My friend Marc Cave is one of the funniest people I know, but you have to appreciate his British humor. He gets to hone his creative genius daily at his advertising agency Green Cave People. We asked him for his ideal day in and around Shoreditch-- one of London's most thriving hip areas where art and design converge with curry joints and colorful markets. Please take this itinerary with a grain of salt, he really does like Americans and he really does know what’s happening right now in London’s center of cool- the East End!
The Ace Hotel’s first European branch opened in September 2013 in Shoreditch with an emphasis on local artisans and vendors--Square Mile Coffee, Lovage Juice Bar, Hoi Polloi Restaurant and hot local florist Hattie Fox are all within the hotel.
History buff? Visit the Geffyre Museum, explore a wonderful recreated 18th century house for a glimpse of how London’s poor and elderly lived in the 18th and 19th century. You’ll feel like you stepped back in time.
It’s hard to describe the experience, and it is an experience, at Dennis Sever’s House. Part museum, part art installment, it feels like you stepped inside a painting. The 18th century period house near Spitafields Market, offers tours lasting 45 minutes and conducted in silence. (Tours are offered Sunday and Monday day and Monday and Wednesday evenings)
This is Jack The Ripper’s stomping, or should we say slashing, ground. London Walks offers guided walks every night at 7:30, very informative, highly engaging and yes, a little eerie. If the “Jack the Ripper Walk” is not for you, another East London option is “The Old Jewish Quarter Walk” on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays starting at 10:15 and 10:45 depending on the day.
Brick Lane is famous for its Indian and Pakastani food, so if you get in the mood try Dishoom in Shoreditch (more upscale), or for the best sizzling lamb chops Tayyabs (bustling family run) in nearby Whitechapel. (There’s a reason you will see the lamb chops on every table, they’re that good!)
Introductory Rule: Never, ever stray south of the River Thames. South London is a moral wasteland; populated by toothless drunks, ticket touts and socialists. To savor the delights of the world’s finest city, it is essential to keep north of the river-Central, North, West or East London. Here you will be nestling in the bosom of contemporary culture. Titillated by the torrent of innovation in the arts, entertainment and eating out. Inspired by majestic architectural history. Yet at the same time, soothed by the verdant beauty of pristine parks and lush heaths. Stick with this simple rule and you will find that London is a magnificent Utopia.
Hmm, but where precisely should you go? As London is so vast, a comfortable day’s itinerary needs to be geographically realistic. Even the sturdiest American, nourished by several years of Big Macs, will wilt trying to combine all the must-sees of, say, North and West London in a single day. So stick to one part. And if you want to get your parts sticky with excitement, make it London’s East End. This is the fast-gentrifying equivalent of NYC’s Lower East Side (but being English- better, hipper and morally superior). Once the home of every immigrant wave to hit London, from the Irish to the Jews, the French Huguenots to the Bengalis, it was also the home of the Twentieth Century rag trade with sweatshops, synagogues and slums nestling cheek by jowl. Key neighborhoods to visit on a day’s itinerary: Shoreditch, Hoxton, Spitalfields, Whitechapel. But definitely make Shoreditch your base. There are some great walking tours organized by Urban Gentry. But if it was up to me, this is how I’d spend the day as a visitor to these hallowed shores:
Stay: If you are young, hip and need an affordable place to shag, best to stay at the Shoreditch Rooms. If you are slightly older, wealthier or simply need more chandelier space to swing from-take a suite at the Boundary just opposite Shoreditch House and Shoreditch Rooms in Boundary Street.
Breakfast: Upon waking, lie quietly in bed for thirty seconds contemplating how fortunate you are to be in G- d’s Favorite City. Then proceed with the rest of your day. Pop down to have breakfast at Albion on the ground floor of the Boundary. Hearty British breakfast grub like kedgeree, and wonderful baked goods, all served on retro British tableware.
To Market, to Market: Head off to Columbia Road Market. It’s a 5-10 minute walk. This is a bustling, blooming flower market. And let’s assume it’s a Sunday...because it opens on Sunday mornings only. Columbia Road began its life as a pathway along which sheep were driven to the slaughterhouses at Smithfield Market. Like much of the land in East London it was finally built upon to serve the needs of a growing London, which resulted from the explosion of the Empire during the Victorian era. Today, all of London comes to buy their bouquets and houseplants from lively flower sellers. Everything from bedding plants to 10-foot banana trees! It’s a riot of color and atmosphere. See if you can become the first American to haggle a Columbia Road stallholder below a fiver (£5.00) for a bunch of daffodils. Then, if successful, stop off and reward yourself with a coffee at one of the sweet little cafes. Check out the parade of shops running the length of the street, to one side of the flower stalls. The parade also contains kooky vintage stores, craft and jewelry shops- great for one-offs that are about as far in style from Knightsbridge as Arkansas. Stroll down the length of the street and meander. It’ll take you a good hour, by which time you’ll be ready for lunch.
Lunch: If you really only had one day in this part of the world, your time must be spent killing two birds with one stone. So instead of trying to cram in a visit to the sublime Whitechapel Gallery, head for The Tramshed where you’ll feast not only your tummy but also your eyes. Set up by celebrity chef Mark Hix in a vast, disused, er, tramshed, it contains a massive sculpture suspended from the ceiling by his best mate Damien Hirst, and downstairs the Cock & Bull Gallery, which is Hix’s showcase for both emerging and established artists.
Afternoon Stroll: To walk off the salted caramel fondue with cherries and marshmallows, which you weren’t supposed to have as you were saving yourself for dinner-take a 15-minute walk after lunch to the cobbled streets of Spitalfields. (Or a 5-minute cab if, like me, you are happy to be a fat, lazy but timesaving pig). This is one of London’s oldest residential neighborhoods and was made beautiful by one of Britain’s first immigrant waves - the French Huguenots. From 1670-1710, they escaped from persecution in France and built beautifully elegant townhouses in streets such as Princelet Street, Wilkes Street and above all Fournier Street. These still stand today and are home to the decidedly hip-including artists like Tracy Emin and Gilbert & George. Rather like my first wife, Huguenot Spitalfields is serene, elegant and beautiful.
Shopping Splurge: And now, Ladies and Gentlemen, having worked off lunch, here comes the moment you’ve all been waiting for. The afternoon shopping splurge...So you’ve got two choices.
You can stay in Spitalfelds and shop the vast Spitalfields Market. It can be a little touristy on the weekend but has a great range of accessible fashion and other frivolities for the young and not so young. It’s a mix of indie boutiques and some of the more indie-minded chain stores. There are some lovely boutiques in the side streets especially Brushfield Street where - if you fancy a quick espresso - you’ll also find a fabulously historic coffee shop called the Market Coffee House at No 52.
Alternatively - if you don’t have young children with you and want to grab a slice of London’s most stylish shopping, grab a 5-minute taxi back to Redchurch Street in Shoreditch. This is where the Boundary Hotel is. And it is also the epitome of Shoreditch cool. The botoxed prissiness of Chanel and Gucci it ain’t. Cutting edge, a selective mix of fashion, art and homewares it is. Showcasing some of the world’s most stylish contemporary fashion labels but also iconic wares- for your house, your face and your soul. It’s like a capsule containing the top bits of New York’s Meatpacking, Rivington and Nolita neighborhoods. It rocks.
Two other favorite shopping haunts, not on Redchurch Street, but well worth the 5-minute walk up Shoreditch High Street. First hit Calvert Avenue, arguably London’s best kept shopping secret, home to the wonderful Ally Capellino store along with kooky offerings from Moroccan bazaar boutique Larache and the discreetly eccentric womenswear, jewelry and homeware of Luna & Curious. Second, head to Rivington Street on the other side of Shoreditch High Street, where MrStart does great threads for British geezers, both informal and formal, and the women store opposite is a treasure trove of one-off pieces.
Drinks and Dinner: Back at the hotel, relax before dinner with cocktails and hors d’oeuvres on the Boundary Rooftop. Then take a 100-yard stroll for dinner to Les Trois Garcons. If it’s cold and wintry or, as we call it in England a typical summer, then skip cocktails on the rooftop and instead go to the bar next door to Les Trois Gracons restaurant, Loungelover. It’s owned by the same people and is a good introduction to the eccentric experience you are about to immerse yourself in). Now, fasten your seatbelts and prepare yourself for the moment you walk into Les Trois Garcons. You won’t have seen high camp like this since Elton John played Vegas. LTG is a fabulously kitsch, over-the-top theatrical experience with it just so happens, a thoughtfully and skillfully prepared French menu and a pretty decent wine list. In the spirit of killing two birds with one stone on this trip-it’s like taking in dinner and a West End show all in one sitting.
For Next Time: If you think this can’t be matched venture a little further east to Bethnal Green Town Hall. In terms of welcoming charm, fun and friendliness, Bethnal Green is still a bit like the Bowery in the 70’s. (That is, up and coming, but not quite there yet.) In my opinion Town Hall is home to the most cutting edge cuisine in London. Its centerpiece is the epicurean paradise known as the Typing Room, innovation on a plate!