A miniature Santorini-on-Thames has popped up amongst some of London’s shiniest glass-fronted buildings. Just south-west of Tower Bridge, the temporary village is part of London Bridge City’s Summer by the River event. The festival attempts to bring some Mediterranean flair to a development that, when first completed, was shortlisted for a prize awarded to “the ugliest building in the United Kingdom completed in the last 12 months.”
The bar itself appears closest to a Greek island, but borrows indiscriminately from southern European architectural styles. Characteristically Greek blue window panes sit alongside mini-cypress trees redolent of Tuscany, and bright yellow tiles that scream southern Spain. The area’s landlord, London Bridge City, notes that it is “designed to represent a collage of Mediterranean coastal towns.” One cannot but feel that the development is taunting Londoners, many of whom might be desperate to leave for a holiday somewhere with a warm breeze, but have repeatedly been warned by the government to plan for another year of staycations.
The wide riverside walkway and the open courtyard architecture of the ‘Riverside Terrace’ bar might evoke the democratic ideal of the continental public piazza, but the entire area is in fact a pseudo-public space, one of a growing number of privately owned developments designed to look and feel like public land. They are patrolled by private security guards; can set their own rules and restrictions for public access; and even feel empowered to ban “unsanctioned journalistic activity.” In the case of More London, where the summer-long festival is taking place, the entire area is owned by Kuwait’s sovereign wealth fund: An investment authority tasked with managing the oil-rich Gulf state’s surplus cash.
For those who can put all that to one side, between 10 June and 30 September the Riverside Terrace bar will sell drinks inspired by the breadth of Mediterranean Europe, alongside “small plates and tapas dishes” (no further details as yet), only breaking the riviera theme to serve Lynchburg Lemonades from landlocked Tennessee. Nearby, and also part of the Summer by the River event, will be a pizza venue run by serial pop-up caterer Jimmy Garcia, and an outdoor cinema showing Hollywood classics and summer sporting events.
With the confusion surrounding the government’s regularly-changing ‘green list’ for foreign travel, a pop-up Santorini-on-Thames might be the closest many Londoners will get to the Mediterranean this summer. Ignoring the towering corporate headquarters nearby, it’s not all bad: the adjacent water fountains give off the addictive aroma of the Log Flume at Barry Island Pleasure Park (or of Disneyland, for those with more exotic childhood water park memories). The pop-up village is perfectly positioned for mid-summer sunset selfies.
Those who are particularly adept at suspending their disbelief and imagining themselves somewhere balmier and more secluded would be well-advised to avoid the temptation to go skinny-dipping in the nearby Thames. Eater can’t imagine that the landlord’s private security team would take kindly to that.