London Street Guides: Shoreditch

By Sophie Marie Atkinson

Shoreditch is to London what the Meatpacking district is to New York: gritty, urban but tres, tres cool.

A large number of the city’s media companies are based in Shoreditch, as is a branch of London College of Fashion, and as a result, the area – a rough triangle made up by Old Street, Great Eastern Street and Shoreditch High Street in London’s East End – is the stomping ground for London’s coolest kids and home to the hippest bars, cafes and clubs that the capital has to offer.

From the bars of Brick Lane to its amazing and seemingly endless chain of curry houses, from Shoreditch House (sister to the famous Soho House) to the thoroughly authentic Vietnamese restaurants of London’s Kingsland Road, you’ll never tire of things to do, food to feast on, and venues to enjoy a few (dozen) drinks in.

Culture

Despite the plethora of bars and clubs, Shoreditch has an element of whimsical charm, meaning that history buffs won’t be at a complete loss with what to do with their time. Rumour has it the area was named Shore’s Ditch after Edward IV’s bit-on-side, Jane Shore (although most believe this to be untrue), and The Ten Bells was supposedly frequented by Jack the Ripper.

Bizarre rumours aside, for the culture vultures, the Geffrye Museum (Kingsland Road) should be the first point of call. Very fittingly, given the sartorialist status of Shoreditch, the area is the home to a former ironmonger, which is now a museum specialising in the history of the English domestic interiors.

The time capsule that is Dennis Servers’ House (18 Folgate Street) is also worth checking out, as is Circus Space (Coronet Street), which provides adult and children’s classes in, yep you guessed it, circus performance, and actually offers the UK’s only degree in the subject.

Nothing quite says Shoreditch like the guerrilla graffiti work of Banksy. Take yourself on tour of the area to see if you can spot some of his most famous pieces. Look out for the Angel wearing a bullet-proof vest on Old Street; the giant rat on the corner of Paul Street and Old Street or the drug-sniffing police officer on Curtain Road.

Boozers

Aside from The Ten Bells – and despite of a heavy lean towards bars as opposed to good ol’ fashioned pubs – Shoreditch does offer a handful of decent places to enjoy a pint off beer or lager.

Bar Prague, all exposed brick and bohemian inspired décor, has an unchallengeable selection of premium Czech lagers (and free wi-fi) while Mason & Taylor (pictured above) is a homage to all things beer-related and often cited as one of the best (and least pretentious) places to whet your whistle (and sample tapas) in East London.

Cocktail bars

For cocktail fanatics, you can’t really go wrong in Shoreditch; so much so that we dedicated an entire section to them on our online food and drink bible, Fluid London. Be sure to check out the newly-opened-but-already-hugely-popular branch of the Hawksmoor in Spitalfields, which, aside from scream-inducing cocktails, is said to serve the best steak in London. Make sure to book ahead though.

Another Fluid favourite is the hidden gem that is Ninetyeight Bar and Lounge (above). This former private members club, which has garnered a stream of rave reviews since it opened its doors to the public, serves quirky delights such as spaghetti Margaritas, rum infused sugar-canes, and candy floss Martinis in a decadent surrounding.

B@1 Shoreditch, part of the B@1 chain, also boasts exceptional tipples and even better drinks offers: happy hours, where you can grab yourself 2-4-1 drinks, are 5-7pm Monday-Thursday and 5pm-8 on Fridays.

For reasons that I don’t fully understand (the current recession, perhaps?), London, Shoreditch in particular, has seen a huge resurgence in popularity of prohibition-themed bars with old-school drinking rules. And cocktails in teacups! My favourites include Callooh Callay, which is open until 2am, and The Nightjar, a wonderful little speakeasy that serves epic cocktails and features a live jazz band on Thursday nights.

Curries

Coming to East London and not having a curry would be akin to going to Belgium and not stuffing your face with waffles and beer. We love Sheba and Tayyabs (pictured above); don’t miss out on the pork chops; or the onion bhajis; or the spicy Lamb tikka, for that matter! But to be honest, just wander down Brick Lane and see what takes your fancy.

Vietnamese cuisine

If it’s fantastic (and very well-priced) south-east Asian food that you’re after, you’ve come to the right area. Kingsland Road is to Vietnamese food lovers what Brick Lane is to curry fanatics. The trendy Cây Tre (above) or Tay Do Café are the pick of the bunch.

Cheap eats

For more cheap eats, head to Busaba Eathai for top quality Thai grub or Due Sardi (32 Kingsland Road), which serves pizza to die for. And don’t forget to try the East London food staple: bagels. Beigel Shop (155 Brick Lane, pictured above) is open 24 hours and is rumoured to serve the best bagels in the city.

Hit the clubs

When a night on the tiles is finally called for, you really couldn’t be in a better spot. Take your pick from a plethora of late-night bars and clubs, including Brick Lane’s 93 Feet East, which has a great outdoor seating area, should the opportunity arise to take advantage; the hyper trendy Plastic People; Cargo, which plays everything from house to chart music); or The Old Blue Last, a bit down and dirty but once described by notoriously cool rock music mag, NME, as the world’s coolest pub.

Serious clubbers should head to XOYO, a club that hosts many of the world’s best DJs and bands. Many of the above also double up as gig venues, giving you the chance to check out the capital’s buzzing music scene.

For more things to do in East London, check out our Hackney neighbourhood guide or see all London street guides.

Looking for London accommodation on a budget? See our guide Help! I need some cheap accommodation in London. Or, click for a full list of hostels in London.

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Author bio: Sophie Marie Atkinson is a bar & restaurant critic on a quest to uncover London’s best Bloody Mary for Fluid London, as well as a music, travel and politics writer. When not at gigs (bluegrass banjo, anyone?) or planning her next escape from the capital (Singapore, Burma, Brugge and Amsterdam already ticked off this year) Sophie can be found studying (albeit at times, begrudgingly) for her media law exam.

Images courtesy of Flickr users erokism, bixentro, Alan Perryman, Hidden Palette, Kake Pugh, Andres Rueda and 66James99.

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