There’s something about the East Side of many cities that sounds unsavory. Who knows why – maybe historically it comes from the wind’s direction, blowing bad smells from nearby industry toward the East, or maybe it has something to do with the current of the Thames and the crap it would wash up down shore to the have-nots.
Whatever the reason, the East End has typically been considered the less salubrious part of London – and perhaps many East Sides worldwide have inherited that same reputation.
But these are also the areas that have the wealth of ethnicity and the youthful artistic flair to be transformed into the kinds of fashionable neighborhoods I hunt for – neighborhoods with small, non-corporate businesses; artistic industry and the people who work in them. In London, this is what you find in Shoreditch, the area just north of the City of London’s financial district which has been undergoing gentrification since the late 1990′s.
Shoreditch (the name may even come from a variation of “Sewer Ditch”) is technically in the borough of Hackney, and includes Old Street Tube station, Shoreditch High Street, Brick Lane (the Bangladeshi area made famous by Monica Ali’s novel of the same name), and Hoxton. At its borders are Islington to the north and Liverpool Street station in the south, which is right at the edge of the City of London.
Here’s some of the great things about the area:
Boxpark, a pop-up mall made from shipping containers. Ok, it’s a mall, but I have to appreciate how much it deviates from the typical model of a shopping mall.
Columbia Road flower market. On Sundays this outdoor market is as alive as can be. Again, it’s lots of shopping, but mostly vintage, food, flowers and it’s all outside and convivial with lots of great people watching.
Brick Lane. Once the slums (and apparently the scene of Jack the Ripper’s murders), it’s now an entire universe of ethnicity. This is the place to come for a Bangladeshi curry. It’s punks, street art, music, street food, vintage, and sometimes so crowded you can barely walk down the street.
People watching. There are some people in Shoreditch who are so cool, there isn’t even a name for their fashion sense.
Old converted warehouse buildings make the best lofts and restaurants. Nearby, an old Framery from the 1920′s was converted into a group of funky flats:
Vietnamese food. When Shoreditch High Street becomes Kingsland Road you’re in Vietnamese heaven. If you have yet to be completely converted to the wonders of Pho – a Vietnamese noodle soup, you’ll need to plan a little visit here.
Shopping. Yes, there is plenty of vintage, but there is literally everything else too. If you’re looking for something unique, something you can say you bought in London and not just anywhere else in the world, you’ll probably find it here. There’s also a number of semi-outdoor markets, such as the Spitalfield Market.
More cool places to stay in the area: