Popping the Western Bubble: An Alternative Guide to London, Ontario

The southwestern city of London, Ontario is often viewed as being merely a “student city” -- granted, London does comprise of more than 47,000 students both of Western University and Fanshawe College, and this number decreases drastically in the summer months. Because of such a large student population, much of what is known about London is restricted to the “Western bubble” -- that is, Western’s campus, the bars and restaurants on Richmond Row, and Masonville Mall. Most of the student population spend their four or more years in the city without often stepping outside this encompassing bubble. 

There is also a well-known divide in the city of London, summed up in the three letters: E.O.A. The acronym stands for East of Adelaide, referring to the road that runs through the center of the city and serves as the “divide” of London: the west side is perceived as rich and snobby and the east side, “E.O.A.”, is also wrongly accused of being run-down, “sketchy”, and poor. This assumption has only grown over time, and the often wealthy students come to believe the misconception that comes with the east end of the city, and stay clear of it entirely. 

These cultural assumptions have come to keep the hidden attractions of the city just that -- hidden. London is more than just a small, quaint imitation of the great city of the same name in England, and certainly more than the Western bubble. What lays beyond that is a city that is rich in cultural heritage, local artistry, and is home to neighbourhoods that are full of character. It’s time to pop that Western bubble and find out what’s at the heart of London, Ontario.

The Root Cellar

If you dare to venture East-of-Adelaide, you’ll find yourself at The Root Cellar. Located in the Old East Village at Dundas and Adelaide, the newly renovated cafe and restaurant offers organic breakfast, lunch and dinner. Established in 2012,The Root Cellar is a locally owned and run cafe that originated from London’s local and organic produce distribution company, On The Move Organics. The quirky, relaxed cafe boasts a menu of all-organic, locally grown produce that reflects their belief in supporting sustainable agricultural practices. The quality of the food is reflected in its price -- a basic quinoa and bean salad is $10.95, and flavoured lattes that rival Starbucks‘ are upwards of $4.00. It is also home to a microbrewery, London Brewing Co-operative. Not only does The Root Cellar cook and sell local, they also regularly feature local artist’s work and music in the cafe that are also available for purchase.

The specialty menu features weekly items that change based on ingredients that are in-season. Don’t expect fast-paced service even though the cafe does provide table service -- the seasonally prepared menu is 100% made from scratch, which reflects in the time it makes to prepare the dish and have it arrive at your table. The staff are extremely friendly and apologetic about wait times, often providing patient customers with free artisan baked pastries upon finishing their meal. The Root Cellar is a vegan and gluten-free paradise, but worry not, carnivores! A tasty water buffalo burger priced at $12.95 is always on the menu, and their rotating specials often include free-range chicken and beef dishes. You can experiment with The Root Cellar’s fresh menu from 8:00 am - 7:00 pm Monday through Tuesday, and 8:00 am - 11:00 pm Wednesday through Saturday!

Photo from The Root Cellar Facebook page

Call The Office

In the depths of downtown London at the corner of York and Clarence, Call The Office doubles as both a bar and a concert venue. The club is nestled into a 140-year-old triple brick building, and you can sense its age when entering its dark, beaten-down venue that has an unexplainably misty air to it. Though it’s not much on the eyes, it does have character -- the first thing you notice as you walk through the doors is a wall of press photos of all the big names who have played at CTO throughout the years, including Blink 182, Queens of the Stone Age and Black Flag.

Rest assured you’ll feet right at home in a casual outfit of ripped jeans, a flannel and the Doc Martins you dug out from the back of your closet while you sip on cheap beer from a red solo cup. Local live music is the main attraction at Call The Office, and you’ll usually see a regular crowd at these busy shows. 

Call The Office isn’t just a rundown “concert hall”, though. It also features fun theme nights like Retro night on Sundays and Motown on Saturdays, all within the ridiculously affordable price of 2-5 dollar entry cover. You won’t find stumbling, underage students in 6-inch heels here -- it’s the ideal location to relax, listen to quality music and meet new people.

Photo from Call The Office Facebook page

Museum London

Lying at the fork of the Thames River, Museum London is the perfect blend of art gallery and history museum for the city-dweller on a budget, as most of the activities at the museum are free of charge -- entry is by donation. If you don’t know much about the history of the city, the helpful staff and guided tours provide information on the brief but intriguing history of London, Ontario as we know it today. The museum is ideal for a short afternoon trip, as it takes about an hour or two to explore, depending on how much time you spend in each of the exhibits. The exhibitions change four times a year featuring regional paintings, sculptures and photography.

Although an ideal location for family outings, the museum is also trying to gear itself to an older crowd. The view of the Thames River is spectacular on the second floor, and can also be seen in one of the museum’s two restaurants, The River Room. The Rhino Lounge, a casual cafe-style bakery and coffee shop is an perfect study location for students, as it provides free WiFi, relaxing lighting and sells delectable “cronuts” -- a croissant-donut hybrid! The gift shop is also an all-in-one, selling a mix of ceramics, rugs, jewelry, books, and children’s toys, to name a few. Museum London is open Tuesday through Sunday from 12:00 pm - 5:00 pm, and Thursdays until 9:00 pm.

Photo from Museum London Facebook page.

The London Potters Guild

The London Potters Guild located on Dundas Street near Adelaide is a pottery studio that offers attractions for both experienced potters as well as those who have never touched a lump of clay before! The Potters Guild hosts classes throughout the week for those of all ages. The classes are hosted in the building’s newly renovated facility, the London Clay Art Centre. These classes range in price from 30 dollars for one class to 215 dollars for advanced classes that run for several weeks. “Clay Camps” are also held for children during school breaks and summer vacation. If you only want to try your hand at pottery, 30 dollars will buy you a pinch pot workshop; that is, you will mold a clay ball into a vessel of your choice and decorate it using different manual tools. It takes about an hour or two to create your pot, depending on how detailed your decorations. The potters will then fire your creation and provide you with a lasting pot that you can use to decorate your house!

The Potters Guild also has a store that is open Sundays - Saturdays from 11:00 am - 4:00 pm. The store displays and sells the work of artists who are members of the London Potters Guild. The pottery studio  holds a bi-annual sale that gives its members the opportunity to sell their creations to artists from around the world.

Photo from The London Potters Guild website.