The Magic of East London
East London is like a perfectly curated outfit — a little new, a little designer, a little vintage, and a little high street. It's almost hard to describe because the feeling is thriving in the streets. East London reminds me of the New York of my childhood when Soho began to evolve. Post-warehouse, pre-mall: a pretty magical time in a neighborhood's life.
I'm lucky that three of my very good friends live in East London: Alex, Dom, and Marcus. I know them from the United States, but being in London with them was a treat. It's now their home turf, and they shared all their secrets. East London feels like a small town within a large city, and it's trading on amazing style. I think the word "local" has about ten different meanings here, from the bodega on the corner to the coffee shop, the café, the vintage story, the butcher, the market, and so on.
WHERE TO STAY
I decamped at Dom's house, which was like living in a movie. If you don't have a Dom, you can stay at Town Hall Hotel, which I reviewed for Hotel Chatter. The well done rooms may be the best value in London if you relate space to cost, and the art collection, the fancy restaurant, and the pool (yes, the POOL) make it a stay to remember.
WHERE TO SHOP
If you only have one day, make it Saturday and head for Broadway Market, which is thriving, full of food and crafts that have a lot of love in the batter. It's super cool and approachable at the same time. (In fact, there's a whole Fathom Postcard about it.) Donlon Books has the most well-curated selection of photography and art books I've seen — and my art brat upbringing means I've been forced into art bookstores my whole life. Donlon proprietor Conor has incredible knowledge about photography. Just off Broadway Market, Strut is a vintage treat for the eyes, with some of the biggest names in the business: Dior, Margiela, YSL. Please have a Violet cupcake while strolling the market. (Alex especially adores these, and she's got some of the best taste of any human I've ever met.)
Marcus is a divining rod for all things new and cool when it comes to shopping. In general, men's fashion is much better than women's around here: It seems like every guy on the street is a model. Present is selling a whole lifestyle, and it's a good one. I was drooling over their Japanese stationery. LN-CC is by appointment only, but don't be afraid to request one: They want you there. It's concept retail at its best, East London's answer to Dover Street Market across town in Mayfair, my favorite store in the world. Labour and Wait is my go-to for gifts and its curated mix of vintage and new. The garden tools are going to be mine.
WHERE TO EAT
The food in East London is easy and complex at the same time, always fresh and mostly organic. Andor Bureau is a great café with lovely staff, terrific coffee, and a daily selection of treats. (I was addicted to the spicy watermelon, tomato, feta, and mint salad I discovered during an otherwise unpleasant downpour.) If you want to have dinner, you need to make nice with the staff and arrange to take the whole spot: They'll cook just for you and your crew. Across the street is Ombra, a Venetian bar and restaurant in a contemporary and creative environment. Marcus had me eating sausage at every meal, most notably at meat-centric Brawn (another Fathom Postcard!) and The Ginger Pig, which has locations around town.
Rochelle Canteen is a special place: a little tough to find and only open for lunch, but so worth it. The secluded setting is beautiful, and their catering gigs are really where they shine. (I can't believe that there aren't more places like this around the world. Someone please open its twin in Los Angeles ASAP.) Lahore Kebab House serves authentic and delicious Indian; bring your own libations. The big secret is Alex's favorite spot, the Towpath Café (36 De Beauvoir Crescent; +44-207-254-7606). Located on one of the walking paths along the canals, it's run by an Italian woman from California who serves simple but delicious cuisine and desserts worthy of a sugar coma. Go and while away an afternoon. Jefferson Hack rode up on a bike while we were sitting there, which made for interesting eye candy.
WHAT TO SEE
Art and booze: There's plenty of both in East London. Bistrotheque makes a mean cocktail to go with the beautiful food and girls (aka, dinner and cabaret). The influential and trendsetting Whitechapel Gallery also has a dining room supervised by chef Angela Hartnett and a gift shop with excellent souvenirs. There's always something great at Vyner Street Gallery. As for experiential art, event art, and life art, you'll find them all at The Last Tuesday Society. They're always putting on some amazing lecture or ball or mask-making event. (Check the calendar.)
I'm in love with East London. If I were loaded, I'd buy a house there in a second. Go, go, go, and go again is my motto right now. I'll be back soon!
See all the locations in this itinerary. (Google Maps)