If you live dog-free in our odd but shapely chunk of north London, you may not be aware that we’re inhabiting a tangible canine heaven. A neighbourhood where two legs share equal status with four – from the pedigree, the quietly individual and the cheerfully pedestrian, to the vaguely confused and downright uncategorizable.
A rogue, dog-loving gene prejudicing my view? Those who curse the unedifying piles of poo about the place will think so, but I’m not so sure.
Let’s look at the evidence for Kentish Town as pooch paradise. (NB All venues have been tested by Chippy, a small, quite badly-behaved Jack Russell. Bigger breed owners, you’ll have to try it out for yourself.)
1. Hampstead Heath seems obvious but weirdly, not everyone bothers. It’s the Grail of Good Dog Stuff.
Go wild in the country, little mutts, without the danger of an irate farmer taking potshots after you’ve chowed down on his spring lambs (loads of squirrels and other peoples’ picnics though – yum).
2. Rochester Terrace Gardens. Just left off Kentish Town Road after the (magical) Greek church is a secret society for small dogs of good nature (Chippy on the fringes here). Neurotics, ailing oldies and joyfully unhinged puppies are positively welcomed and it’s the home of Charlie the Whippet. I’ve only encountered one mad, bad Staff in the last year (though I’ve heard a few tales), and there are loads of sweet, doddery fluffballs with eccentric owners.
3. Cantelowes Gardens is for when Fido wants to ramp it up a notch. Bit touch and go at the wrong time of day (which keeps changing so I can’t advise); we’re talking an open-air halfway-house. Lots of tightly-wound dogs with names like Pagan, Kaiser, Rizla. Easy to lay one’s furry self open to kamikaze pitbull attacks so stay on guard. It’s unsurpassed for fast-food foraging and condom-killing though.
Ok, you’re all wagged out: a disorganised lazy-arse such as myself will want to do everything on the one trip, and so this is what Chippy and I have discovered you can get away with in Kentish Town Central.
1. Grocers: BuyWise Express and Guzel’s International Food Centre – the two mini-markets south of Prince of Wales Road – are both friendly, although you have to carry your dog. Everbest next to Sainsbury’s (yo Everbest!) are dog lovers to a man, but only go to Iceland if you’ve got a chihuahua, a big handbag and a cunning nature (yo Pablo!) Drinker’s Paradise (which has a selection of dog food for emergency alcohol/pet food scenarios) and Oddbins are also both happy to see canines.
2. General: In terms of charity shops, there are hound fanciers in Age Concern and PDSA if you carry your pet, keep moving and don’t catch anyone’s eye. (Oxfam is a no.) The Owl Bookshop, ABC chemist and Day Lewis chemist are amenable to behind-counter sniffing, and Britannia Building Society (and most banks) turn a blind eye to carpet-chewing and low-to-medium level inane barking.
Chippy had a peak experience with some behind-counter salted almonds in Abbas electrical shop, and B & S are open to anything you care to throw at them, including tripping customers up. The London Bead Company will carry out serious floor-level fussing and cuddling whilst Crystal the Westie goes berserk with jealousy out back.
Poundstretcher is fine if you can come up with a good excuse, and there’s a welcome in Morgan’s Stationers and the hardware shop next to Oxfam Books. Planet News next to Phoenicia are very friendly (doggy treats always handed out from behind the counter), as is the Guardian newsagent near E.mono.
3. House & Gardens: There’s superb snuffling to be had in amongst the blooms in Jayne’s Flowers; I thought Chippy, charmingly, had the soul of a florist but rather less delightfully it’s the blood and fish guts in the bonemeal/soil mix. Chippy had his rehab in Boma Garden Centre after a huge operation. Sandwich-hunting is allowed in the office and lots of fussings – it’s a microcosmic dog-heaven.
NIGHTS ON THE TOWN
The Lion and Unicorn: surely the sweetest bar staff in London? They have the pinnacle of doggy service, with a lovely, warm welcome and sustained fussings.
The Torriano is a laid back evening out for dogs, and they can wander at will.
The Abbey is fine if your dog is leaded, as is The Oxford, although I’ve not tested it yet, and there are usually several dogs in the Old Eagle on Royal College St, so watch out if you’ve got a scrapper.
No-go: indie fave the Bull and Gate, O’Reilly’s (look, I know some of you want to try it so don’t look at me like that), the George IV, the one with all the foliage on sleepy Willes Road.
And then, non-believers, read through this list again and hand on heart, tell me it ain’t a dog’s life in NW5?
PS If you want to improve your quality of life by 100% and also make friends with 99% of Kentish Town (a non-sequitur for some of you, I admit), you’ll need to get over to the Mayhew rescue home and choose yourself a hairy, second-hand companion.
See you on the Heath, poop-pickers!