Tuesday, February 17, 2009

NYC Girl in London Day 3: Borough Market, East London, Shoreditch nightlife

For our third day in London, we decided to stay in the East End. The east end until fairly recently had a reputation synonymous with poverty and crime. When the population of London boomed in the 19th century, most of the poor and new immigrants lived in the east side of town where the city's expansion sprawled to. Throughout history, this area suffered through hardship, including a disproportionate amount of plague and other epidemics due to the lower living standards and crimes waves (the famous Jack the Ripper performed his deeds here) and proliferation of gangs (the Kray Brothers operated here). Nowadays, the areas has enjoyed a boom in development, including the Canary Wharf area and the upcoming Olympic Park for the 2012 Games in London. In addition, many of the neighborhoods such as Shoreditch, Angel, Islington and others are bustling with young artistic hipster types who either live there or frequent the area's nightlife.

Our first stop was, of course, food related: Borough Market which is south east London, across the Thames from the City which is the financial center of London. Read my writeup about our adventures there and the amount of food we ate or wanted to eat. After a great food adventure and full bellies, we decided to walk along the water on the Southwark side towards Tower Bridge.

Along the way we checked out London Bridge (and it does not appear to be falling down) and the very modern looking new City Hall where the controversial and outspoken Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, comes to work everyday. From across the Thames we can clearly see a large oval shaped building, known as the Gherkin or Swiss Re Tower. Famous for its unique shape, the building is location in the City and is the UK HQ for a Swiss reinsurance giant.

Walking across the Tower Bridge, the view was phenonmenal and thankfully we didn't get caught up in the bridge lifting for a passing ship so got across safely and quickly (below is a photo of the middle "seam" of the bridge).

All the walking around and crossing of the bridge got me hungry so we walked (a long way) from Tower of London to Brick Lane for some world famous (albeit touristy) Indian food. Brick Lane is a bit like East 6th Street in NYC but bigger and is filled with Indian/Bangaldeshi food markets, restaurants and general stores. Lots of street vendors as well, selling touristy schlock. We figured everything will be pretty much the same so settled on a place called Preem and proceeded to order everything under the sun: Onion bhajee, chicken korma, lamb vindaloo, chicken tandoori. The food was good but next time in London I need to try a more authentic off the beaten path place or a high end quality place. Or both...

After our late afternoon meal, we walked through Bricklane, past the Shoreditch and Bethnal Green neighborhoods where lots of trendy kids hung around hipster looking shops and bars and back towards MC's apartment in the Old Street area. We stopped at a store called Waitrose (where I wanted to take home all sorts of cool British groceries but thankfully realized the insanity of that) for some wine and breads for our Neal's Yard cheese for our little pre-night out soiree at the flat. A couple of bottles later, we headed out towards the Shoreditch area, abandoning bars in the Hoxton Square area because of the long lines, stopping for a drink at a gay bar/pub/club/pool hall called Joiners Arms and finally settling into a non-descript pub where I proceeded to have 3 Jamesons neat. Maybe it was because it was Saturday night but the scene was unbelievable, the bars and streets were FILLED with drunk rowdy sometimes rude people, we saw a guy sitting on the sidewalk disoriented (and it was only 11PM) and the women drank as much if not more than the men. After a couple of hours of solid, sane conversations with MC and friends, we hightailed it out of there towards home.

After a day spent in the East End, I decided it is definitely a cooler, more colorful, more diverse area than Central London. And while it's got more of a rundown and edgy feel than the clean, sterile feel of Mayfair, it's certainly not lacking in poshness, as we walked past the Classic Car Club where younger hipster types choose to go to rent their Bentleys...and Porsches and Aston Martins. Ahhhh, gentrification, it's everywhere you want to be!

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