The sweetest tour in London Town: London Cupcake Tours

Destinations, England, Favorite Things, Wine and Coffee

The sweetest tour in London Town: London Cupcake Tours

11 Comments 11 July 2013

Whenever I see a swirl of butter cream pink icing, a glistening beige cake beneath and some sort of delicious art on top staring back at me in a London window, I can’t say no.

Hi, my name is Bobbi and I’m a cupcake-aholic.

I am obsessed with the recent cupcake fad that has taken over this city. It’s hard to walk anywhere in London these days without being tempted by this itsy bitsy treat, but where should people go for one serious cupcake in the city?

London Cupcake Tours set out to answer just that with their self-guided tour packages. I spread my tour out over three days across two months and found some incredible places to eat cake in London Town.

The Package

I know what you’re thinking.

“Cupcake tour, what on earth is a cupcake tour?”

London Cupcake Tour

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

I return home one day to find a hot pink package addressed to me. Wide smile on my face, I run up the stairs to my flat and immediately open it. The first thing I pull out is the London Cupcake Tour Guidebook, which lists six places in London to try cupcakes, maps on how to find each place and popular attractions and sights nearby. Also in the package is six vouchers for one cupcake at each of the bakeries in the guidebook, a reusable tote bag, a few cardboard boxes to fit two cupcakes each, a London Cupcake Tour cover for my Oyster Card and two buttons that say, “I’m on the London Cupcake Tour”.

The gift certificates are valid for three to 12 months, so there is no pressure to do the tour immediately or even rush it all into one day. So I took my time and spread the tour out over three months sharing each day with a friend.

On Tour

Day one, Ric and I visit The Cupcake Bakehouse in Covet Garden to share a Nutella cupcake. From there, we walk to Sweet Couture Cake Boutique and use our voucher for there on a friend that works nearby. It’s her birthday, so we surprise her with a vanilla cupcake with one candle in it. Don’t worry – we also sample some of Sweet Couture’s cakes ourselves. Their zesty lemon cupcake looks too delicious to resist.

London Cupcake Tour

Taking the first bite of my first cupcake on tour. Nutella – yummm. Photo by Richard John Hackey

Almost a month later and I’m having serious cupcake withdrawals, so Ric and I set out on day two of our cupcake tour. After wandering through Portobello Market in Notting Hill, we find a Buttercup Cake Shop location next to Gelato Mia. It’s different from the location listed in the guidebook and you’ll find a few places on the tour have more than one location. There we try a sticky toffee cupcake. Next, we head to Holborn to visit Bea’s of Bloomsbury and try my favorite: red velvet cupcake. This is also my favorite sit-down stop on tour. Bea’s has such a cute and cozy set up. It’s a great place to meet people for cake and a coffee and their icing is so creamy.

London Cupcake Tour

A cupcake tree at Bea’s of Bloomsbury. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

The last day on tour I head on by myself, but make another birthday purchase. First stop is Lola’s Cupcakes in Mayfair where I choose a cupcake that looks like a tennis ball. This little shop is celebrating the Wimbledon finals in the sweetest way possible. I’m pleasantly surprised to taste jelly as I bite into the vanilla cake! Last stop is Ms. Cupcake in Brixton, which is my favorite shopping experience. The bakery has a retro feel to it and the cupcakes are vegan, so everyone can enjoy. I take a Ferrero Rocher cupcake to go and share it with a friend later in the day for his birthday.

London Cupcake Tour

A tennis ball cupcake at Lola’s Cupcakes the day before Andy Murray wins Wimbledon. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon


A London Cupcake Tours single pack costs £34.50 and can be purchased online. I thought this price was a bit high considering each cupcake would have cost £2-4 if purchased on its own. Honestly though, after looking at a few other food tours in London, that’s actually quite affordable. Walk.Eat.Talk.Eat’s tours range between £50-65. Remember, you’re not just purchasing cupcakes, you’re being guided through different areas in the city while visiting some of its best cake shops.

Final Thoughts

I thought this was the most adorable tour idea I had heard about in London. Cupcakes are very popular at the moment and bakeries just keep popping up in this city. London Cupcake Tour is a great way to experience that side of the city, while also touring it . My major problem with guided food tours is that they pack so much into just a few hours, which can be sickening after a while. That’s why I liked the set up of this food tour, because I could spread it out as much as I wanted. I didn’t have to eat six cupcakes in one day, which would have probably made me hate cupcakes.

London Cupcake Tour

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Overall, London Cupcake Tours was a nice addition to London life for me that allowed me to see bits of the city I wouldn’t have, like Brixton. All the bakeries were high quality and had something very special about them. I would recommend this to tourists with a sweet tooth and even locals that want to sample this exciting trend in London.

Thanks to London Cupcake Tours for letting me try out their tour. As always, all opinions are my own.

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Going back in time at the Blitz Party

Destinations, England, Favorite Things, Vintage World Shopping

Going back in time at the Blitz Party

3 Comments 11 June 2013

There is no better city for a period-themed party than London. It seems to have sections that represent pretty much every era in its long history. For this reason, Ric and I felt like we had slipped back to the 1940s, long before even entering Great Suffolk Street Warehouse for the Blitz Party.

It happened as soon as we left Southwark Tube Station.

I notice two girls with Victory curls in front of us, one in a red flowing dress the other wearing a pink with fur wrapped around her shoulders. As we walk further from the station, skyscrapers and apartment complexes give way to a brick tunnel system and old pubs. It feels like we we’re entering into the shadows of a scary and mysterious time in world history, only finding relief in the gathering of like-minded people.

Blitz Party

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

And there are plenty of them.

It’s hard to give a general name to the location of the venue used for our bunker for the night, but I’d describe it as a system of brick tunnels with warehouse-size rooms. It looks like a storage place for ammunition during World War II, but during the Blitz Party, its many rooms are illuminated by red light, decorated in red, white and blue flags and filled with big bands and swing dancers.

Blitz Party

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Blitz Party

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Blitz Party

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Blitz Party

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

We arrive just before 9 p.m. and head to the furthest bar at the venue as the bar in room one is already packed. There are about four of five bars set up here. While chatting at a table with Ric about how crazy this party is and wondering where exactly we are, I look up to see three girls talking at the end of our table, only lit up by a spotlight behind them. They almost look like spies. I have to remind myself where I am and what day it is, but eventually I give in.

Blitz Party

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Our room is filled within an hour. I notice a circling spotlight to the right of a stage in the room. A band takes the stage and an explosion of confetti goes off the introduce them.

Blitz Party

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

The place is packed and there are soldiers spinning their ladies around and throwing their bodies in the air. Ric and I explore the venue more to find an army truck and hordes of people taking photos in it, a wall with WWII propaganda and a make up station with the Beauty Queens offering free vintage make overs to people at the party.

Blitz Party

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

We eventually find ourselves in a smaller room that’s pitch black besides a few gas lanterns hung on the wall and a bar that’s illuminated in red. As my eyes get used to the darkness, I notice couples laying together on a few cots set up in the room. We go to the bar and purchase a punch made of earl grey, orange sherbet and liquor for £7. They’re served in blue tin coffee cups.

Blitz Party

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

This is a a different cocktail from those offered in the rations book at the main bars. It must be a reward for those adventurous enough to wonder through all the rooms here.

But then again, any person that would come to a party like this is already adventurous enough.

The Blitz Party is truly to feel the styles and trends of the past. They really succeeded in that affect. Be prepared to shell out a bit of money in your wardrobe for a party like this. It’s really important you come dressed for the part, because if you don’t you’ll feel pretty left out. I spent £47 on a Katharine Hepburn-inspired pants look. I did my own hair which was actually a lot easier than I thought and can be learned from watching Youtube videos.

The next Blitz Party is July 13 at the Village Underground, tickets are £20 and can be purchased on their website.

To view more photos from the Blitz Party, check out my Facebook album.

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The Blitz Party gave me press admission to review this party.

Creating their own genre of entertainment: Wam Bam Club

Destinations, England, Favorite Things, The Arts and Cabaret

Creating their own genre of entertainment: Wam Bam Club

6 Comments 06 June 2013

A seven-man jazz band playing swing music at the entrance, a complimentary glass of champagne after receiving my ticket and two big-chested men smiling and offering me a Lindt chocolate in red wrapping, I knew I was in store for a different sort of cabaret as soon as I arrived at the Bloomsbury Ballroom last Friday.

At the Wam Bam Club, you don’t just watch a show, you’re a part of it.

The set up of the show, entertaining guests and interacting with them from the start, invites you to join in. The seating arrangement in the ballroom and the way the show is carried out actually gives you the chance to.

With an art deco interior design, the Bloomsbury Ballroom has one main stage at the front and the Wam Bam Club adds another to the middle. Small tables and chairs border the room. You’ll have to get cozy with your neighbor and the performers, as it’s a packed house, but you’ll want to as one of them is the bubbly and hilarious Lady Alex.

“These are my cabaret bitches,” she screams as an even number of male and female sex pots, known as the Wam Bam Buff Boys and Wam Bam Belles, run down the middle of the ballroom and surround her on stage.

Wam Bam at Bloomsbury Ballroom from Lady Alex on Vimeo.

The show just felt laid back and inclusive of all interests from the start, but I didn’t really think about why, just went with it. At intermission I talked to someone at my table about the show and she mentioned how she noticed it was a lot different from most burlesque and cabaret, because it wasn’t just women taking off their clothes, but also yummy men.

Mysterious and cutesy burlesque acts by female bombshells are matched with a sailor-themed double striptease to “In the Navy” by two buff men, which ends in nothing but skin and soap I must add.

Further, Lady Alex, the MC and show creator, is a woman, which is another major difference to most cabarets. (Note, there are several other amazing women that make up the burlesque and cabaret scene in London, whether it be in their performance or creativity. In fact, I’d say there are more women in the industry than man. I only notice by this statement that I’ve not seen any female MC’s in London or in performances around the world. It was something different at Wam Bam Club in my experience.)

It doesn’t seem like the Wam Bam Club is trying to make a stand. They’re just having fun the best way they know how. That’s the biggest impression this show leaves. Laugh, leave your worries behind and never take yourself to seriously.

This is clear by how many comedy acts are offered in the two-hour show. It starts with the fabulous Bunny Galore. In a blond wig and red dress, the drag act sings, “When you’re good to momma,” and the entire audience replies, “Mama’s good to you.”

Then there’s Ninia Benjamin. Dressed in Primark clothes, not one sequin, you wonder what she has to do with cabaret as she comes to the stage. The loud-mouthed comedian lets it all out and will have you laughing so hard her non-burlesque wardrobe won’t matter by the end of her routine.

“I’m a dirty fucking bitch,” she warns everyone within minutes of hitting the stage. That’s apparent with her sex lessons that include Kit Kat references.

But the definite highlight for me came with the show’s headlining act, Up and Over It. The duo may have cleaned their act up for America’s Got Talent, but they held nothing back for the Wam Bam Club.

“This is what happens when Irish dancing goes a little bit tits up,” Lady Alex says before introducing them.

Their performance starts with just one woman and one man sat at a table with two open bottles of booze. Black eyes on both of them, ripped-up clothes and wild hair, they look as though they’ve been on a three-day bender.

The male part pours an obvious white powder across the table and snorts it, only to be outdone by his female counterpart. This “Anything you can do I can do better” persona continues as they go back and fourth with an incredible tap dance routine, first done only by hand but then taken to their feet.

Smoke surrounds them from the powder on the table as they stare furiously at each other and wait for the other to mess up during the strenuous routine. Neither does. In fact, their flawless. They take a few swigs from their bottles, carrying on with one hand, without even flinching.

The show ends with a Marie Antoinette-like extravaganza. Lady Alex is at the center of it, wearing a boat around her waist that shoots confetti. She’s surrounded by the Wam Bam Buff Boys and Wam Bam Belles.

It’s grand, fabulous, hilarious, beautiful, flawless and colorful. It’s not just cabaret or comedy or dance or burlesque, it’s a genre unto itself. It’s Wam Bam Club.

The show doesn’t end when the performers leave the stage either. The Top Shelf, the seven-man swing band mentioned at the start, take to the stage along with DJ Earl of Ealing and the floor opens up to the crowd for the show’s after party. 

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

General admission costs £25 and includes a free glass of wine and seating at shared tables. For £35 you’ll receive a complimentary glass of wine again and find seating at private tables closer to the stage. Plus, they provide seating for groups in the sofa area. You can also pay £10 to enter only for the after party. Their next show at the Bloomsbury Ballroom is Friday, June 28, but they also perform every Saturday at Cafe de Paris. All tickets can be purchased on their website.

Wam Bam Club offered me press admission to review this show. All opinions are my own.

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A chaotic meeting of artists at The Bride and the Bachelors

Destinations, England, Favorite Things, The Arts and Cabaret

A chaotic meeting of artists at The Bride and the Bachelors

No Comments 10 May 2013

Ric and I don’t see eye to eye when it comes to modern and contemporary art. I am fascinated by it and even if I don’t like some pieces, I always do like to learn about the concept behind it.

Ric gets frustrated and says, “Why is this art?”, which I’m sure is a lot of people’s reactions to some of the things that go on display and sell for millions on auction. So as you would imagine, Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain is mentioned often in conversations we have when I drag him to galleries.

Visitor looks at the work Fountain (1950 replica of 1917 original) by Marcel Duchamp. Photo Felix Clay 2013

The Dada icon questioned the same thing in 1917 when he turned a porcelain urinal upside down, signed it R. Mutt and submitted it to be displayed for the Exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists. They rejected it, but Duchamp’s ‘readymade’ would make history anyway and influence plenty of artists to come, which is the basis of The Bride and the Bachelors, an exhibition available until June 9 at the Barbican.

The exhibition is the first to explore Duchamp’s legacy by tracing his interactions and exchanges with composer John Cage, choreographer Merce Cunningham and visual artists Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns.

To me, it sounded like the perfect exhibition and one I’ve actually thought about with other artists in the past. See for me, it’s the history of art and minds involved that’s usually more interesting than the work at hand. Unfortunately, this exhibition was a bit too much to take in and while at times I was intrigued, I also spent a lot of my visit flustered and confused.

The exhibition is organized to start with a room dedicated solely to Duchamp’s most influential work. On display in the first room is Fountain (1950 replica), Nude Descending Staircase and The Bride Stripped Bare of by Her Bachelors, for which the exhibition is named.

I was giddy when I walked into this room, because works I had read so much about were right in front of me. However, where I went wrong with this exhibition was trying to see it all during Dancing around Duchamp.

As I mentioned at the start, this exhibition traces Duchamp’s legacy not only to visual artists but also those in music and dance. So the Barbican dims down the lights on the exhibition for Dancing around Duchamp every Thursday from 6:30-8:30 pm and over the weekend from noon-5pm. During this time dancers from London Contemporary Dance School and Richard Alston Dance Company take to a white stage centered in the exhibition to perform Merce Cunningham’s Events, which is a dance version of Duchamp’s ‘readymades’, while John Cage’s experimental music plays in the background.

Dancers perform Merce Cunningham choreography in the exhibition. Photo Felix Clay 2013

Imagine that going on while trying to look at art and read about what can be a very intricate exhibition at times.

It was too much.

From the start I was doomed. While trying to read the introduction, I heard three voices in the background of the music and feet hitting the floor in the room next door.

If I could do it again, I would have visited the exhibition before Dancing around Duchamp to see all the visual art and read the associations between all the artists on display. Then after a short break, come back to see the dance and music performance, because it was beautiful. The dancers were amazing and it’s a very original concept to see a performance like it in an art gallery, but I just felt to overwhelmed to take it all in properly.

I wanted to carry on seeing the exhibition, which is spread out over two floors, but I also wanted to see the dance and felt really torn. I started to wonder if this is the sort of affect Duchamp would have wanted from a viewer.

Rooms in the upstairs area of the exhibition focused on tracing Duchamp’s influence and interactions with the four other artists included in this exhibition. By seeing how many works paralleled to works by Duchamp all at once, I felt a full grasp of his contribution to the art world and how different his thought process was compared to everything that was going on at the time.

How Duchamp used chance to create works like 3 Standard Stoppages and musical scores like Erratum Musical and how this idea was incorporated into dance routines by Merce Cunningham. How they used chess, a game Duchamp played often and incorporated into his work, to explain the interactions and exchanges between the four artists and Duchamp. John Cage even composed a musical notation called Chess Pieces after meeting Duchamp for the first time.

Visitor looks at the work Door 11, rue Larrey (replica) (1964) by Marcel Duchamp. Photo Felix Clay 2013

The relationship between all these men is more than influence, they met, they worked together and probably bounced ideas off each other. Jasper Johns and Merce Cunningham actually collaborated on a theatrical performance called Walkaround Time, which was inspired by Duchamp’s The Large Glass. You’ll see Walkaround Time orbiting the dance floor on the first floor.

And all these artists continue to inspire. French contemporary artist Philippe Parreno designed the exhibition and layout of all the pieces it includes.

I always wondered what it would be like to be in a room with artists from the Dada and Surrealist movements, just to hear what they said and what kind of conversations they had. They’re minds must have been so out there to create things before anyone in the world could have even imagined anything close. I would think the talks would be enlightening, profound and quite chaotic, which this exhibition definitely demonstrates.

The Bride and the Bachelors is on display at the Barbican until June 9. Purchase standard tickets online for £10 and at the door for £12.

The Barbican granted me press admission to see this exhibition. All opinions are my own.

Sexy starlets and sinister stunts at Proud’s Twisted Voo Doo

Destinations, England, Favorite Things, The Arts and Cabaret

Sexy starlets and sinister stunts at Proud’s Twisted Voo Doo

2 Comments 09 May 2013

The smile almost had me fooled.

Escaping London’s financial district to the dark, smokey basement cabaret called Proud, my friend Bobbi and I were greeted by the cutest host. A big smile and kind words at the door, he led us to our table right next to the stage and threw in a few naughty jokes along the way. In case we were wondering, he warned us before leaving the table.

“I’m going to get a lot worse than this ladies,” he said.

A couple sits together in the smokey Proud Cabaret lounge. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

The he, is Joe Morose. Once a manager at Proud, this natural performer now plays cabaret compere at the venue. The current manager said Morose hopped up on stage one night and has held the position since then.

Joe Morose opens the show with The Beatles ‘Come Together’. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Morose wasn’t joking either. He kicked off the show with his own rendition of The Beatles ‘Come Together’ highlighting the phrase, “Come together, all over me”. Dressed in a plaid ensemble and fascinator at the start of the night and baring down to a black corset with a full goblet of white wine in his hand by the end of the night, Morose sang his own version of Madonna’s ‘Vogue’ and Radiohead’s ‘Creep’ on stage while mingling and joking with members of the audience.

Morose gets cozy with members of the Proud Cabaret audience. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

“Oh I see you got a pair of pearl knickers,” he said to a man in the crowd who was thrown some lingerie during Missy Fatale’s burlesque performance. “You might get a pearl necklace later.”

This incredible stage presence brought together a unique, new show at the famed cabaret house, Twisted Voo Doo. The show mixes traditionally cabaret strip and dance routines from the likes of Jolie Papilon with shocking and sometimes grotesque acts by Preacher Muad’dib. The multiple Guinness World record holder drills a screw into his face, blows up a condemn from his nose (that’s inserted from his mouth) and does things with fire you shouldn’t try at home, during his two performances in the show.

Jolie Papilon at spins in a pearl flapper dress. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Preacher Maud’dib isn’t afraid to use power tools on stage. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Maud’dib blowing up a condemn lodges in his throat. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Most of Maud’dib’s Guinness World Records have to do with pyro acts, he showed off a few of his heated talents at Twisted Voo Doo. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

You’ll find a nice middle ground between pure sex appeal and circus-like talents with a fire act by the classic Missy Fatale as well as a burlesque feather performance, two hula hoop routines by the absolutely adorable Lisa Lottie and two acrobatic performances on an aerial hoop by Ben Brown, during which I’m pretty sure he completely twisted his torso.

Missy Fatale is exactly what you want from a burlesque cabaret dancer, classic, flawless and gorgeous. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Fatale shakes her feathers on the Proud Cabaret stage. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Fatale shows off a hidden fire talent. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Lisa Lottie’s body transitions during her hula hoop acts make it almost look easy. Almost… Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Lottie can hula hoop with more than just her waist. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Lottie adds to her act with cute face gestures and smiles. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Ben Brown’s flexibility and strength is shocking. I had to look away a few times. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

As you might have noticed, I’ve been going to a lot of cabarets in London lately and I was not going to bother with this one, because of that.

I’m really glad I did.

I found the usual burlesque cabaret routines at Proud to be some of the most elegant and sexy I’ve seen in the world and the performers gorgeous and charming. Plus, the cabaret house likes to be innovative with their shows, opting for something more than just the usual cabaret by adding a touch of voo doo.

Lisa Lottie walks on Preacher Maud’dib as he lies face down on broken glass. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

And Joe Morose…

My friend and I came to the conclusion that we loved him just two minutes into his first routine. He’s the kind of host that could you’ll remember long after a random night out or a special occasion celebrated at Proud.

Talking to him after, he told me how he wants to create for his audience a complete escape from the finances and skyscrapers that rule the world above Proud. Walking into the smokey, dimly lit cabaret house, walls decorated with scrunched red stage curtains and feathers, then completely being entertained by a lovable little troublemaker, beautiful women with booby tassels and acts so unusual that you either have to look away or stare at without blinking, I think the cabaret and its performers have completely achieved Morose’s ambition.

The crowd at Proud Cabaret for Twisted Voo Doo on Thursday. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

General admission for the show only is £11.20 online or £10 at the door, but they sell out quite fast usually, so you’re better off booking ahead. To book at table for dinner and a show, call +44 20 7283 1940 or email Prices for a three-course meal and a show are £35 on Thursdays, £40 on Fridays and £69 on Saturdays. A few of the reviews I read about Proud complained about a 12.5% service charge. This is optional for parties under six or eight people. We noticed it too and they removed it for us.

Proud granted me press admission to cover this show. All opinions are my own.

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Getting to know the London coffee culture at dedicated festival

Destinations, England, Favorite Things, Wine and Coffee

Getting to know the London coffee culture at dedicated festival

6 Comments 02 May 2013

There’s a culture behind absolutely everything in life.

It serves the people who are involved in the industry or those who just like a particular hobby or subject. Though some things in life have a much bigger culture than others, like coffee.

These days, coffee is way more than just a perk-up drink. Some may say it always was, but it’s definitely become more popular and attracted more followers worldwide in the last 15 years than ever. In fact, I’d dare to say that the coffee and cafe culture that exists today might be even bigger than that off wine.

I love that everything has a culture and a following. One of my favorite activities is seeing where events lead me and ending up at some random place with people who are completely dedicated to something.

Following the trails of events dedicated to a particular subject has allowed me to be taught by one of the world’s most popular belly dancers, it’s led me to abandoned warehouses in North Philadelphia with epic parties and this weekend it brought me to The London Coffee Festival.

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Because of my love for getting involved in different cultures and the fact that my dad is a metal salesman and almost every industry needs that, I’ve been to a lot of trade shows, which is basically what London Coffee Festival is, but better because it involves food, drink and is set in a very trendy Shoreditch warehouse.

Basically, it was my Woodstock.

I think I drank a total of six cups of coffee during my six-hour visit. I swear they were only little. I was so wired by the time I reached the last barista, I’m surprised he didn’t turn me away.

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

I learned a million new ways to make a cuppa and saw just as many devices used to do so. Am I the only person who didn’t know what an Aeropress was? I saw beans being roasted, pouring techniques, coffee art and learned about coffee harvesting around the world. Plus, like any trade show, visitors received loads of free samples and tastings.

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

It started as soon as I entered Old Truman Brewery and was handed a bag filled with the 2012 edition of The London Coffee Guide, mints, chips and more. During the event I got to try ice cream, cheeses, chai and chocolate. Google Local London gave me a free bag Union hand-roasted coffee beans for filling out reviews of London cafes on Google+.

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

It’s the first time I’ve ever been to a barista competition, which are quite intense. It’s kind of funny to watch people make coffee in front of an audience and judges while dance music plays in the background for people, like me, who have never seen it before.

It is an art though and great to see the best in action.

The UK Aeropress Championship took place at the London Coffee Festival. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Further, there were some very innovative ideas and products on display that visitors of the event are often the first to see and can purchase usually at a discount. A few things amazed me.

The first was the Grower’s Cup Coffeebrewer, which is basically a French press in a bag. This appealed to me especially as a traveler, because your guaranteed to have good coffee on you and the tools to make it, no matter where you go.  I had visions of road trips when I saw it.

I sampled coffee from the Grower’s Cup Coffeebrewer upon arrival. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

I also liked BlankBox’s coffee subscription program. Basically, people subscribe to BlankBox as they would a magazine and for £10 a month receive a box with two bags of coffee beans from a variety of roasters to try. What’s interesting is that the bags are unmarked and only have a small red or blue colored box on each. You try the blend first and can check online to see where it was roasted and learn more about the blend.

The last thing I liked was Rok Kitchen Tools’ Espresso Maker. If you haven’t noticed, there has been an increase in at-home coffee machines lately that claim to make artisan coffees from little pods and tastes ‘just like the cafe’. It’s a cool idea, but I’ve yet to find one that actually accomplishes that. I thought Rok’s tool was really fun, because you get to play barista and be hands on, but it’s really straight forward and produces a great shot of espresso. Plus, you can use coffee beans from wherever you like. It requires no electricity other than to boil your water or heat your milk and even comes with a milk frother. Look at the video below to see how it works.

There were also endless educational talks and demonstrations offered throughout the festival, including a Lindt chocolate and coffee pairing. I’m sure everyone wanted to volunteer for that one. They even had parties, coffee-inspired cocktails and live music performances throughout the festival. Coffee martini anyone?

The only problem with going to any festival of experts in a certain area, especially one as hip as coffee, is that some of the people can be quite pretentious. It was rare, but it was definitely there.

Overall I had such a good time and the value of samples, advice and coffee was worth much more than the prices of admission. I can’t encourage travelers enough to visit one of these shows no matter what the focus. They’re so much fun, a great learning experience and include some really interesting products. The Coffee Festival was especially good, but you can’t really go wrong with good coffee though can you?

The London Coffee Festival granted me press admission to cover this event.

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Why cabaret is the ideal weekend escape

Blog, Favorite Things, The Arts and Cabaret, What I'm thinking

Why cabaret is the ideal weekend escape

No Comments 26 April 2013

Full-figured women dancing on stage, acrobats swinging their bodies above it, parties that require dress up and make believe, green-fairy cocktails and feathers, endless amounts of feathers. If you haven’t noticed there is a new trend in nightlife, cabaret and 1920s-inspired parties.

I first noticed it in Brisbane, Australia when I visited Cantina, my first cabaret, at the city’s Fringe Festival in 2010. I was instantly-hooked and kept my eye out for more events like it. Cut to over two years later in London and there’s no end to them. Since arriving in this city, I’ve been to parties dedicated to the turn of the 20th century, I’ve met hair and make up artists who only style people to look like 1920s bombshells, I’ve been given passwords to speakeasies that nobody is suppose to know about but everybody knows about and of course, I’ve been to a few cabaret shows.

The Black Cat Cabaret at Cafe de Paris in London. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

I. Love. Cabaret.

What’s not to love? These events give people a chance to try a different look, visit really unique venues and are the closest we’ll get to time travel.

I think that’s what’s so alluring to me. Obviously, you all know I love travel, but what you might not know is my love for the history of the places. I’m a sentimental sod and I can’t think of the last time I visited a place without thinking about the memories of their past.

Belle Epoque Party in London. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

In Bangkok, I walked in the footsteps of Somerset Maugham by going for tea in the author’s lounge at Mandarin Oriental. In Hollywood, I thought of all the starlets of the Golden Age who performed at Paramount and Warner Bros. studios, which I has the chance to visit. Finally in London, a city with a lengthy and incredible history, not only do I get to imagine the city’s past in my head, but I also get to see it come to life.

That’s what this trend is about, re-creating the lifestyle of a former period in time. I adore it and considering that you’ve landed on this travel blog, I think you might as well. Instead of planning an escape to a different city this weekend, why not do so to a different time? Cabarets and speakeasies are popping up in major cities all over the world, so have a look to see what’s available in your town or nearest city. You’ll find links to cabaret shows and events in a few cities around the world listed below.

Cabaret in London

Cabaret in New York City

Cabaret in LA

Cabaret in Las Vegas

Cabaret in Paris

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The Black Cat Cabaret London (Review)

Destinations, England, Favorite Things, The Arts and Cabaret

The Black Cat Cabaret London (Review)

No Comments 25 April 2013

What makes a good cabaret?

Is it the sex appeal of the performers, their acrobatic or dance ability? Is it the costumes and personality the people on stage? Or does the venue and crowd set it apart from every other show in town?

The Black Cat Cabaret’s answer to this: all of the above.

With acts ranging from a jump-roping tap dancer to a fire-breathing goddess, and a bold and hilarious MC to bring it all together, this is truly a cabaret that will entertain everyone.

Missy Macabre performs her pyro act at The Black Cat Cabaret. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

In a city that has endless cabaret options, maybe The Black Cat got it right by basing their show on the original. The first modern cabaret opened in 1881 in Montmartre Paris, France called Le Chat Noir, which translates of course to ‘the black cat’. The show featured a variety of performances to indulge the Bohemian society of its time.

Dusty Limits, Black Cat’s presenter and one of its creators, explains the show’s history quickly at the start of the night. Dawning a feathered blazer and paling make up, he spends the rest of the night getting the audience involved (even sitting on a few laps), singing, dancing and having everyone in stitches with his quick comebacks and perfectly-timed jokes.

Dusty Limits kicks off The Black Cat Cabaret. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Throughout the two-hour show, Dusty introduces over ten acts. It’s hard to pick a favorite at a show like this, where everyone is amazing for different reasons. Jesse Love’s jump-rope, tap dance routine was adorable, but the Cabaret Rouge trio really made me feel like I was in a club in Paris rather than London with their can-can performance and menage a trois, interpretive dance. I usually enjoy aerial-hoop performances like Bret Pfister’s and pyro acts like Missy Macabre’s the most, but I didn’t want the hilarious Eastend Cabaret duo to end either.

Cabaret Rouge in the middle of their three-some dance routine. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Bret Pfister stuns people from above. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Made up of an accordion-playing, she-man and spotlight-stealing sphinx, Eastend Cabaret had the audience roaring as the wandered through it and sang a song on stage with the refrain, “It was still hard.”. I’ll left you interpret that one.

Eastend Cabaret competes for the spotlight. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

The duo point and yell “pretentious stalker” at an audience member. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Every act is memorable for a different reason and unique to the core. On top of an original performance, their choice of music was always carried out by Michael Roulston; the show’s piano player on the side of the stage, their own instruments (including a musical saw) or other means. But no matter the song, they always stick to the time period of cabaret’s origins, even turning Beyonce’s hip hop “Crazy in Love” into a fast-paced 1900’s hit version of the song.

While the show would be good just about anywhere, the venue for The Black Cabaret plays a leading role as well.

Champagne comes with sparklers at Cafe de Paris. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

It takes place in Cafe de Paris’s Titanic Room. The French-inspired club is an obvious fit for a show of Parisian origins. Walking into this famous London club, you’re actually on the upper level. Once going through a dimly-lit hallway with red decor, the club opens up in a sort of theater in the round way. The cheap seats (£12-15), at the upper level, line a balcony looking down to a small stage with Cafe de Paris in gold across the top. Two grand staircases line the stage and lead people to a dining area with massive circular tables and crisp white cloths. To sit in this area during the show you must pay for a two or three course dinner (£47.50-52.50). The VIP three-course dinner is £75.00.

The performers make use of every area Cafe de Paris has to offer them. They parade around the top level at the start of the show. They descend to the stage on open staircases. They sing from a small balcony just above the stage. And of course, they wander through the audience throughout the night.

Sammy Dinneen makes handstands look sexy. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Overall, it’s everything you would expect of a cabaret in perfect proportion: excess.

The resurgence of cabaret in modern times has allowed for different spins on an old show, but there’s a reason that old show has come to popularity again. People want to see what the Bohemians were partying about, why cabaret was so entertaining and to have a little escape from the current state of the world. The Black Cabaret does just that, presenting cabaret exactly as it was intended.

See The Black Cat Cabaret every Friday at Cafe de Paris. Doors open at 7pm and show starts at 8:30pm. If you’re purchasing general admission, arrive early as seats are first come, first serve and it’s very hard to see from certain spots. The show is known to sell out, especially dinner options, so book in advance.

The Black Cat Cabaret granted me press admission to cover this show.

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Party like it’s ‘la belle epoque’ in London

Destinations, England, Favorite Things, The Arts and Cabaret

Party like it’s ‘la belle epoque’ in London

3 Comments 23 April 2013

La Belle Epoque or “The Beautiful Era” was a period in French history, between the end of the Franco-Prussian War (1871) and outbreak of World War I (1914).  During this period, world fairs were opening, music, art and theater were thriving, people were prosperous and happy.

It was one of those times we all refer to as the ‘good ol’ days’. An era many wish they could be apart of and a party life that would be hard to recreate, until now.

Belle Epoque Circus Party aims to take the people of London away to another place and time at their celebrations happening once every couple of months in locations around the city. (The next is June 15 at Bloomsbury Ballroom.)

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

I attended their April 13th Belle Epoque Party at the Village Underground in Shoreditch. I’ve been to themed parties in the past, but none ever this detailed and dedicated to accuracy. Belle Epoque is not just another night out, it’s an experience and everyone gets involved.

The present disappeared as I walked into the Village Underground and guests walking in with me shed their coats to reveal bustiers, bow ties and thigh-high stockings. Part of the reason this party works so well is because the people who attend are so into it.

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

If you feel a bit under-dressed or out of place, the party has makeup artists on site doing complimentary vintage make overs. Lauren of The Beauty Queens added some sparkle around my eyes to go with my look. After putting on my best turn-of-the-20th-century face, it was time to get into the right mindset. The bar at Belle Epoque sells time-inspired cocktails, like The Gatsby, for about £8 each.

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Red drink in hand, red skirt above, the first acrobat to perform during the night took to the middle of the dance floor at 9:30pm. Slinging herself back and fourth on a rope, the crowd stopped their dancing for a few minutes, all eyes gazing to the sky.

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

This area and part of the Belle Epoque party is definitely its biggest draw. An open dance floor at ground level, the limits set by a balcony above it where onlookers have the chance to take in the party completely. At one point, I looked from above at the crowd below who could’ve been dancing to “Tha-Ma-Ra-Boum-Di-He” by Polaire , rather than “You’ve got the love,” by Florence and the Machine, which the DJ on stage was spinning at the moment. I’ve watched a lot of circus and cabaret shows in the past, but I’ve never felt so much apart of one.

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Five more acrobats performed throughout the night, which went on until 2am. The party succeeds so well in taking people away, that you feel sort of nervous to leave. It almost feels like coming home from an exotic holiday.

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

The next Belle Epoque party will be on Saturday, June 15 at Bloomsbury Ballroom. You can purchase tickets, which cost £20 each, online. The whole point of the party is to follow the theme of the night, so wear your best time-inspired get up, but at least get dressed up. They take the dress code very seriously, Ric was turned away for wearing sneakers and jeans, and with good reason. The fact that everyone was involved and dressed to the nines is what makes this experience so special.

Belle Epoque granted me press admission to review this exhibit. All opinions are my own.

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Seeing icons through Man Ray’s Lense (Review)

Destinations, England, Favorite Things, The Arts and Cabaret

Seeing icons through Man Ray’s Lense (Review)

No Comments 18 April 2013

It was Lee Miller that led me to Man Ray.

I stumbled upon a small exhibit dedicated to her life and work in the Philadelphia Museum of Art years ago and immediately idolized her. Model and muse, turned avant-garde photographer, turned war correspondent? Obviously I looked up to her considering my love of all things 1920s and interest in becoming a foreign correspondent at the time.

Solarised Portrait of Lee Miller, c.1929 by Man Ray
The Penrose Collection
© Man Ray Trust/ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2012, courtesy The Penrose Collection. Image courtesy the Lee Miller Archives

I learned about her love affair with Man Ray at that exhibit, how she trained under him and how, together, they created solarization. Infatuated with her and her life, when I found out about Man Ray Portraits at the National Portrait Gallery I had to go for Miller’s sake, but left with a whole new love for Man Ray, which seems to be a common occurrence amongst women who come in contact with this photographer.

The exhibit, which is broken into five time periods between 1916 and 1976 displaying over 150 prints by the artist, kind of felt like looking into the best tabloid magazine possible. Before you roll your eyes and think, how is this girl comparing Man Ray to tabloids, let me explain.

This collection features one of the world’s greatest documentation of two highly romanticised periods in art and film, modern art in 1920s Paris and the Golden Age of Hollywood in the 1940s, by a single artist. It includes portraits of Duchamp in drag, Hemingway in the stoic manly look you’d expect of him, Ava Gardner on set, Picasso young and old but just as intense and countless other performers and artists from both periods.

These were the people of the time, the crowd everyone wanted to be apart of, dress like and bump into and Man Ray photographed them. Plus he had a unique glimpse into their lives, because he was one of them. He captured these two eras and the prime players involved in them so honest, yet gracefully, I almost felt like I had entered a time warp at certain points of the exhibit.

Man Ray Self-Portrait with Camera, 1932 by Man Ray
The Jewish Museum, New York, Purchase: Photography Acquisitions Committee Fund, Horace W. Goldsmith Fund, and Judith and Jack Stern Gift, 2004-16. Photo by Richard Goodbody, Inc
© 2008 Man Ray Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY / ADAGP, Paris 2012 © Photo The Jewish Museum

One of, if not the, most famous portrait featured in the exhibit is that one of Coco Chanel that’s been used time and time again. Black and white, hat tilted above her eyes like some sort of gangster as she looks to the side, countless layers of pearls draped on her neck and chest. I always thought because I’d seen this photo so many times in ads and images with quotes about fashion that when I finally saw the real thing it wouldn’t affect me as much.

I was wrong.

I’m not one of those people to get up close and stare at photos or paintings for ages, but I did with this one. In those few minutes of looking at the perfection of this image and getting sucked into a slightly blurry bangle, I became completely lost in time, having a Midnight in Paris moment.

While Man Ray is known as a lot of things, Dadaist, experimental artist, surrealist, casanova, this exhibit explores his life and his work for what photography is most important for, capturing history through small moments. Man Ray Portraits features vintage photos, magazines and more from Man Ray’s career. You’ll see Ray as a documentary photographer  through the work on display at the National Portrait Gallery, but also learn about all his other contributions to photography and see the techniques and characteristics that made his work so unique then and now.

Like with tabloids, seeing the photos in this exhibit will have you curious to find out more about the people of the times and where else you can find them captured on film.

Man Ray Portraits is on display at the National Portrait Gallery until 27 May 2013. Adult admission is £14.00. Visit their website to book tickets and learn more.

Banner photo credit: Catherine Deneuve, 1968 by Man Ray, Private Lender, © Man Ray Trust ARS-ADAGP / DACS

National Portrait Gallery granted me press admission to review this exhibit. All opinions are my own.

Like what you see? Follow me on Bloglovin’, Twitter and Facebook to keep up with what I’m writing about. 😉

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