A similar dynamic is at work across the rest of London’s East End as blue-chip creative and cultural talents—hoteliers and chefs, art dealers and designers—have been steadily working themselves into the fabric of daily life. In some cases, post-gentrification has arrived in regrettable ways: Hoxton Square and parts of Shoreditch on a Friday night are now awash in suburban twentysomethings with the same dual missions of twentysomethings everywhere: getting epically drunk and scoring. But on, say, a Tuesday afternoon, much of East London presents scenes of commerce and community that are dynamic and downright chic.
A walk down Redchurch Street, in loud, busy Shoreditch, manifests this in its most concentrated, and current, state. Art exhibition spaces—Urban Angel; the Redchurch Street Gallery—mix with shops and creative firms housed in former convenience stores and warehouses. Fashionable apothecary Aesop made its debut here nine months ago in slick, scented surroundings; Labour & Wait, selling simply perfect household items, recently relocated after 10 years in Spitalfields to the old green-tiled pub at No. 85. And Hostem, a menswear store that opened in June, counts among its clients both fashion-forward gentlemen hailing from within the Square Mile (hedge fund managers; derivatives analysts) and locals sporting the East London hipster uniform of sockless brogues, rolled denim, thick spectacles, whiskers, and the occasional waistcoat. At the street’s westernmost end is Terence Conran’s Boundary, which comprises a proper French restaurant, a 17-room boutique hotel, and a rooftop bar and brasserie that was completely packed within about 10 minutes and has by all appearances remained that way (English weather permitting) since opening last year. From here the much larger terrace of Shoreditch House, in the top floors of the Biscuit Building across the street, can be seen. Opened in 2007 to cater to the influx of media companies setting up shop in the area, the Soho House group’s eastern outpost has a no-suits-or-ties clause in its dress code—smirk all you like, it’s strictly enforced—and as of February a new 26-room hotel, Shoreditch Rooms, that allows guests access to the club’s rooftop. The hotel rooms are small, wood-paneled, and gratifyingly affordable; the Cowshed Spa downstairs proffers pedicures to customers in sleek white leather armchairs. Just around the corner is Pizza East, a sprawling pizzeria with an unreconstructed industrial interior and a menu of rustic antipasti and wafer-thin pizzas.
Just a few blocks to the south is Brick Lane, a cacophonous artery connecting Shoreditch to Spitalfields and Whitechapel. It’s known, of course, for having London’s best (or at least its most prolific) Indian-food scene. But it has a history that’s illustrious enough to fill textbooks. Case in point: Jamme Masjid—the Great London Mosque—on the corner of Brick Lane and Fournier Street. It was consecrated in 1976 in an early Georgian house that, for the century prior, was the Spitalfields Great Synagogue. Before that, it had a Victorian life as a Methodist church; and in the early 1800’s, existed as a chapel to promote Christianity among a burgeoning Ashkenazi immigrant population—before which it was the Huguenot Neuve Eglise, built in 1743.
Brick Lane’s brewing tradition also dates back centuries: the Old Truman Brewery here takes its name from a family who started making ales in the late 1600’s. Today, the brewery building is home to almost 200 independent creative companies. It’s connected to Brick Lane by a small pedestrian alley called Dray Walk, over which the brewery towers, and along which the best of Brick Lane’s energy can be experienced: food stands peddle izakaya-style snacks, dosas, empanadas, kebabs and dolma, and eye-watering Goan curries. Small fashion traders with provocatively arcane names (Son of a Stag; A Butcher of Distinction; Public Beware Co.) enjoy fiercely loyal local followings. In and around Brick Lane are multiple markets, including the storied one in adjacent Spitalfields; Thursday, not Sunday, is the connoisseur’s day for antiques.
Less than a mile north lies Columbia Road, the grassroots opposite of Redchurch Street’s sleek canniness and Brick Lane’s hurly-burly edge. It’s in low-rise, charmingly shambolic Bethnal Green, and is home to London’s favorite flower market—a Sunday morning affair lent a surreal Dickensian air by vendors cajoling browsers with hyperbolic sales pitches delivered in semi-ironic Cockney accents. (The original Saturday market was moved to Sunday to cater to the area’s Russian and Eastern European Jewish traders.) People are packed tight as sardines among the stalls, bargaining for Dutch tulips and Kenyan lisianthus and English roses.