- Travel Topics
If you’re looking to experience another side of London – the side of London the tourists never see – then it might be time to check out Dalston. This popular East London neighbourhood may be full of chicken shops, Caribbean takeaways and pentecostal churches, but it has also firmly established itself as one of London’s leading places to party.
Some say that Dalston has changed, become gentrified, with sky-high property prices and middle-class professionals pushing out the artists and locals that gave the area its charm in the first place. However, plenty of new bars, restaurants and clubs have sprung up to cater for this new demographic, making the area perhaps more enticing now for newcomers than it ever has been before.
Dalston may be lacking in big-name tourist attractions, but in this land of late-night dive bars, cosy cafes and quirky shops, that doesn’t really matter. It also boasts one of London’s most vibrant cultural scenes, with interesting films, gigs and plays taking place most nights of the week. That’s why I’ve decided to walk you through some of my favourite things to do in this intriguing part of the city.
Whether your idea of vintage treasure is bric-a-brac, dusty vinyl or secondhand clothing, Dalston has it all. Beyond Retro opened its flagship store here a few years ago in an old cigar factory on Stoke Newington Road, selling clothes, shoes and accessories from throughout the 20th Century. The shop offers a vast yet carefully edited selection of gems, including warm 1960s knitwear and brightly-coloured jumpsuits from the 1980s, providing unique and timeless style decisions for the discerning local crowd. It’s also something of a movie landmark, having cameoed in the film James Bond: Die Another Day. An in-store stage for music concerts and a coffee shop round out Beyond Retro’s many attractions.
You could be forgiven for walking past the unassuming gate to Dalston’s Eastern Curve Garden, which is right by the colourful Hackney Peace Mural, but to do so would be to miss out on this peaceful urban oasis and one of East London’s true hidden gems. The Curve Garden is a tree-lined stretch of greenery on an abandoned railway line, providing space for locals to plant flowers and vegetables and for visitors to talk and relax in. The garden is maintained by a team of dedicated volunteers, with local street artist Stik contributing memorable figures to the walls, which peek out from behind the shrubs and bushes. A cosy cafe provides refreshments including homemade lemonade and freshly baked muffins for those wishing to stay longer. Highly recommended.
If avant-garde jazz or experimental sound is your thing, then there isn’t a better place in the UK, if not Europe, than Cafe Oto in Dalston. This converted warehouse on Ashwin Street attracts tea drinkers as an appealing Japanese cafe by day, while programming adventurous music seven nights per week. Grab some organic local beer or refreshing Japanese green tea and get your audio vitamins from the likes of free-jazz great Peter Brotzmann or an underground Japanese noise band.
Eating out in Dalston has always been a Turkish affair, but with new restaurants springing up all the time, the neighbourhood now offers Italian, Portugese and Mexican cuisine. Mezcal Cantina is one of my favourites, a relatively newcomer to Dalston’s restaurant scene, serving flavoursome tacos, fajitas and burritos, washed down with artisanal varieties of the Mexican spirit mezcal. We certainly love its funky decor: the colourful tablecloths, fairylights and Mexican-inspired wall murals. And luckily the food doesn’t disappoint either, especially their tasty tender beef and chorizo tacos.
Hidden down a side street on the way towards the financial district, Passing Clouds is easily missed, like many of Dalston’s best hidden gems. This cultural arts centre puts on soulful global parties seven nights per week, where you can forget about the rainy London weather and imagine you’re living it up on a beach in Latin America. Live bands and DJs play everything from African funk to Brazilian Tropicalia to reggae for a fun-loving and enthusiastic crowd. Don’t be put off by its squat-like appearances or relatively steep entrance fees, a night at Passing Clouds is almost always worth it.
Everyone in Dalston is Weird – a fun Tumblr blog dedicated to the sightings and curiosities of East London’s quirkiest neighbourhood
HotelClub London – one of your best bets for finding accommodation in the area
OPEN Dalston – quality local blog offering news, views and opinions
Words by Matt Lindley. Follow him on Twitter: @MattELindley