LONDON (AP) — Tourists mingled Monday outside the grungy Hawley Arms pub near London’s open air Camden Market, peering inside as if it were hallowed ground.
“Was that her pub?” one excitedly asked. His friends assured him that the late Amy Winehouse had indeed been a frequent patron.
The only obvious link to Winehouse was a sign outside reading “Back to Black” in reference to her breakthrough 2006 album, which made Winehouse an international star and turned her into the unofficial patron saint of Camden Town, a drug-ridden mishmash of hard-drinking pubs, tattoo parlors, cheap food stalls, and vendors selling everything from second-hand designer jackets to tacky posters.
Camden has been a bohemian touchstone in London for several decades. In classic film “Withnail and I” actor Richard E. Grant embarked on an orgy of drink and drugs here, Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren’s funeral procession went through the center of town, and famous rockers are sometimes seen slipping their way through the usually jammed streets.
The appeal is not that hard to define: It’s dirty, trendy, edgy — and tremendously popular. And the young say they can find everything they want: Loud music, food, drink and, of course, drugs.
The neighborhood’s main drag has more tattoo and body piercing shops per block than any other London city stretch. Its restaurants are known for their fanciful facade decorations — a favorite with the waves of foreign visitors who like to be photographed in front of various landmarks.
A few blocks away is The Roundhouse, a treasured concert venue where the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix and others have played. Winehouse made an impromptu appearance onstage just days before her death but was not well enough to sing.
It has been common in recent years for Winehouse “wannabes” to come to Camden wearing ripped clothes and their hair piled on top of their heads in a rough approximation of Winehouse’s trademark beehive. Many hoping to catch a glimpse of their idol, a one-time fixture who had somewhat stepped out of the limelight in the years before her death as she tried to manage her drinking and drug abuse.
Camden does, however, feature the lovely Regents Canal, a waterway used by the familiar narrowboats that have long been part of English life. But the area has become blighted with litter and the canal, which opened in 1820, is often fouled. Strollers are routinely offered marijuana and harder drugs.
Police patrol the area on foot but drug sales continue. Laws on public drinking are also openly flaunted, and hundreds of beer bottles usually end up in the canal after long summer nights of partying.
The canal is lined with ethnic food stalls — free samples of grilled meat are often offered to passers-by — but the Mexican, Asian and Indian food all tends to taste alike. The market is to fine dining what dial-a-pizza is to Italy. Food kept under heat lamps all day long is then sold for reduced prices at the end of the day.
Cheaply made T-shirts are another specialty, with some stalls Monday offering black shirts with images of Winehouse singing for 5 pounds ($8).
Winehouse lived in Camden on and off during her meteoric rise, often drinking in Camden’s crowded pubs and sometimes brawling outside, but she left the area a few years ago, reportedly in an attempt to get away from the constant temptation.
She had recently moved back to Camden, but did not return to her old apartment in the crowded area near the Hawley Arms pub, preferring to live in the much more posh Camden Square area, where imposing early Victorian villas sell for more than 1 million pounds.
That is where her body was found Saturday.