For every gents-turned-pop-up-bar in Hackney there’s an honest-to-goodness boozer serving well-signposted pints and top-notch nosh.Cat & Mutton is a buzzing gastropub great for Sunday lunch, while Pembury Tavern draws the real-ale crowd. New Empowering Church, meanwhile, is a temple of hipster cool with some great club nights.
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Once a mellow backstreet local, the George now swarms with rowdy, slumming-it art students in ridiculous outfits on Fridays and Saturdays, to the point where the landlord has even hired a bouncer.
The Prince Arthur still has the feel of a neighbourhood pub, due in part to classic but attractive gastropub fittings of chunky wooden tables, dark-green leather stools and taxidermy on the walls.
Hackney bars and clubs
Head to the first floor of this East End trendsetter for the light, white restaurant and big oval bar (the Manchichi, where walk-ins can eat and good cocktails are mixed). Although the hipster count is high, the welcome and service are friendly, and there’s a level of professionalism here that’s missing from many local restaurants. The kitchen is capable of highs – duck confit with puy lentils and mushrooms was a stellar version – but a steady B-plus is more usual.
The bjoux live back room still smells bizarrely of mould and the courtyard smoking area – complete with broken fountain and faded, crudely painted murals – might nix its chances of a Michelin star for music venues, but this down-at-heels gem is already an institution, just two years after throwing open its doors to a rampantly eclectic live music programme. The Shacklewell is usually crowded, but generally convivial, welcoming a hipster-ish crowd to gigs seven nights a week, plus club nights, magazine launches and after-show parties, all benefitting from a late licence.
Housed in a former art gallery and shop, this inappropriately named hangout – it’s actually right on Broadway Market – has won a loyal following since it opened at the end of 2008. The owners have said that it’s modelled on a now-defunct bar in New York’s East Village, and you can kind of see what they mean without having been there. Certainly, the menu’s mix of notable beers (Brooklyn on tap, along with a number of other excellent bottled American imports) with worthwhile cocktails (rooted in tradition, but modified for the modern drinker) is unusual for the UK but pretty common across the ocean.
Au revoir to cute bistro Bouchon Fourchette and hola to Boceto Hackney, a tapas bar taking its place on Mare Street. Although, judging from our visit, a warmer welcome should be extended to the cocktails. This is a sister venue to Brixton’s Three Eight Four and Seven, both restaurants where the drinks win out. So we made easy work of a Barrel-aged Gunpowder Negroni and an original mezcal-based creation, the Abuela, whose chilli kick would surely knock Granny for six. Secondary to the sterling drink offering is a limited tapas menu. The staples are all here: chorizo, charcuteria, pan con tomate. But flavours run fairly flat, especially in a prawn dish lacking sufficient garlicky depth. It’s comforting, though, to taste patatas bravas the way they should be – charmingly rustic chunks of spud with a liberal dousing of rich tomato sauce and aioli. What’s truly authentic, though, is the Spanish style of service: we were left far too long to mull over the menu, but there was plenty of warmth as soon as we got their attention. Sit up at the bar to make life easier and you’ll also get Speedy Gonzales access to those drinks.