The unstoppable rise of east London has brought some of the capital's best nightlife, hotels and galleries to this side of town, not to mention a certain sporting event.
WORDS BY SOPHY GRIMSHAW
PHOTOGRAPHS BY TIM WHITE
WELCOME TO EAST LONDON
What do Britney Spears, Rihanna and Jake Gyllenhaal have in common? They've all starred in music videos filmed in Hackney in the last two years (Gyllenhaal hasn't taken up singing, he starred in a clip for French band The Shoes). And when stars aren't filming here, they're performing or hanging out at Lovebox in Victoria Park (15-17 June), one of the UK's best city music festivals. Accommodation isn't a problem, given the handsome boutique hotels you can now find in Shoreditch and Clerkenwell. It wasn't always thus. Rich in character if not in cash, the east used to be functional and utilitarian in feel, associated with its lively fruit, veg, flower, fish and meat markets (and they're all still here). That was the era before Vogue referred to Dalston as the home of cool and before east Londoners' hipster dress code became an internet parody genre. A few years back, Kanye West and Jay-Z certainly wouldn't have thought to head to this part of town to premiere a new video by projecting it onto the side of Shoreditch High Street railway station. Well, they couldn't have done, as it didn't exist - the new station opened in 2010. East London has been undergoing an extended period of regeneration, and the only thing that doesn't seem to change about this side of town is that people are always talking about it. A young, creative feel and excellent nightlife scene are just part of the east's attention-grabbing qualities. It's also home to the City, the UK's key financial district, dotted with iconic London architecture. Speaking of iconic architecture, the Olympic Park in Stratford is almost ready to fulfil its destiny - the Games begin on 27 July. More than ever before, the east of the capital feels like the place to be this summer. We hope that you'll enjoy and get some use out of the little guide that follows, but we don't claim to have comprehensively detailed the best of the east. Because in a place this fun and fast-paced, how could we?
At a glance 5 MUST-DOS
01 BRICK LANE Now an international tourist destination, and not only for its curry houses. At the Old Truman Brewery, drink at the Vibe Bar and check out graduate art and design show Free Range (28 May-16 July). Then drop into music venue 93 Feet East just opposite. 02 THE OLYMPIC PARK There's really only one show in town this summer, and even if you didn't get tickets to the Games, you can see the Olympic Park in Stratford. Try a walking tour of the perimeter fence (you can see a lot more than you'd think!) from companies like www.tourguides2012.co.uk 03 COLUMBIA ROAD FLOWER MARKET On Sundays, this street is particularly fragrant (and not in the way that some parts of the capital are fragrant). It's at its best when filled with splendid blooms, but worth a visit any day of the week for its independent stores and quirky pubs. 04 THE SQUARE MILE London's world-famous financial district even has its own police force. Norman Foster's "Gherkin" building, 30 St Mary Axe, is among several icons of the capital's 21st-century skyline. 05 A NIGHT OUT Choosing just a handful of bars to mention fleetingly in our nightlife section (see below) was a tough call, because so many of London's coolest spots are in the east. Some aren't obvious to the passerby, but that's part of the appeal of course. We're sure you'll get out there and find your own favourites.
Culture TAKE IT ALL IN
A taste-making live music scene is just part of what gives the east its current reputation as the capital's most artistic quarter. There's always a diverse programme of theatre, art and music at the Barbican centre, the iconic London venue that turns 30 this year; and all manner of fashion and media folk have a presence in the east. Gigs at The Old Blue Last pub on Great Eastern Street are programmed by staff from hipster mag Vice, for instance. Given that London is a capital of the art world, the east has its share of leading contemporary galleries. Established more than a century ago, Whitechapel Gallery (77-82 Whitechapel High Street, tel. +44 (0)20 7522 7888, www.whitechapelgallery.org) unveiled newly expanded premises in Aldgate a couple of years back - see the work of British conceptual artist Gillian Wearing here until 17 June. Hoxton Square is one of three London locations of the White Cube (48 Hoxton Square, tel. +44 (0)20 7930 5373, www.whitecube.com), whose founder Jay Jopling was an early champion of Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst. Not far from Old Street,Victoria Miro gallery represents artists including Chris Ofili and Grayson Perry. And near Spitalfields market you'll find Alex Sainsbury's gallery, Raven Row. On Rivington Street, the art at Iniva (Place, tel. +44 (0)20 7729 9616, www.iniva.org) tackles issues of ethnicity and identity. East London graffiti is in a league of its own, too, and companies such as www.streetartlondon.co.uk offer tours around the Brick Lane area, taking in creations by über-doodler Banksy and other artists. Museums include the charming V&A Museum of Childhood (Cambridge Heath Road, tel. +44 (0)20 8983 5200, www.museumofchildhood.org.uk), where sad-eyed teddies become the guardians of socio-economic history. Also family friendly is the 10 Museum of London (150 London Wall, tel. +44 (0)20 7001 9844, www.museumoflondon.org.uk), whose major new Dickens and London exhibition runs until 10 June. Speaking of literary greats, fans still leave flowers at the grave of William Blake at Bunhill Fields, near Old Street. Near London Fields park, Broadway Market is a street that's packed with independent book shops. Browse at Broadway Bookshop, Artwords Bookshop or Donlon Books.
Check in WHERE TO STAY
As London's arts and nightlife scene shifted east over recent years, so came increased demand for quality, characterful accommodation. It's a sign of the times that Dalston is now home to a boutique hotel: the six-room Avo Hotel (doubles from £79/€94, 82 Dalston Lane, tel. +44 (0)20 3490 5061, www.avohotel.com) opened in 2011 replete with Egyptian cotton linens and Elemis toiletries. In 2010, private members' club Shoreditch House unveiled Shoreditch Rooms: chic, petite bedrooms in a renovated pub. Staying here affords non-members access to the club, including its rooftop pool with a view of Square Mile skyscrapers (doubles from £205/€246). More accessible is The Hoxton Hotel (doubles from £49/€59, 81 Great Eastern Street, tel. +44 (0)020 7550 1000, www.hoxtonhotels.com), named Best UK Hotel 2011 by The Guardian for its mix of the good-value and on-trend. Rooms have fridges but no pricey minibar, for instance. Downstairs is a smart brasserie and Milanese-style courtyard aperitivo spot. In neighbouring Clerkenwell, The Rookery has sumptuous antique furniture, including beds fashioned from 17th-century oak; or for very contemporary digs in the same area, The Zetter (St John's Square, 86-88 Clerkenwell Road, tel. +44 (0)20 7324 4444, www.thezetter.com) has a vibrant brand of chic (doubles from £183/€220). Some of London's best brunch spots are nearby, so head out to The Modern Pantry or St Ali in the morning. Among the major east London hotel developments of recent years is Town Hall Hotel and Apartments (doubles from £147/€177, Patriot Square, tel. +44 (0)20 7871 0460, www.townhallhotel.com). This municipal building in Bethnal Green is reborn as a high-style hotel, with vintage furniture from the 1930s onwards. Visit for the restaurants even if you're not staying. It's two Tube stops from the Olympic Park, handy if you have the summer's hot tickets. Andaz Liverpool Street (40 Liverpool Street, tel. +44 (0)20 7961 1234, www.london.liverpoolstreet.andaz.hyatt.com) offers a 'Welcome to the Neighbourhood' east London tour and room package (from £275/€330). A former Masonic Temple here is now a unique events venue, where Lady Gaga once dropped in for a photo shoot.
Eat out WHERE TO DINE
Last year the much buzzed-about restaurant Viajante in Bethnal Green was awarded a Michelin star, thanks to Portuguese chef Nuno Mendes' innovative tasting menus (you'll find it within the Town Hall Hotel). Viajante means "traveller" and reflects Mendes' wide culinary influences. Now he has added a more casual sister restaurant, Corner Room, in the same hotel. New restaurant Market Cafe (2 Broadway Market, tel. +44 (0)20 7249 9070, www.market-cafe.co.uk) opened near London Fields in March and its fans include local London celebs like fashion designer Henry Holland and fashionista Alexa Chung. There's a short, well-executed menu of simple Italian and British dishes and the décor has a Brooklyn-ish cool. Brawn (49 Columbia Road, tel. +44 (0)20 7729 5692, www.brawn.co) is all about French cooking with seasonal British ingredients. Share small plates or order a main such as roast pigeon. For the thoroughly British, head to St. John Bar and Restaurant in Clerkenwell or the smaller 18 St. John Bread and Wine (94-96 Commercial Street, tel. +44 (0)20 3301 8069, www.stjohnbreadan.dwine.com) in a former bank opposite Spitalfields market. Chef and co-founder Fergus Henderson advocates "nose to tail" meat-eating, but there are vegetarian dishes too. Wholly vegetarian restaurants in the east include the Italian Amico Bio (44 Cloth Fair, tel. +44 (0)20 7600 7778, www.amicobio.co.uk) in the City. Not veggie? The steak is a cut above at the Marco Pierre White Steak & Alehouse (East India House, 109-117 Middlesex Street, tel. +44 (0)20 7247 5050, www.mpwsteakandalehouse.org). For good-value, quality Vietnamese restaurants, head to Broadway Market in Hackney or Kingsland Road in Dalston, while Brick Lane and its surrounds is famous as a destination for Bangladeshi curry houses. The East London Street Food Tour (www.vayable.com/experiences/1391) reveals the area's street eats. "Within a short walk, you find Cockney jellied eels, Jewish bagel shops, Congolese food, Bangladeshi jalebi and more," says guide Matthew. Brave enough to try jellied eels? Head to the Tubby Isaacs stall near Aldgate East tube (check www.tubbyisaacs.co.uk for times).
Nightlife WHERE TO PARTY
Once characterised as rough 'n' residential, Dalston was declared the coolest place in Britain by Italian Vogue in 2009. See what the fuss is about at Dalston Superstore (117 Kingsland Road, tel. +44 (0)20 7254 2273, www.dalstonsuperstore.com), packed until the early hours. It's a gay bar but in practice draws a mixed crowd. "It's always full and the music's always good; they put on some of the best nights in east London," says Lilee, a Superstore regular. A raft of late-opening bars - look up Moustache Bar, Bardens Boudoir and The Alibi - has seen east London residential areas such as Dalston at the heart of local London nightlife, following on from Shoreditch first moving into the bar/club spotlight a few years back. If you like your pint accompanied by some live indie, try The Macbeth on Hoxton Street, the Hoxton Square Bar and Kitchen, or Cargo (83 Rivington Street, tel. +44 (0)20 7739 3440, www.cargo-london.com) on Rivington Street (where the now-valuable graffiti by Banksy has to be shielded by Perspex). For those who hanker a er funk and soul there's Charlie Wright's Music Lounge on Pitfield Street. There's a blend of offbeat music, art and film events, plus liquid refreshment, at XOYO on Cowper Street. For a glass of bubbly, ascend to Rooftop (2-4 Boundary Street, tel. +44 (0)20 7729 1051, www.theboundary.co.uk) at Terence Conran's Boundary, a Shoreditch hotel/bar/restaurant/bakery, as smart as anywhere you'll find in Notting Hill. Nearby, Callooh Callay (65 Rivington Street, tel. +44 (0)20 7739 4781, www.calloohcallaybar.com) is a more intimate cocktail spot for the arts/media crowd and is styled as its own magical little world. You even enter through a wardrobe, Narnia style. Clerkenwell's American-style brunch spot Giant Robot becomes a fun cocktail bar by night, but if you're partial to a gastropub, this part of town runneth over with them. Among the newest here is The Jugged Hare (49 Chiswell Street, tel. +44 (0)20 7614 0134, www.thejuggedhare.com), from entrepreneur brothers Ed and Tom Martin. Wash down seasonal game with the inhouse pale ale, as taxidermied animals look on. The brothers' other pubs in the east include The Gun, which is in Docklands.