Footnotes: on Shoreditch, 2006

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One of the reasons I’m maintaining this thing is as a home for all the things I’ve written that have fallen off the internet. This, I realise, has nothing to do with people being desperate to read them, and everything to do with my being anal about such things. But it’s my problem and I’ll seek professional help when I’m good and ready, and in the mean time I ask that you kindly refrain from judging me.

Anyway, this, and the next post, are my contributions to Londonshelf, a short-lived and now-defunct attempt by the Shinyshelf guys to create a rival to Londonist. This one’s about Shoreditch.

The Beginning of the End

Londonshelf, December 19th 2006

It was about 10pm on Friday, somewhere between Pitfield Street and Hoxton Square, when it hit me: Shoreditch is over. Kaput. Pushing up the daisies. The creativity and art school pretentiousness are on their way out, the Banksy-stencil-and-fanzine-with-a-rude-word-in-the-title era is done. All that’s left is a slow trundle into clean, healthy chair bar mediocrity until the Shoreditch Triangle resembles Clapham High Street.

It was the lairy guys in Ben Shermans that caused this revelation. Three of them bowling along, taking up the entire pavement, almost daring you to not get out of their way. On one of the coldest nights of the year they were without coats and in short sleeved shirts, looking like they’d got lost on their way to Faliraki. In most of London’s suburban drinking quarters they’d have fitted right in, and it would have been the asymmetrical fringe and blazer lot that would look out of place, but on Old Street their very normality marked them out. How had they got here? Shouldn’t they be in the queue for Time in Romford or something?

I probably wouldn’t have noticed if it weren’t for the fact I’d just been sampling a new bar. It was where, until recently, had stood Bar 170, a dodgy looking spit and sawdust joint where the drinks were cheap, the carpet nonexistant, and every round you bought required you to studiously ignore the hopeful looks of the elderly guy in a hat who was a permanent fixture of the bar. It was, frankly, a dump; but it was an interesting dump.

Bar 170 closed a few months ago. Today in its place you’ll find BarRia, a gleaming venue with a big screen TV and pot plants, all cream walls and light varnish tables. It feels like the in-house bar at a Holiday Inn. Any distinguishing marks had been wiped away. It’s the kind of place they’d drink in in Stepford. After one overpriced drink we moved on.

To be fair, if Shoreditch was ever as cutting edge as it thought it was, that time is long past. Earlier this year a New Yorker told me that she’d visited expecting London’s answer to the East Village, a world of galleries and bohemian cafes; instead she found a few streets of bars and record shops that in any city less rammed with chain pubs would probably not have been that remarkable. What’s more, the place’s pretension is easy to satirize: where, after all, was Nathan Barley set?

But the area does at least provide hangouts more varied and original than Islington or Clapham, cheaper and less touristy than Camden or the West End. The Foundry, which offers to display artists’ work in exchange for a small sample; the Mother Bar, with its striking combination of chess board floor, chandeliers, and the conspicuous lack of natural light; the Vibe Bar, jammed with elderly leather sofas and arcade games. If the Ben Shermans and BarRia are any guide, such venues could be on the wane; Wetherspoons or All Bar One could be around the corner.

Not to worry, though. Where there is demand someone will supply, and if it isn’t Shoreditch it’ll be elsewhere. I’ve heard that possible candidates for the next big thing include Hackney Central, Stoke Newington and Kingsland Road. I can’t say for sure, though: if I were cool enough to know that, I’d have abandoned Shoreditch years ago when people like me started to show up.

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