Derek Robertson, November 2017
If you know anything about London, chances are you’ll have heard of Brick Lane. One of East London’s most famous streets, it runs from Bethnal Green through Shoreditch and Spitalfields, and is the heart of the capital’s Bangladeshi community. But there’s so much more to this area than its curry houses and bagel shops, although they remain a must see; it’s long been home to vibrant arts and fashion scenes, with local students regularly exhibiting their work around the Lane, as well as a mecca for graffiti artists. Industrial decline has led to many regeneration projects, giving the area it’s famed bars, venues, and nightclubs. For many, it’s an epicenter for a particular brand of “cool” – the Hipster – so set aside a day and properly explore some of the Lane’s more eclectic spots.
Art / The Whitechapel Gallery
There’s more than just impressive street art to be found around here, even though the murals around Redchurch Street and the Shoreditch Triangle are some of the most creative and impressive anywhere in the capital. Head instead to The Whitechapel Gallery, home to some of the most exciting and pioneering contemporary art in the world. It might be smaller than Tate Modern, but what it lacks in size it more than makes up for with impact; some of the most iconic modern artists have exhibited here over the last ten years, and entry is free. If you’re a fan of forward thinking, challenging curation, this is the place for you.
Old Truman Brewery / Junkyard Golf
Do make sure you plan a stop at the Old Truman Brewery, once site of the largest brewery in the world, and now a warren of vintage stores, micro-breweries, and wine merchants. There’s plenty of food on offer too, but make sure to set aside some time for Junkyard Golf as well, a place to indulge your Happy Gilmore fantasies, for this is crazy golf on steroids. Not content with the usual array of tricky tunnels and geometry, they have mad slides, a UFC bear cage, a UV garage, and a hall of mirrors to name but a few, all split over four separate courses. “Crazy golf just got epic!” they claim, and we’re not gonna argue with that.
The Mayor Of Scaredy Cat Town
Properly unlocking the joys of London involves being “in the know”; where the hidden gems are, and how to get in. A few blocks West of Brick Lane is The Breakfast Club, a hip all-day brunch hangout with top-notch food, but that’s not the (only) reason to visit. Approach the bar and say, “I’m here to see the mayor”; the staff will lead you to a secret fridge door that leads you down into one of the capital’s coolest secret cocktail bars. The tiny, dimly lit basement has a retro, speakeasy vibe, and the list of killer drinks makes it the perfect place to while away a good few hours under the capital’s bustling streets.
If simply sitting around a table while sipping fine craft ales and wines sounds a little staid, many bars have just the ticket; proper, organised bar sports. Bar Kick on Shoreditch High Street is, unsurprisingly, dedicated to all things football; they have numerous large screens for showing matches, but the real fun is to be had on their foosball tables. Team up with someone and move around the bar taking on all comers; just be warned, it can get a little rowdy.
Alternatively, head to Bounce Ping Pong on Old Street, pick up a bat, and enjoy a little more of a physical workout. There’s a restaurant and bar – natch – and they offer a bottomless brunch on Sundays. This being London, they’ve also attempted to drag ping pong into the 21st Century with ‘Wonderball’, a “high tech & energetic overhaul involving state of the art projection mapping”. No, us neither, but imagine table tennis meets Tron, and you’re halfway there.
It would be a real shame not to spend some time in the eateries and watering holes around Brick Lane, sampling the wide range of wares and watching the world go by. But it’s equally impossible to recommend just one place, so diverse is the range of quality on offer here. If it’s a traditional bagel you’re after, head to Beigel Bake – open 24/7 – and order their signature, packed full of salt beef, pickle, and mustard. For curry, Sheba, Cinnamon, and Muhib are the best of an excellent bunch, while if something a little more delicate is in order, try Chez Elles, as good a French Bistro as you’ll find outside of Paris. Savoury or sweet, Brick Lane also has a wealth of snacks and finger food to sample; Dum Dum Donutterie do perfectly light and fluffy donuts – the secret is they bake them – while Hanoi Cafe has all manner of Vietnamese street food and delights to try. And, if it’s a little too early to indulge in something alcoholic, or you need a caffeine kick to keep on the sightseeing trail, stop by Nude Espresso or Brick Lane Coffee for rich, dark delights and perfect flat whites.
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