It’s almost impossible to walk through Hackney these days without stumbling across a pop-up restaurant or an immersive theatre performance. But that’s not to say the borough’s lost its capacity to surprise. We asked brilliant east London experts Dalstonist to name ten Hackney experiences that you might just have missed. Here’s what they had to say.
A large part of crate digging is the hours of dedication it takes to unearth that hidden treasure at the back of Oxfam or in the 145th box you’ve looked through at a record fair. So why not take that logic one step further and make the record store itself a challenge to find? One way of doing that is to stick it on a canal barge and constantly move it around, which is exactly the idea behind floating record store The Record Deck. Catch it somewhere on the River Lea between now and the end of April.
Who says you have to be ten years old to enjoy a midnight feast? We’re pretty sure they don’t let kids into Voodoo Ray’s after midnight anyway. They do, however, have a secret pizza that’s only available after the clock strikes 12. The Full Moon comes topped with marinated tomatoes, mozzarella, bacon dust and Japanese mayo – let’s face it, if you’re going to get your midnight munch on, you might as well do it properly. Don’t bother asking for it before then, they’ll only pretend they don’t know what you’re on about.
It’s been a long time since many of Hackney’s warehouses were used for any manufacturing, but this French restaurant is still one of the more surprising new tenants we’ve found. Merci Marie is located on the second floor of Fitzroy House and is open for breakfast and lunch during the week, mostly serving the studio residents who occupy the rest of the building. However, Friday evenings are when the restaurant really comes into its own and sees Marie serving a three-course menu featuring her rustic French creations.
Some fashion shops are exclusive, but this one is found in a Dalston basement you can only enter by appointment. It’s worth the effort though, because the Late-Night Chameleon Cafe (LN-CC for short) is like no other fashion store you’ll have ever seen. Entrance is via a geometric wooden tunnel that leads into a network of futuristic spaces including galleries for the store’s high-end fashion products plus a library, mezcal bar and a tiny nightclub. The space is currently closed for refurbishment but is set to reopen in mid-March – bookings are accepted via the shop’s website.
Railway stations have not hitherto been known as bastions of high culture. Pumpkin Cafes and people who just got out of prison? Yes. Fountains of knowledge? No. Except at Hackney Downs station, where on platform one you’ll find Banner Repeater, an ‘artist-led reading room and project space’ which, since 2009, has been hosting regular exhibitions and access to a library of artists’ self-published publications. Put down the Metro and engage in some intellectual activity on your morning commute.
Fans of high-end vintage will be more than familiar with Pelicans & Parrots. But there’s more to their second shop than meets the eye. Walk past the displays featuring everything from taxidermy to skiwear, enter the changing rooms then descend a secret staircase to a Caribbean rum shack hidden in the basement. Events there are few and far between, so you’ll have to sign up to the store’s mailing list if you want to be kept in the know.
It’s worth paying a visit to the Bridge Cafe at the bottom of Kingsland Road for the ground floor interior alone – packed full of vintage Americana and sporting memorabilia, it lures many visitors into taking a seat at the bar. But you’d be best served to pass through all that to the stairs at the back, which lead up to a luxurious lounge bar upstairs decked out like a cross between a Turkish boudoir and an opium den. The staff will serve you at your table, so make yourself comfortable and prepare to stay put for a few hours.
There are plenty of underground venues in Dalston, but none quite so distinctive as the Bunker. This World War II air raid shelter has remained virtually untouched for 60 years and features five interlinked rooms, which are put to use for various exhibitions and events. Recent months have seen the venue host immersive theatre productions and a supper club serving dishes that look like brains. Be sure to check it out in May when it opens up as part of Land of Kings festival.
Ask someone to recommend Hackney’s best drinking destinations and you’d rightly feel quite suspicious when they point you to the basement of the Golden Grill kebab house. But that really is where you’ll find the pragmatically named 184 Hackney Road bar which serves a dazzling variety of mezcals. Keep an eye out for tasting sessions if you’re interested in finding out more about the spirit, or just head down any other time to do some research of your own.
The Dalston church with a shrine to the world’s first clown
The annual clowns’ church service in Dalston is now something of a worldwide phenomenon, with more people turning up with cameras than red noses. Lesser known is the ‘Clowns Gallery’, a collection of clowning memorabilia and a tribute to the world’s first known clown, Joseph Grimaldi. The service moved to a new venue this year but the recently revamped gallery can be still be found at Holy Trinity Church on Beechwood Road.