For some, London conjures a mix of Mary Poppins, Hugh Grant, and Harrods. But this is half the story at best—in fact, the western half. In the run-up to the 2012 Summer Olympics, East London is more accessible to visitors than ever, thanks in large part to the extended East London rail line, which connects the city center with stops in key neighborhoods like Shoreditch, Dalston, Haggerston, and Whitechapel. Here's where to stay, eat and what to see.
Terence Conran’s boutique hotel in Shoreditch, The Boundary, is housed in a Victorian warehouse, its brickwork accented with glass, steel, and copper. The rooftop garden features olive trees and a Cuban humidor. Downstairs you’ll find a British food store and bakery—plus the Albion restaurant, where you can fuel up with a high-end English fry-up and black pudding.
The Zetter Hotel’s neighboring little sister property, Zetter Townhouse, resides in Georgian splendor on Clerkenwell’s St. John’s Square. Decor is maximalist—taxidermy, lavish antiques, and street art. Downstairs, the cocktail lounge is a collaboration with the mixologists behind award-winning 69 Colebrooke Row. Try libations with nettle cordial and gunpowder tea tincture.
A Sunday tradition, Hackney’s 19th-century open air Columbia Road Flower Market is lined with charming shops. Lunch on small plates at hot spot Brawn, or down a pint at convivial gastropub Royal Oak. In the same neighborhood is Victoria Park, London’s answer to Dolores Park, packed on Saturdays with art students who’ve wandered over from nearby Broadway Market, where Chez Panisse alum Claire Ptak peddles her cupcakes at Violet. In June, the park hosts indie festival Field Day.
For Indian curry and new boutiques, head to Brick Lane in Shoreditch. Vintage department store Blitz stocks everything from retro Swatch watches to Yohji Yamamoto. YMC is great for such quirky finds as Navajo-print deck shoes. Also look for luxe clothing line Henleys at celebrity favorite Sunspel.
In Whitechapel, Whitechapel Gallery heralds contemporary artists. Through June, look for a retrospective of artist Gillian Wearing. In July, the gallery opens a showcase of London’s on-the-cusp talents.
On Kingsland Road, at the intersection of new and cool, Dalston’s A Little of What You Fancy has rotating offerings such as smoked haddock kedgeree with poached egg. Luckily, the chocolate cake is a constant.
In Clerkenwell, chef Fergus Henderson’s St. John Bar and Restaurant Smithfield is the original outpost for nose-to-tail eating. Dishes such as pigeon pie read like Grimms’ fairy tale cuisine, but roasted chicken is on offer too.
Sit at the wraparound bar at Soho House Group’s Pizza East, inside the 19th-century Tea Building in Shoreditch. Ogle the wood-fired possibilities, including a decadent pie with veal meatballs, prosciutto, and cream. With the air of a mad hatter’s tea party, The Commercial Tavern (020-7247-1888) remains remarkably free of pretension. At the upstairs bar, savor a gin-and-tonic while listening to glam rock. Later, if you have an appointment, go underground at Lounge Bohemia, a Czech-themed speakeasy. The White Russian comes with a marshmallow bobbing in vodka and Kahlua.
This story was published in 7x7's May issue. Click here to subscribe.