Unless you're in the mood for some unashamed camp fun in one of it's many gay clubs, Vauxhall isn't top of most people's list of places to go for a night out. But stray a little from the thumping bass of the railway arch strip, further down the South Lambeth Road, and you'll find a strip of a different kind.
I'm talking about what the locals call, 'Little Lisbon'. It's a quarter mile stretch, if that, with every kind of Portuguese shop, restaurant and bar you could want, to satisfy the growing number of Portuguese residents in the local area. During the day, many of these places are cafes, serving anything from a cheap 'sanduíche', to snacks like Olives and Coxinhas. And, whatever time of day you go, they all sell Sagres. My favourite has to be 'Cafe Portugal'. It's a tiny little place with one side designated for a television showing remarkably dated looking Portuguese chat shows, and of course, football matches. The chairs are all turned towards it, like it were mecca, with the locals casting one eye up whilst having heated debates about something or other. No one bats an eyelid when you walk in; the kind of place I like.
The other side, separated by a wall covered in faded family photos, is a great little restaurant where you can get great cheap food- tapas if you want it, cheap beer and great company. It's the ideal place to people watch too, with the whole front of the place being glass and looking out onto the South Lambeth Road. It's always worth people watching on South Lambeth Road; you get all the loons and the full cross-section of London society. It was here, looking out of this window that I saw a man talking on a banana as if it were a mobile phone. That alone is worth the price of a Sagres.
There's another cafe, just as good and owned by the same people, and a flower shop too, but what about the bars I hear your parched lips cry?
'Estrella', just a little further down is worth a visit: always packed, especially in summer when people sit outside, spilling out onto the pavement, forever in shades, pretending they've never left the hot sun of Portugal behind.
But the jewel in the crown of 'Little Lisbon' is the 'Brazilian Bar'. I call it the 'Brazilian Bar' because it has so many names, and it's just easier that way. Some call it 'Tia Maria', some call it 'The Weatsheaf' (it was originally a very English Pub), and some call it 'Tapioca House'. I call it the Brazilian Bar, because everything I think a brazilian bar should be, it is. It's run by Brazilians and has live Samba music nearly every night. Sometimes there's a band, other times there's this guy we call the 'Human Jukebox'. You can request any song, and he will know it, playing it in Samba style on his little beat up and stickered acoustic guitar. I've stayed in there til you could hear the birds singing in the trees; in fact i don’t think I've ever come out of that place when it was still dark. I don’t know how they've kept their license as it's a pretty residential area, but it's a popular little place.
Towards the end of the night, when only the dedicated few are left, they often bring out this big tub that looks like it might have been for ice cream at one point. It's full of the most potent punch you will ever have and we all sit round this circlular table like we're having a kind of drunk meeting. They ladel it out, with bits of fruit and weird sticks and bits of bark in it and we sit there drinking, smoking weed, with the human jukebox playing songs, all of us on percussion. Every so often The Human Jukebox says that he’s run out of songs and passes the guitar to someone else, who drunkenly stumbles through a classic, butchering it (I once played Heard It Through The Grapevine, sorry Marvin), but then he always remembers another one. Every night he plays that famous Sergio Mendes song, 'Mas Que Nada', with lots of ooohs and ahhhhhs thrown in for good measure.
So if you find yourself in Vauxhall on a Friday night, but can't face the thought of 'Fire' or 'Hoist', take a wander down to 'Little Lisbon', get some food, get some drink, have a dance. I'll see you there.