Brick Lane is in Shoreditch in East London. It’s just one narrow street but I could have spent weeks walking from one end to the other. It’s renowned for its en-trend shops and bars as much as for its curry houses, it’s defined by this diversity.
I tended to start at the Northern end, coming from the Old street roundabout or the Shoreditch High street station. Up at this end of Shoreditch the gentrification of the area is really obvious with shiny restaurants and clubs filling the old brown brick buildings.
There’s the outrageous Shoreditch House that was built in 2007. They didn’t let me in, but apparently it’s quite grand with a pool on the roof and piles of beautiful people.
There’s Lounge Lover with its eclectic range of retro furniture; it’s achingly cool and extravagantly expensive.
Boxpark is hard to miss. It’s the world’s first shopping mall made out of shipping containers. It’s kind of gimmicky with heaps of big name brands having little pop-up shops all lined-up together. There’s a sweet balcony on the roof though, with good food and a couple of bars. Some guy with spikey hair and too much cologne interviewed me about a pop-singer named ‘Lemon’. I told him I didn’t know her songs but he said it didn’t much matter, he taught me her signature dance move, the ‘Pussy-Drop’. I’m a little worried about where the video’s going to end up…
Brick Lane is the home of immigrants and outsiders. It is the centre of London’s Bengal community while also being a creative hub for tech start-ups, artists and designers and kids who are too hip for the west end. Originally it was a Roman burial ground and was intentionally located outside the old walls of London. The area had a rich clay base and by the 16th century it was known as Brick Lane due its brick-making industry.
It’s at the top of Brick Lane, at Bethnal Green, where the stretch of vintage shops and cafes begins. It was all a little overwhelming at first but I had plenty of time so I started at the start and worked my way down. I was finding the weather in London cold but it seemed that after a long winter the locals were reveling in the scant sunshine. While I was trying to find a wool overcoat the locals were shopping for shorts and bikinis.
I managed to find a red jumper and also ended up with a ukulele, it was an impulse buy but it’s been heaps of fun on the road. We drank cider in a park so I could test it out.
Further South and West of Brick lane there’s the Ten Bells pub which has the dubious honour of being the bar where Jack the Ripper’s final victim enjoyed her last drink in the 1880’s.
Back on Brick lane and I found the Brick lane Coffee Shop. I poked my head in and noticed the barista’s Melbournian accent so I felt confident the coffee would be good. I ordered a flat white and took a seat and took some photos while I read the paper. It’s hard to find a good coffee in London, but this place delivered.
Further South and you get to the railway arch that is a half-way point. Here you can turn-off Brick lane at the Café 1001. This joint is somewhat of an institution; they serve burgers and Red Strip beer and you sit on picnic tables in the alleyway. It’s probably the best spot for people watching in London. They also have a couple of old leather arm-chairs inside that are perfect for drinking coffee on your own and writing in your diary.
Further along the alley there are some super cool clothing shops, heaps of Redwin boots and expensive plaid shirts. But most importantly this is where you’ll find the old Truman Brewery. This space has been given over to creative studios and markets and all things interesting. The markets on the weekend are huge; the sun was shining when I was there so I ate my Moroccan tagine in the sun while drinking Jamaican beer. The graffiti was refined and high quality and almost seemed curated. Lister looked down on proceedings with a watchful pair of eyes.
Back on Brick Lane and heading South you come to Banglatown, you can’t miss it, you’ll be hassled by a stream of touts trying to pull you into their restaurants, this is London’s hub for Indian, Pakistani and Bengal cuisine. There’s too many options, it’s so hard to choose with a so many guys shouting deals at you: free wine, half price off the bill, beer, naan and the best curry in London; it’s a big call. We had a couple of good meals here but frankly, I’ve had better curry’s in far-off Australia. Any recommendations for less touristy curry houses in London would be greatly appreciated.
Brick London was a highlight, but London is huge, there are so many corners worth exploring.
One night we went to Southwark to watch some bands play an intimate gig on a makeshift stage under the railway arches.
Another evening we went to the posh/tres-pretentious Brompton Club to watch a mate play the djembe at a 1920’s burlesque night.
Another evening was spent at the Castle pub in Angel where we drank beer till the sun went down before crashing a house party.
Every party was different but everyone was smiling. Everybody was ridiculously hospitable, more than I would have ever given the English credit for. But most notably, all the Londoners I met were loudly proud of their city. I think this communal positivity is vital, I think it’s what makes it possible to survive in London, otherwise the perpetual damp and the overbearing greyness of it all would just become too much.
I take back many of the bad things I said about London from our sunny colony far away; and I must admit I’ve now got a soft spot for the old girl. I’ll be back…