By Philip Watson
Five years ago Shoreditch, just east of the City, was little more than a wasteland of derelict warehouses and boarded-up shops. Today it's London's most vibrant neighborhood, a playground for dedicated barflies and bohemians. Shoreditch is modern London at its most appealing. It's hip and happening but doesn't take itself too seriously.
Geographically defined by the Old Street roundabout to the west (farther on is trendy Clerkenwell), super-cool Hoxton Square to the north, the studio shops of Brick Lane to the east, and buzzing Spitalfields Market to the south, Shoreditch may not be half as pretty or populated as many areas of the capital—but it certainly is more fun. This district is egalitarian, not exclusive, and about artists rather than celebrities; it's an attitude-free neighborhood where real Londoners come for their edgy urban kicks.
Cantaloupe35-42 Charlotte Rd., EC2; 44-207/613-4411. The bar that jump-started the whole Shoreditch scene. A busy pub with wooden tables and benches and draft beerleads through to a chill-out area with armchairs and leather sofas, a designer back-bar with cocktails and loud music, and a good restaurant. This is the place where after-work City businessmen mingle with East End trendoids.
Home 100-106 Leonard St., EC2; 44-207/684-8618. You'll find ugly furniture and beautiful people at this basement lounge and ground-level canteen that's a cross between Central Perk from Friends and a student-union hangout. Ironic domesticity and the seventies distressed-sofa look reign. On weekends, expect late-night queues.
Hoxton Square Bar & Kitchen2-4 Hoxton Square, N1; 44-207/613-0709. With its sand-textured concrete walls, exposed ventilation ducts, Philippe Starck-like lights, and secondhand furniture, this is the basement bar/café as high-style Eastern European bunker. The food consists mostly of snacks: a quiche made with goat cheese, butternut squash, and basil; a plate of Spanish hams and cheeses with toast; and an assortment of sandwiches and salads.
Shoreditch Electricity Showrooms 39A Hoxton Square, N1; 44-207/739-6934. Big, bare, and huge-windowed bar in a former (you guessed it) electricity showroom. Big white walls, laid-back vibe. Also has a café and club-space basement.
Vibe Bar Old Truman Brewery, 91-95 Brick Lane, E1; 44-207/247-3479. Modern aluminum chairs, studded leather sofas, Sony Playstations, a graffiti-style mural—oh, and great cocktails and sounds, "from Latin lounge to Afro-funk."
Bricklayer's Arms63 Charlotte Rd., EC2; 44-207/739-5245. Before the Shoreditch bar scene took off, this was the traditional "artists' pub" in which to sup pints and hang out. It still is. There's a new contemporary restaurant on the first floor.
The Bean126 Curtain Rd., EC2; 44-207/739-7829. Hard to miss: a large red Plexiglas arrow hangs above the entrance. It points the way into a pparsely decorated coffee bar that offers Internet stations and "complete caffeine solutions."
Fabric 77A Charterhouse St., EC1; 44- 207/490-0444. This huge new superclub in nearby Farringdon, with three dance floors, an industrial-style interior, and a 2,000-person capacity, claims to have the best sound system in London.
Brick Lane Music Hall134-146 Curtain Rd., EC2; 44-207/739-9996. An East End institution that's the traditional home of Victorian vaudeville, old-style comedy, and Christmas pantomime. From $49 a head for a basic three-course dinner and a show.
Comedy Café66 Rivington St., EC2; 44-207/739-5706. Converted side-street warehouse featuring open-mike sessions on Wednesday, more established acts on Thursday, and big names on Friday and Saturday.
Great Eastern Dining Room (54 Great Eastern St, EC2; 44-207/613 4545) A minimalist, dark-wood paneled, noisy restaurant that serves wholesome, rustic Italian food at good prices (it has a policy of including nothing on the menu over £10). There's also a sleek and stylish high-ceilinged bar, and a chill-out basement bar/club.
Club Gascon (57 West Smithfield, EC1; 44-207/253 5853) Located about half a mile away in nearby Smithfield, this newish French restaurant is the one restaurant for which it's worth breaking away from Shoreditch. The chef champions the cuisine of Gascony in southwest France (liver, foie gras and pate are staples). It won Time Out's Best New Restaurant Award for 1999, so book weeks ahead.
Cafe Naz (46 Brick Lane, E1; 44-207/247 0234) Serving delicious contemporary Bangladeshi food, Cafe Naz is the best of the new generation of Indian restaurants along Brick Lane. The look is bright and modern—from the outside it looks more like a nightclub.
Beigel Bake (159 Brick Lane, E1) A famous 24-hour bakery popular with chirpy Cockneys and hungry clubbers. Smoked salmon and cream cheese bagel a steal at 95p.
Viet Hoa 72 Kingsland Rd, E2 (44-207/729 8293). Revamped budget Vietnamese canteen popular with the frugal fashion crowd.
Old Truman Brewery (Dray Walk, 91-95 Brick Lane, E1) This 11-acre former brewery site has been converted into a nest of workshops, studios, offices, and retail outlets for innovative, small-scale art, fashion, and housewares and home furnisings businesses. Head to Global Gypsy (Unit 2; 44-207/247 3434) and Junky Styling (Unit 12; 44-207/247 1883) for original clothes for men and women; and Eat My Handbag Bitch (Unit 6; 44-207/375 3100) for household furniture and objects from the 50s to the 80s.
Same (First floor, 146 Brick Lane, E1; 44-207/247 9992) Undisputedly the trendiest contemporary interiors and accessories emporium in London these days.
Hoax (8-9 Hoxton Square, N1; 44-207/729 6262) Funky space selling witty, paradoxical, limited-edition household and fashion designs that border on art. You might find "I Love Joyriding" bumper stickers (£12, in an edition of 300), "Bruised and Bruisers" t-shirts sith skin bruises painted on (£25, in an edition of 300), or "What is History?" a pair of nine inch high resin busts of Monica Lewinsky and Osama bin Laden, for use as bookends (£495, in an edition of 100).
Bernstock Speirs 10 Columbia Rd., E2; 44-207/729-7229. Relaxed, dazzlingly colorful (they have a "no black" rule) urban women's wear.
Sh! 39 (Coronet St, N1 (44-207/613 5458) At this "women's erotic emporium," men are welcome only as guests of their female friends.
SUNDAY MARKETS Forget the overcrowded and over-commercialised weekend mêlées in Camden and Notting Hill—head to Spitalfields market on Commercial Street for vintage clothes (very in right now—from Victoriana to Sixties hippy) and its "International Food Village"; Brick Lane for anything from army surplus to new lace; and Columbia Road for flowers, perfumes and secondhand clothes.