Having developed a reputation for being London’s true home of the ‘hipster’, you could be forgiven for thinking Shoreditch only ever – and can only – attract the trendy, good-looking and vacuous. Think again; it’s a culturally urgent, socially conscious district charged with electricity – here’s some highlights…
The Old Blue Last
(38 Great Eastern Street EC2A 3ES)
This legendary watering hole serves as a hip, exciting and fast-becoming essential live music venue, which is saying a lot given it’s at the centre of East London’s burgeoning bands and solo acts scene. It’s a place that’s been hailed by the influential and very much finger-on-the-pulse music magazine NME as ‘the coolest pub in the world’ – high praise indeed for a Shoreditch establishment! Boasting two floors (the upstairs makes for a small intimate space for enjoying four- and five-pieces, trios and other acts on the up), its usual fare runs the spectrum from punk parties to bouncy pop and back again – and, best of all, most live music nights are free or no more than a fiver on the door.
(54 Holywell Lane EC2A 3PQ)
A centre for creativity and culture that’s dynamically and unmistakeably housed in former Tube train carriages elevated above ground-level, Village Underground offers visitors a combination of studios and galleries for discovering and dabbling in everything from movies to music and photography to design in all its forms. Moreover, the disused warehouse space underneath is regularly hired out as a clubbing venue for one-night-only occasions; its charismatically handsome building dripping with Victorian-era East End history, featuring as it does both exposed brickwork and high-ceilinged skylights. It feels like a place with stories to tell – of both the past and present.
(Shoreditch High Street E1 6JE)
After all the revelry, carousing and mind-expanding art on offer in Shoreditch, you may be in the mood for some good, simple, honest retail therapy. Well, Boxpark delivers that in spades, but with a Shoreditch-esque twist. That’s because it’s trendily gritty boutiquey feel is delivered via pop-ups that make use of redesigned shipping containers; a unique shopping experience, to the say least (sort of like a hipster version of Portobello Road Market). Make no mistake; Boxpark’s the place to head for designer goods, lip-smackingly good food and unusual gifts, with its blend of ground-breaking, emerging brands and quality sustenance on sale. It all makes for an unforgettable day out, combining fashion, art, lifestyle and, of course, retail – one of the top attractions on Shoreditch High Street and, let’s face it, perfect should you be staying at the Montcalm hotel Shoreditch.
(Rivington Place EC2A 3BA)
Finally, another venue dedicated to the culturally diverse arts; a joint venture run by Iniva (the Institute of International Visual Arts) and Autograph ABP (a charity dedicated to showcasing photography and film that discusses race, representation, cultural identity and human rights). Upon opening 10 years ago, Rivington Place became the first new-build gallery for the public in the capital since the Hayward Gallery nearly 40 years before and, impressively, immediately sought to establish itself as a full-time base for international contemporary art, photography, screenings, seminars and talks. Indeed, the whole point of the place is to be thought-provoking; somewhere to spark off debate and encourage – just perhaps – the capacity to see things from a different perspective.