Being born in London in the Eighties with my drinking experiences starting in the Nineties, London had clearly defined areas: The West (Notting Hill, Kensington and Chelsea) was held on a pedestal of chic drinking holes, glitzy society and expensive tipples. East was a non-entity, in so much as wow bars and must go to nights.
Throughout the mid to late Nineties, the West rested on its laurels: People simply thought that West was best and looked at it with chic rose-tinted glasses and this made the West lazy. Settling on its laurels in the late nineties, the West never really forged anything new or exciting but settled for the fixed, successful formula of the previous decade.
Meanwhile, across London the East began to bubble. Derelict warehouses became New York-style loft apartments and abandoned shops slowly began to transform into bars. A scene was rising out of the rubble. What was this scene? It paved the way for Londons new generation of urban-chic, edgy fashion and boundary pushers; East London was to become their home. Where trend-setters go, nightlife must surely follow. The East London scene matched their attitudes and styles; bars, with seemingly pennies spent on the interior, sprang up with underground music and shabby interior; lest they knew that they had started the shabby-chic trend.
A bar, which I saw at the forefront of this revolution was The Foundry. Unashamedly cool people hanging outside, a mish mash of old, tatty furniture and grubby walls inside, a banging sound system and a basement (literally a basement) for new up-and-coming live acts. The Foundry sadly closed its doors this year, which is an indication of the second revolution about to start¦
The Foundry Basement
Throughout the early Noughties, West Londoners, who thought Bond Street represented East London, braved the Central line and started to buy into this new scene. They forgot their airs and graces in the quest to be cool and dance all night rest assured that their evening would have started sipping £12 cocktails in Westbourne Grove. This new London mish mash of East London trendies and West London shabby-yet-expensive-chic began to entwine in the cobbled side-streets around Old Street. The West was always best¦but now it faced a new challenger.
Not only were new bars popping up every month but these warehouses were being turned into clubs as well as flats. Exposed brick work and exposed pipes, matching the New York Loft feel were the order of the day. Top DJs and club promoters flocked East to fill these expansive spaces with late night revelers. Was the East even going to steal the clubbing crown from Central London? Was the East trying to be the West and Central rolled into one as the mecca of London nightlife? Clubs such as 333, Favela Chic and Cargo made names for themselves, with high profile DJs and affordable prices. Cocktails no longer had to cost £10+ and entry fees didnt have to top £10 either. Hoxton Square, formerly a run-down area filled with industrial buildings began to transform into a hub for less shabby-chic and more chic-chic bars and million pound Georgian townhouses. The power shift had mostly definitely swayed from West to East any night, any budget? Head to East London and satisfy all your needs.
So here we are, rushing towards the end of the first Noughty decade; where do we stand now? Has the West reacted to this shift? Is the East becoming a copy of the successful old West model?
The end of this decade has seen another dynamic enter the London nightlife scene the apparent closing of a lot of iconic, super clubs - Turnmills, The Cross and The End, but to name a few - and the rise of both late night DJ bars and cocktails bars that really make an effort to impress. And guess who has led this change? Yes, the East London trend setters. Shoreditch, Old Street and Hoxton have seen a recent burst of superb, intricate, carefully designed and thought through cocktails bars / drinking holes / dancing platforms. They have looked to the past for inspiration, beyond the eighties and nineties, and back to the vintage days of the Thirties and Forties (following the current fashion trends set by their local residents): Themed speakeasys, drinking dens of iniquity and vintage decorated basement bars are the order of the day. Cocktails have become fashionable again and its in these places that this art form is starting a new wave. Recently opened, The Nightjar Bar, Hoxton Pony and Callooh Callay (just to name a few) may be seen as the new luminaries and I am sure many more are to follow. It would be wrong not to mention the wonderful Loungelover bar, as in its day, it was probably the most forward thinking cocktail bar in East London. Opening in 2003 was perhaps too early, as it did not match the shabby-chic décor of its neighbours.
Do you go to Shoreditch just for a grimy but great dance now? No. Chic cocktails are the order of the day.
So as suggested earlier, is the East in danger of becoming the new West? This thought has definitely crossed my mind more recently but I think the spirit, the atmosphere and the personality of the East still remains and this resonates through anything new in the area. Somehow, the East is still undeniably cool with a creative mentality something the West lost back in the nineties. When questioned about the East becoming the new West, Rebekkah, Marketing Manager of Callooh Callay told me, "With 3 good quality cocktail bars opening up in Shoreditch in the past month alone, one can only assume this to be the new cocktail capital of London. Why? Unlike Central and West London most Shoreditch bars don't have a dress code and almost none charge an entry fee. Tradition dictates that East Londoners are grafters, and graft we do - Callooh Callay is our passion and we work hard to make it work so that having fun comes naturally to our guests."
So what does this mean for the West? Have we seen the end to this backbone of London nightlife? There are signs of a resurgence with such bars as Trailer Happiness, Notting Hill Arts Club and Supperclub, all impressing with their passion for creativity and creating memorable nights out but these remain in the minority. The West will always be successful as its the home of the rich and famous, but while the East has its moment in the spotlight, the West must try and create something exciting, something different, something worthy of its history. After all, nothing is original and while the East has adopted the Thirties and Forties as its faux current era, I am confident the West can one day reclaim its status on the pedestal of London nightlife. Perhaps the West can become the new East or would we even want it to?! As famous French film director Jean Luc Goddard once said, Its not where you take things from, but where you take them to.