tablerone, made of prism-shaped mirrors, or admire a mini model of Brighton Pier complete with moving rides set inside the Water Table.

The Marlborough Pub & Theatre is based inside one of Brighton’s oldest pubs, with the pocket-sized, 60-seat venue playing host to a variety of performances, from comedy to live music and theatre, with a focus on producing and supporting LGBT+ shows.

If comedy’s your thing, head to The Krater Comedy Club at the Komedia venue. Each weekend the local institution hosts a variety of top comic talent, but should you fancy trying your own comic performance, The Maydays improv studio is just a pebble’s throw from the seafront. Here, members of the Brightonian comedy troupe teach spontaneous slapstick skills and unscripted patter.

A few doors down the street, arty Hotel Pelirocco hosts numerous events in its intimate bar, from songwriting classes to live music andsewing circles. Upstairs, you can also book a boudoir photography shoot in one of its themed rooms, from Muhammad Ali to Dolly Parton.

The five best nights out in Brighton

As suggested by Honour Mission

Honour Mission is a burlesque performer and chief mermaid for March of the Mermaids, an annual procession raising money for, and awareness of, marine conservation issues. Here are her top picks for a night out in Brighton:

1. The Dorset
The Dorset hosts all-day events from 1950s rock’n’roll to mod music. It’s still a classic local boozer, but they know how to put on a really good night.

2. Seafront nightclubs
There’s been an explosion of dancing and nightclubs in Brighton as the 1990s rave scene makes a comeback. Concorde 2 is still the leader of the pack, but formerly ailing seafront clubs The Arch and The Fortune of War have got their mojo back.

3. Casablanca Jazz Club
I’m a huge fan of Casablanca’s. This nightspot plays live funk, soul, jazz and Motown, the tiny space can get packed, but there’s always a happy vibe.

4. Proud Cabaret
My favourite venues to perform burlesque shows and cabaret tend to be pop-up productions in unusual spaces, but for more regular performances this is where to see vaudeville entertainment in town.

5. Duke of York’s
I love this quirky cinema. Grab a glass of wine and watch a late night B-movie among students in their pyjamas. And the seats have decent legroom.

Published in the April 2019 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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