Hip hangouts in Hoxton

by Michael.Macaroon

Hoxton is the unofficial centre of contemporary art in London. Its bars, clubs, pool rooms and restaurants are also THE destination for Londoners on a big night out

Since the 1990s – the era of Britpop and Britart, artistic irony and geek chic – Hoxton has been the fashionable crowd’s destination of choice for a big night out. Other parts of London, as any nonchalant twenty-something with an asymmetrical haircut will tell you, just don’t hack it. The nightlife in Soho can be fun, but it’s for an older crowd. Camden’s full of goths. Mayfair is for footballers and page-three girls. South Kensington is for Prince Harry and chums. Covent Garden is for clueless out-of-towners. So, if you don’t want to feel you’re missing out, you’ve just got to head to Hoxton.

Creative base

Located to the east (just north of the City of London), Hoxton has traditionally been a working-class area, and today merges imperceptibly with similarly gritty (and trendy) Shoreditch. Nowadays, it’s a centre of the so-called creative industries – the hangout of artists, designers, advertising gurus and media types – and a host of nightclubs, bars, restaurants and shops have opened their doors to entertain and cater to them. Transport connections aren’t bad: the nearest tube station is Old Street, there are numerous buses, it’s not too far from King’s Cross and St Pancras stations, and new underground links are due to open on Shoreditch High Street and north Hoxton in mid-2010.
If you’re planning, say, a weekend in London, it’s a fun area to be based in. Stay at the Hoxton Hotel: stylishly designed, decorated with contemporary art, and offering access to a local gym and swimming pool for £5, it’s a reinvention of the tired, conventional concept of what a hotel should be. In addition, rooms are priced according to availability, so if you book well in advance you could be one of the five people every night who stay there for only £1. The other good hotel in the area is Boundary, newly opened in 2009 by Terence Conran. Again, it’s heavily designed, and each room is decorated in the style of a famous designer (such as Charles and Ray Eames or Mies Van Der Rohe).

By day

During the day, the main activities for Hoxtonites are visiting art galleries, sitting in cafes, bars and pubs, and browsing in shops (invariably design-conscious ones). The unofficial headquarters of Britart is the White Cube Gallery on Hoxton Square. It’s where Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin and Jake and Dinos Chapman exhibit their work. Other big names you could see here include Anselm Kiefer, Doris Salcedo, Andreas Gursky and Chuck Close. Its minimalist interior is free to enter.
Nearby, on Rivington Street, is London’s newest purpose-built public art gallery, Rivington Place. It’s an amazing building – the design was inspired by an African mask – and it’s also free to enter, but its exhibitions, which are devoted to cultural diversity, haven’t exactly been earth-shattering to date. More low-key and accessible exhibitions can be found not far away at the Flowers East gallery at 82 Kingsland Road.
After all that brow-furrowing gazing at contemporary art, I’d guess that some retail therapy is in order. The area’s shops are nothing if not offbeat. If you’re after vintage clothing, then head to Beyond Retro on Cheshire Street. For quirky art and design books go to Bookartbookshop at 17 Pitfield Street. If you’re feeling in the mood, you could drop in at Sh!, a boudoir-style sex shop just off Hoxton Square (at 57). Unlike the usual dirty-anorak affair, this smartly designed shop caters for women, and men can only enter in female company.

And by night

Of course, Hoxton only really gets busy at night. While you’re waiting for things to liven up, have a pint in The Griffin, an old-fashioned pub on Leonard Street. Then visit a restaurant for some solid fuel (you’ll need it). Yelo, an informal Thai restaurant on Hoxton Square is good and won’t break the bank. Then there’s The Real Greek Mezedopolio, just round the corner on Hoxton Market. It’s not as good as it used to be (a common refrain in 90s-nostalgia districts such as this), but the food’s still delicious and it’s a lively place.
After that, there’s still time for something else before hitting the clubs. You can play pool on one of the tables at the Elbow Room on Curtain Road (97–113). Alternatively, head for Charlie Wright’s International Bar at 45 Pitfield Street, where you can hear live music (usually jazz), eat (Thai food – very cheap) and drink (mostly beer).
When, finally, you’re feeling brave enough to rub shoulders with Agyness Deyn lookalikes on the dance floor, there’s no shortage of venues. Some of the best are the smallest ones. DJ bars Three Blind Mice at 5 Ravey Street and Verge Bar at 114 Bethnal Green Road (a bit further to the east) are always friendly and have a great atmosphere. For larger venues, try the well established 93 Feet East on nearby Brick Lane or for real hedonism venture into Club DEEP under the bridge at 42–44 Kingsland Road.