My first impression of the British Natural History Museum can be succinctly described as sheer awe. I imagine I wasn’t the only one – it’s difficult to not feel overwhelmed when walking into a grand open hall that looks like something straight out of Sleeping Beauty’s castle.
I can’t be the only one who sees it, right?
I never quite got over that, but the exhibits and the people proved to be sufficiently distracting. The overall experience was a bit disorienting as far as atmosphere went – it felt less like a stuffy, uptight museum and more like a classy cocktail party. Most of the patrons that night were dressed much more nicely than I’d expected. It wasn’t black tie or anything, but let’s just say I was glad I’d worn something that didn’t have holes in it.
Most everyone had a drink in hand, sipping their liquor of choice as they perused the displays, or simply stood off to the side in one of the halls so they could chat. Most of the people who were chatting with large groups of friends and catching up on each other’s lives remained congregated in the main room (where the largest area to purchase liquor was located, funnily enough), but some pairs and smaller groups simply stood back from the exhibits a bit and let the crowds pass them by as they carried on.
Plenty of people lingered where they knew they could get a quick refill.
Despite the noticeable lack of children, many exhibits and activities that would seem more fitting for that age range didn’t go unmolested. The adults lingered in front of the dinosaur bones, played the activity games that came after, and watched the animatronic T-Rex growl and toss his head. They marveled at the strange stuffed animals and pressed all the buttons in the interactive house in the bug exhibit. The “make your own antenna” activity was so popular that the museum ran out of supplies and had to close the booth early – I was one of many bitter grownups who didn’t get their very own pair of antenna because we waited too long to go find the table.
Overall, the Lates proved to be everything people wouldn’t usually expect from a museum – fun, relaxing, sociable, and oddly charming. As much as I love children, I think their absence is what made this experience so unique and enjoyable. Usually, museums are child magnets, so you spend your entire day dodging less-behaved little ones that have escaped their guardians or listening to the wailing of one that finally got hurt or just ran out of steam and is in desperate need of a nap. Children are exhausting, and very counterproductive to a classy, relaxed atmosphere.
The Lates offers a version of the Natural History Museum that isn’t supposed to draw in families, but young couples, groups of friends from local colleges, and young adults who want to get out of the house, socialize, have a drink, and enjoy what their city has to offer. And maybe make some pipe cleaner headwear while they’re at it.