The other day I took the glorious walk from Andrews Road corner through Broadway Market down magnificent London Fields to Lower Clapton Road and I thought to myself: what a beautiful life.
Five years ago, when a friend of mine, who then lived on the Graham’s Road, took me to a coffee shop right by London Field’s station. I was mesmerised by the hippie feel of it. At that time Dalston and Hackney were still rather shabby places, only a few knew about Saturday’s Broadway Market and Hackney Wick was an underground festival where only the coolest of the cool would meet.
Hackney also was one of the hottest spots during the 2011 London riots and still remains rather rough neighbourhood. Hipster in the daytime, gangster in the night, a mystique duality of Hackney’s character.
Two years ago, when I moved back to London and agreed to meet up with a friend of mine by Hackney Central, my initial thought was: that shithole? But I was pleasantly surprised after she took me to Market Café right by canal.
After two years, I’m still living in this shithole and I can not get enough of it. So let’s take a walk together through the hipsters’ paradise.
To observe the true nature of borough’s character, it is important to note that weekends are the worst time to explore. Personally, I adore to take a walk around brunch time on Wednesday or Thursday, when week is heading towards the closure and people are more relaxed.
Previously, when I lived in Seven Sisters I was more open to commuting. It wouldn’t bother me to travel for 30min on a tube, walk for 10min to a bus stop, ride for another 15min, then change until I would reach my final destination. Now, I try to trick everyone I know into Hackney. Why? Because it’s fabulous.
- OK, so how do I get there? – they usually ask.
- Come to Hackney Central, or Hackney Downs and I will meet you there, – I say.
And then we meet. On my way, I usually pop in to Prideaux House Charity Shop to check their book shelf. The charity usually have some immortal classics and modern literature picks. Also, I love to chat a bit with a lady who works there, she is adorable and always thanks everyone for shopping, as if their saved someone’s life.
Therefore, most of the time, I am running fashionably late and make people linger by Oslo, a bar and a concert venue, that sell delicious Oslo Burgers for £11 and run a pub quiz on Sunday. There are always people around and the playlist is good. Tickets to up-and-coming alternative bands or solo acts are usually sold out, but if you manage to get in, you shouldn’t be disappointed. I recently went to Fujiya & Miyagi and was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the sound system and lights.
I apologise for being late, you say: that’s fine, we kiss cheek-to-cheek and start walking down the Mare Street passing by a saxophonist playing under a bridge. Soon we reach Hackney Empire, a performance venue that recently held a gig by The Last Shadow Puppets. Once a friend of mine invited me to see Mother Goose. I believe, he had free tickets. And I had other plans. Since then, mine and Hackney Empires paths didn’t cross.
I point towards Hackney Picturehouse, a hype and overpriced (around £13 per ticket) cinema. I share that once S. and I watched Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck there, which wasn’t too bad, but I like Rio cinema in Dalston/Stoke Newington better.
We pass through Hackney Town Hall into narrow alley, cyclists are flying by ringing their bells. We stop by zebra crossing and I use the opportunity to show you a café/ restaurant on a corner. I mention that even though it looks trendy, I avoid going there, mainly because I don’t like the crowd, who all look like obnoxious assholes.
Then we cross the street and continue towards London Fields. Due to construction works a small retro furniture shop that used to sell old books, vinyl’s and flowers is closed. I share my hopes that one day it will open again and I will be able to pass by admiring the concept of it and regretting that I’ll never have enough money to shop where I desire.
Before entering through gates to the park, I mention that once I bought Serge Gainsbourg’s biography for only £1 at a garage sale in the parking lot located right by the fields.
- It’s a great idea, don’t you think? There should be more similar events like this, where kids sell lemonade, adults share stories and exchange vinyls.
Hackney does have the community feel: parks, canals, design shops, cyclists and creative people with their kids and (or) dogs, sitting outside in cafes enjoying life. Sometimes it reminds me of Amsterdam.
We sit for a while on a grass observing people. It’s a warm and sunny summer’s day. I offer to get a cup of coffee from Climpson & Sons. A flat white and a pastel de nata is a peek into heaven in it-self.
There are two routes to choose from, once we reach London Fields: the Broadway Market or less known Willton Way. It depends on my mood and how much of social stimulation I need that day, but most of the time I go for classics.
Willton Way is a recently found street full of cosy coffee shops, couple of pubs, a place for a quick snack or Saturday brunch and Violet Café, who bake delicious cakes. It is pricy, but worth every pence. And upstairs they have fantastic collection of magazines to flip through.
I would recommend Willton Way in case you end up wondering in Hackney on a weekend, there is a higher chance you’ll get seated. Although, not guaranteed, especially on a sunny day. Try The Footnote for brunch.
Broadway Market is even worse, cafes are rather cramped and narrow, pathways fits only a few tables, therefore finding a free space outside becomes a mission.
If you are looking for a place to eat, bakeries next to London Fields station usually have some homemade quick bites and The Laundry building (Wringer + Mangle) just opposite, has a spacious outside terrace and fantastic menu. Yet again, a bit expensive, but affordable (if I remember correctly, £25 should cover the main and a drink). It is a good place for dinner, before you head to a pub or London Fields Brewery located right next to it.
Cat & Mutton is another good vibe spot for a pint. I would suggest popping in after 8pm, when it gets darker, as there is something truly upsetting about bars/pubs in a daylight.
Before we stop for a drink, I’m taking you to Donlon Books to browse through pages of photography books. It is charming bookshop for everyone who enjoys a good read, smell of fresh books and visual stimulation of the mind.
Next to Donlon Books there is a quality fish shop. I love it there, it has this Jamie Oliver hands on work feel and it smells of sea. Also, I tasted the best local vodka there, even though I’m not a lover of spirits, paired with smoked salmon the shot went down smoothly leaving smoke aftertaste. If you preparing dinner for two be ready to spend £5-10, depending on your choice of fish.
Another laid back place, which has classic collection of craft beers and choice of cocktails with special twist is Off Broadway. It’s usually gets crowded later into an evening, but people are rotating, so you should be able to get a place, at least by the bar. They also have a do not give a shit cat, who walks around with its head up and looks down on people.
Going down the road, we pass people sitting outside Franco Manca, who specialises in pizzas and homemade lemonade. The place works on a sort of a production line philosophy: get in, eat and get out, so if you feel like lingering, choose a seat outside. Pizzas are rather big, so if you are not too hungry, I recommend to share (£7-10).
On the corner of Broadway Market and Jackman St. there is another alternative bookshop Artwords, best for magazines and quirky publications.
Rebel Rebel is a top flower boutique. When a Spaniard friend of mine was getting married, I knew exactly where to get the bouquet from, bouquet of a perfectly arrange wildness. They also supply flowers for Market Café, which as mentioned previously is perfect place at any time of day. The spot is rather spacious, so it’s less crowded and it is possible to have a proper conversation without shouting to your partner’s or friend’s face. There is a piano right by the entrance and occasionally, when someone play’s it, the place feels like an episode from Woody Allen’s movie.
This is only a small part of Hackney’s charm that cannot be captured in a single blog entry. More recommendations to follow, more stories to be unveiled…