In honour of London Fashion Week, Claire Droney hangs out in the city’s coolest spot — Shoreditch.
THERE are models everywhere. Amazonian giants smoking in the covered porch beside the flower shop, and drinking plastic cups of green juice from the bar, skinny legs jutting out under the over-sized granny-chic coats and checked, blanket scarves thrown casually around shoulders.
At a cement block table, a couple feed chocolate croissants to their toddler; middle-aged men in turned-up jeans and multi-coloured trainers stride past with clip-boards, and a twenty-something listens to music on oversized headphones, bending his head over a silver MacBook.
In the background, the DJ plays chill-out music against a backdrop of slanted Sunday newspapers hanging on the wall.
Recently opened on Shoreditch High Street (a formerly grim area of East London, until a renaissance began in 2000 with the establishment of the famous Les Trois Garcons restaurant in a converted Victorian pub), the Ace Hotel is buzzing.
Occupying the former Crowne Plaza building, the owner brought a host of cool-by-numbers accoutrements inspired by its sister hotel in New York to the building.
Bentwood chairs, dim library reading lamps, vinyl records on display and a few snooty waiting staff.
The porters wear baseball jackets and caps, there are vintage bicycles stuck to the walls, and the bill comes with a handwritten message: ‘Thank you for sleeping with us, xxx.’
The hotel may not appeal to every taste. The bedrooms are prison chic minimal, with props for sale throughout — impractical enamel mugs (too hot to hold when drinking tea), a hard-backed copy of Lolita or Wuthering Heights; a grey Ikea-like plastic box full of Pot Noodles; crisps and condoms; a wall-mounted pencil sharpener and grey sweat-shirt robes. The futon-like beds in our large triple room are very comfortable, but the Perspex windows don’t open and the air is slightly stale inside.
Outside, Shoreditch is a Richard Curtis checklist of what a trendy London location should look like.
A stroll down the newly-gentrified Red Church Street shows graffiti as art on wooden hoardings below newly-renovated apartments.
A converted warehouse sells designer clothes and tickets to its basement cinema, pumpkins tumble on a display outside a designer deli on one corner and near another shop selling old-fashioned, wire pot scrubbers and enamel ladles, along with a spray-painted grunge/ thrift shop called ‘Sick’.
In the nearby ‘The Breakfast Club’ (almost in the shadow of the Gherkin building), we eat brunch sitting on old metal bus seats in front of a Smeg Fridge, the unique portal to a secret speakeasy bar at night (if you know the password), and read the graffiti on the My Little Pony wallpaper in the toilets.
A five-minute walk away is Spitalfields market, with beautiful handbags, art, cupcakes, and quirky, cheap jewellery, which the stall holder claims is sourced from Harrods’ suppliers.
In the nearby Boxpark pop-up mall (a shopping centre made of shipping containers), there is over-priced designer glassware, and a shop that sells neon Onesies.
At the other end of Red Church Street is Brick Lane. English and Bengali street names mark the bustling streets which host Eastender-lookalikes; second-hand leather shops; BYOB curry houses, and 24-hour bakeries selling freshly-made bagels for 60p.
We attend an exhibition of erotic Japanese art in the Old Truman Brewery, and wander through darkened rooms holding lanterns up to peer at paintings in glass cases while wearing 3D glasses.
In a packed antiques shop (called ‘This Shop Rocks’), we read through a stack of old postcards.
Remnants from the estate of a recently deceased woman, these vignettes of her private life are now on sale in wooden boxes between old typewriters and china Staffordshire dogs.
Later we join groups of platinum-haired girls in short skirts tripping down the cobbled streets of Brick Lane, and sharing fish bowl cocktails in Casa Blue bar, before having a few late drinks in the (slightly grubby) Vibe bar at the Old Truman Brewery.
There’s a different ambience here at the other end of Red Church street – Brick Lane is more ten-straw, fish bowls than custom-made cocktails, more platform-heels and short skirts.
On Sunday morning, we meet people walking slowly back along Columbia Road, hugging armfuls of pink peonies and brown-paper-wrapped lemon trees. At the famous flower market, we push through crowds in the middle of a street flanked by stall holders selling huge bunches of willow, and green cabbage roses tinged with pink, before enjoying a leisurely tapas lunch in Laxeiro.
Our flowers propped up on the windowsills, we drink Cava and watch the tourists outside taking photographs of the restaurant cat sitting on a car roof in the winter sun.
At night, we venture to Lounge Lover (located down a side alley off Red Church Street, and identified only by a neon pink flashing heart) for marshmallow cocktails in the shadow of a huge glass palm-tree chandelier and ten foot oriental vases, and afterwards join the hungry queues in the dimly-lit, nightclub-like Pizza East, where waiting times can total 90 minutes.
Love or loathe its ‘too-cool-for-school’ attitude, Shoreditch is a perfect spot to spend a weekend in London. With a host of bars and restaurants on and near the high street, there’s no need to worry about catching the last tube back to the hotel, or to wonder where the action is. It’s here.
And located less than a ten minute walk from Liverpool Street station, it’s also an easy trip to the more obvious London tourist attractions.
Although, you better get there fast.
According to my cool colleague Dani, Shoreditch is so over now.
Dalston is the place to be.
Ryanair and Aer Lingus fly Cork or Dublin to London Heathrow/Stansted/Gatwick daily.
A large triple room in The Ace Hotel can cost from £270 per room per night. www.acehotel.com/london
Don’t miss in Shoreditch
* Have the run of a three-story Georgian house in the beautifully-decorated The Commercial Tavern, complete with tiled bars, multiple chandeliers and antlers on the walls.
* Whoosh up to the 38th floor of the Heron Tower in a glass elevator, and have a drink at a bar built around an orange tree or on one of the outdoor terraces in Sushi Samba.
* Eat gourmet pork scratchings with a view in the more affordable Duck and Waffle on the 40th floor of the Heron Tower.
* Say the password and walk through a fridge in The Breakfast Club to the secret speakeasy bar ‘The Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town’.
* Book your two-hour slot online, and stare down the haughty front-of-house staff at Lounge Lover to try some of the best cocktails in London.
* Visit a plethora of bars in Hoxton Square.
* Stay local and have a gingerbread cocktail in Barrio East on Shoreditch High Street.
* Enjoy the roof gardens in Boundary.
* Book a night in a tiny hotel room in Shoreditch House and enjoy the (members only) club for 24 hours. We spotted Russell Brand walking his dog down the street recently.
HAVE ANOTHER SLICE OF MADEIRA
Topflight has announced a continued link with Madeira through Windavia Airlines from April to October. The company has had a popular programme to the island in recent years, with many clients returning to experience its sublime attractions. www.topflight.ie or 01-2401700MAKE THE BEST OF THE WEST IN MAYO
Hotel Westport will be represented at the forthcoming Over 50’s Travel Show in Cork’s City Hall on March 1 and 2. The hotel has a range of deals available for that age group, one of them being three night’s bed and breakfast with one dinner for €139 per person. www.hotelwestport.ieA CAPITAL TREAT FOR ALL THE FAMILY
A family of four can pick up a special overnight rate of €129 (including breakfast) at the Gibson Hotel in Dublin between April 11 and 20. The Easter special includes an in-room DVD player, chocolate goodies and return ticket for the Jervis Street stop on the Luas line. www.thegibsonhotel.ie or 01-6815054.GET ON YOUR BIKE UP NORTH
As Northern Ireland gears up to host the first three stages of the world’s second largest bike race, the Giro d’Italia, in May, the Northern Ireland Tourist Board has launched a campaign to encourage people to join in with the festivities. www.discovernorthernireland.com/giro2014HAVE A PATRICK’S DAY PARTY IN PARIS
Mallow Travel is teeing up St Patrick’s Weekend in Paris, which hosts the Six Nations clash between France and Ireland on March 15. The deal is for three nights from March 14. Flights ex Cork, with accommodation and transfers. Match tickets not included. www.itaa.ie/france-v-ireland-2
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