The neighbourhood: What’s the deal?
Bethnal Green: the real East End. Our friend Pete likes to reminisce how there didn’t used to be any supermarkets in the area because the chains were worried that people would steal the food. Today the mix is decidedly eclectic (and don’t worry, there is a Waitrose!). Bethnal Green is halal pizza, Vyner St First Thursday art openings, take away curry, chador-wearing teens, free Russian newspapers, boating nomads living on the canals, and graphic design hipsters on fixed gears stopping off for a latte. In short, all the diversity of London in one slightly industrial zone that is still a while off total gentrification.
The Hotel: What’s the concept?
It’s a design hotel inserted into the body of an former Town Hall. The UK doesn’t mess around when it comes to privitisation – post offices, libraries, Town Halls – they’re all up for grabs. The hotel group, the Singaporean-based Unlisted Collection, has done well to retain the building’s original elegance. Built in Edwardian times the edifice also features some deco extensions – there are loads of original details throughout. It’s been used as a film set a number of times with appearances in the period drama Atonement; based on Ian Mc Ewan’s Booker Prize nominated novel of the same name; and Guy Ritchie’s edgy crime heist Snatch – ask at the hotel’s reception if you’d like to watch these or other films during your stay.
The crowd: What’s the vibe?
Mixed. The edgy flavour and slightly out of the way location of the neighbourhood means the hotel offers a very good price for the standard of facilities – big rooms, designer chairs, even a swimming pool. Among the crowd you will find a mix of in-the-know globe trotters as well as middle-aged couples standing on the corner and looking bewildered as as a bus pulls up and unloads 100 cape-wearing Somalians.
Tell us about the rooms:
Room are very generous and some of the apartments have good-sized kitchenettes so if you’re planning a long-term stay you can DIY bacon and eggs. In terms of aesthetics, the hotel has gone for a ‘classic look’ that is in keeping with the building, but to our mind it was a little, well, corporate, compared to the groups other offerings such as the showy Waterhouse on the Bund in Shanghai.
The Hotel: What is it ideal for in the context of London?
The hotel is perfect for Shoreditch-friendly street smart types who are doing business in the East End or frequent visitors who want to soak up some of the community atmos in the area. Highlights include Broadway Market on Saturday, taking the fixed-gear for a zip down the tow-path, ogling the handsome waiters at the fashionable eatery Bistroteque or grabbing a £1 lager and wandering about the Vyner St art openings. Note that the hotel is on the Central Line which is ideal for exploring sites and central London (click here for Tube map).
Pluses: What is to love?
Both of the in-house restaurants are very good. Viajante, headed by a chef who interned at the legendary El Bulli, does a wonderful and very reasonably priced set lunch and dinner. (Book in advance and request a table at the front so you can watch you meal being prepared with tweezers.) Swimming pools are not a given in London hotels, so we appreciated the opportunity to do a few laps. The bar is also a lovely spot to meet friends for drinks.
Minuses: Where could it improve?
Based on our stay, we would say that the staff are not quite up to standard (a number of incidents suggested a lack of experience) and there were some technical issues with the heating system. Also, while we appreciate the need to diversify the business to functions and weddings, events shouldn’t take place at the inconvenience of other hotel guests. We’re as big a fan of Freddy Mercury as anyone, but do we really want to hear the reverberations of Another One Bites the Dust as the wedding DJ attempts to crank-up the party? Probably not.
Tips: let’s hear them.
Have a well-made morning coffee at Hackney Bureau. Check out Viktor Wynd’s Little Shop Of Horrors – an art slash curiosity store that doubles as the Last Tuesday Society HQ, specialising in off-beat events. See what’s on at the Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club – a sort of tongue-in-cheek venue where activities might include a roller skating tea-party, a David Lynch inspired cabaret evening, or a retrospective of John Water’s films. (Note that attending in costume is encouraged.) Pellicci, one of London’s best known old school caff’s is around the corner, if you can stomach a fry up, give it a go, otherwise, stick to a cuppa served strong enough to strip your teeth. Low-key but pleasant activities ideal for a Sunday include visiting the V&A Museum of Childhood, strolling in Victoria Park (duck feeding is optional), or taking a look at Anish Kapoor’s rather silly Orbit sculpture at the recently inaugurated Olympic stadium.
Bookings: Contact the Town Hall Hotel
Lullaby: Catch former Bethnal Green resident Peter Doherty in a nostalgic mood in The Last of the English Roses.