In the late 1970s, Regent’s Park Road was just another one of London’s down-at-heel parades, a row of rudderless, crumbling shop fronts. But it was cheap and central, so my dad took a basement office, from which he bought and sold not-so-cheap cases of wine.
Culinary options were limited to the brown velvet-curtained booths and prawn cocktails of Mustoe Bistro across the road, or the unreconstructed earthenware idealism of the (now world-class) meat-free Manna just round the corner.
The pubs were faded, the parking options plentiful. Rehearsal spaces and workshops filled disused stables. A former squat operated as a sweaty nightclub, The Howff, in the building that was later to become the Creation Records office. It brought a few people staggering up from the scene around the Enterprise and Roundhouse, but this was otherwise a quiet backwater of the equally down-on-its-luck Camden Town.
As one of the first pockets of the city to, er, hipsterize – long before the term was ever coined -(yuppify perhaps being the choice sneer back in the day) – Primrose Hill is a mature London “village”.
Its unique borders – the deep swathe of railway line, the kink of Regent’s Canal and the Royally-protected parks – keep the area neatly contained and offer a semi-seclusion that has made it such a fave of the 90s Jude-and-Sadie set.
Enviable topography aside, it shares much with the capital’s other famously brushed up ‘hood, Notting Hill, from the rebooted grandeur of its villas to the proliferation of interiors shops, £800-a-pop buggies and vaguely ridiculous dogs.
The area’s big ticket attractions deliver the goods dependably, even for spoiled-for-choice city folk. London Zoo, with its swanky new Tiger Territory, Grade I listed ex-Penguin Pool, skyline defining aviary and bug-eyed wonders is a rejuvenated and rightly popular institution.Meanwhile the de rigueur climb to the top of the Hill rewards with one of the quintessential city vistas, remarkable and photogenic whatever the weather. The park’s trademark gas lamps flag the arteries that run back down again, leading the out-of-puff and the exhilarated straight into the clutches of the many cake vendors on Regent’s Park Road.
Café options? Beyond numerous, with coffee much improved, especially with the arrival of the Little One, a dedicated if diminutive Brazilian-English beans specialist. For something a little stronger, The Queen’s at the foot of the Hill, or the sun-trap Pembroke Castle up the other end are both solid locals, with a higher-than-average chance of having a pint stood next to someone off the telly.
Health and beauty emporia know no bounds along this strip, with alternative therapy and fitness studios to be found at the end of every delightful mews. Grand dame, Triyoga (Erskine Rd), recently revealed its meditative HQ is threatened by proposed property development, but residents are famously vocal about encroaching change, so fingers are crossed the rare fury of yogis has been noted.Change is nevertheless unstoppable back on the main drag. Much-loved institutions dating back to before my dad brokered his subterranean deals have recently closed, such as health food pioneers Seseme, Polish run Primrose Patisserie and Welsh’s, the hardware shop.
Others, like vast Greek taverna Lemonia and hot newcomer Greenberry Cafe (see box) are seemingly forever packed, highlighting the direction this now far from crumbling parade finds itself pulled towards.
A stroll deeper into Chalcot Square and surrounds reveals a proliferation of heritage blue plaques waiting to be discovered.
So, beneath the cupcake and luxury linen strewn surface, P-Hill offers visitors an easily unearthed and rich cultural history. More than enough, in fact, to give the throwaway detractors of its modern day posh village tag some food for thought as they drift out of the boundaries and back into the smoke.