Countless design studios, magazine offices and art galleries have gentrified this area since the mid 90s, turning it into something like the trendy/trashy creative enclaves of East Berlin or Praga. The bars and clubs now attract cutting edge students, the media savvy and the touchstone artists of tomorrow, the very people who will soon be dictating the trends and the fashions in finger-on-the-pulse places near you soon.
But don’t think this is simply some well-heeled, modish ideas factory. The drinking culture has stuck its roots and it drinks hard. Certain places resemble the ramshackle feel of Dacha bar in St Petersburg, and guys knocking back cans of beer, bought from a corner shop en route from pub to club, is not an uncommon sight. Neither are the hustlers who deal MDMA outside nightclubs while posing as taxi drivers touting for ‘fares’. A roguish character remains; it’s just a case of knowing where to look.
Of course, the gentrification process that has raised this place up will, ultimately, bring it down but worry about that tomorrow. Tonight modern East London is born, lives, loves, parties, gets high, dies and is born again in a continuous cycle of creativity, hedonism and bonhomie – all done wearing skinny jeans. Whether elegantly wasted or just plain wasted, this is where it matters. Welcome to East London mate.
Weekdays host gig nights offering the chance to see the sort of international bands and troubadours that grace the playlists of good independent record stores. Weekends are the preserve of the club night, which on Fridays is free and witnesses a beautiful union between House, Electro, Techno and Indie. Scenesters drink and dance themselves into the ground to DJ sets interspersed with live band action until 3am. Always busy so don’t leave it too late to join the inevitably long queue.
83 Rivington Street; www.cargo-london.com
No relation to Moscow’s flashy Fabrique, this sprawling world-famous superclub is all about the music with international crowds high on pills and MDMA flocking to worship the big name DJs. Not the place for a quiet chat, its euphoric atmosphere is white hot, with every hedonist in there giving it 200% until way past 7.30am. It even has a vibrating floor wired directly into the bass frequencies of the DJs set for God’s sake! Colossal.
77a Charterhouse Street; www.fabriclondon.com
93 Feet East
Throughout the week this joint is one of the city’s most popular live music venues serving up a good, eclectic, slice of the underground acts (and bigger-name draws) that London and the UK has to offer and is popular with boozers throughout the day, especially in summer (BBQs – YES!!), due to its large courtyard. It closes a little on the early side, around 1am at weekends, but, with all the tunes, it gets you nicely revved for continuing the rest of the evening at the next designated watering hole.
150 Brick Lane, www.93feeteast.co.uk
The Hoxton Pony
This is another distillation of the modern East End: The interior is a mash-up of antique-English eccentricity (a diorama of stuffed animals, for instance) and modern ambition/pretention (“self-cooling cocktail infusion jars”), no bad thing of course. Everything here is based on strong visual imagery and narcissistically sleek neon minimalism – and that’s just the clientele! You can even enjoy a Hoxton Pony Tea Party where the insanely fucking good cocktails come served in tea-cups. Natürrlich.
104-108 Curtain Road, www.thehoxtonpony.com
Also known informally as “Bar A10” (due to the road sign directly outside the doors) this Dalston club is a welcome break from the ‘Shoreditch scene’. Trendies looking for a change of scenery are in attendance but as are all manner of night owls and street creepers – it being one of those bastions of fun that stays open long after everywhere else has thrown in the towel. The result? A real melting pot that bubbles and boils over well into the next day. Hot, boozy, trashy, noisy, dark, irrepressible. What’s not to like?
267 Kingsland Road; 07809 425905
Named in reference to nonsensical masterpiece, Alice in Wonderland, owner/designer Dave Knight has installed all manner of suitably eccentric features including a wardrobe through which you must pass to find cassette-tape tiled toilets and a back bar complete with a chandelier hung from an industrial crane and a DJ booth-cum-drinks dispenser. Fine cocktails in mismatched glasses (our Moscow Mules came in half-pint mugs!) are served to minimal house and electro tunes. We were also happy to note they serve Estonian Viru beer.
65 Rivington Street; 0207 739 4781
Born by uniting two shops (hence the name) and turning the whole damn lot into a bar, Jaguar Shoes is the Shoreditch spirit incarnate – glam yet down at heel, contrived yet effortless. A simple venue, it’s the clientele – always artsy and suitably inebriated – that lights the place up. That and the décor: an ever-changing “walk-thru magazine”. Downstairs a low-lit, lo-fi den of vintage leather sofas is perfect for hunkering down with that video artist you just met and who didn’t give a fuck that you spilled her Mojito.
34-36 Kingsland Road; www.jaguarshoes.com
The Ten Bells
This cosy Victorian tiled boozer is great for realising this ‘hood community vibe, due to the regularity with which you can bump into friends. Although a stone’s throw from ‘Suit Ghetto’, this pub is indelibly East London and was, infamously, the pick-up place du jour for Jack The Ripper. Today’s drinkers are far friendlier than the erstwhile punter. The only harm you’re likely come to here is getting slowly hammered around a table – rather than slashed up a dark alley. Hopefully.
84 Commercial Street; 08721 481253
1 Whitby Street; www.loungelover.co.uk
The bohemian East end is more cutting-floor than catwalk. However, this is the place to go if you require some glamour. Decorated like a fin-de-siecle traveller’s home stuffed with treasures from the Orient, this is an opulent, if slightly poncy, cocktail bar: Tapestries hang from walls; chandeliers reflect tea lights and waitresses slink around hot-house plants and huge Chinese vases. Equally glitzy punters nibble on sushi at tables or lounge decadently in Baroque and Deco styled private areas.
Diners sit amid the heavy machinery and exposed brickwork of the converted hydraulic power station that is now the Wapping Project art gallery. The current exhibition provides the wallpaper but the awesome setting itself proves a worthy distraction. Style doesn’t come at the expense of substance here but it certainly doesn’t come cheap – this eatery being aimed squarely at the more moneyed end of the arts scene. Take you paramour for a late sitting when it’s noisy enough avoid any lascivious advances echoing out for all to hear.
Wapping Hydraulic Power Station, Wapping Wall; www.thewappingproject.com
Lahore Kebab House
Brick Lane is the place to go for curry, right? Wrong. By and large the famous street is all rep and no game, so leave it for tourists who won’t know better. This heaving two-floor affair, where eager punters queue out the building and up the alley, is an absolute gem. An army of attentive staff in headsets keep things running with organised chaos, dishes of unpretentious Pakistani food flying out left right and centre. Authentic, delicious and the most expensive thing on the menu is only €11. Bring your own booze.
2-10 Umbertson Street; www.lahore-kebabhouse.com
Cat and Mutton
Brits are beloved of fried breakfasts and roast dinners, they are corner stones of the culture and both are done very well here. It’s been said that this is “the pub that never sleeps” and eating, on Sundays at least, is only half the story: Afternoons spent valiantly chasing away hangovers with copious amounts of meat tend merely to turn into the night-after-the-morning-after-the-night-before, with the DJ line-up steadily cranking up the volume. Before you know it you’re dancing atop your table while your good intentions are getting the drinks in.
76 Broadway Market; www.catandmutton.co.uk
In East London you are never far from an exciting gallery or shop and getting out in the fresh air to discover the next one is a favourite past time for us East London Beasties – the curative powers of this activity knows no bounds. Mind you, the excellent cafes to hop between certainly help.
Just off the top of the Lane is The Jago (www.thejago.com). This contemporary art gallery stands out for its fine exhibitions and bar – a minimalistic blend of office reception and a Danish architect’s front room. We especially liked the pedestrian crossing installation that lit up “TWAT” (rather than “walk”). Simple pleasures, eh?!
Towards the bottom end, straddling Brick Lane, is the Old Truman Brewery complex (www.trumanbrewery.com) now redeveloped into cultural venues and bars and hosts fashion markets. Around the corner on Dray Walk is the inexorably cool Rough Trade records (www.roughtrade.com) and the Truman Brewery Gallery. Original works by Banksy, OBEY and D*Face decorate the courtyard out front.
Of course, come the end of the week you’ll probably already be down here anyway at one of the many after-club parties. One such venue is Café 1001 (www.cafe1001.co.uk) whose dingy squat-like space upstairs evokes the old rave culture. The food provides allows you to refuel before diving headlong into another week of hedonism.
Text by Al Jackson