Secret east London

So you think you know east London? This untamed quarter of the capital is constantly throwing up new surprises. The Time Out experts pick out their favourite secret spots – from hidden galleries to tucked-away parks, and pop-up restaurants to hip clubs

  • Secret east London

    © David Axelbank

  • Limehouse Town Hall
    This sad relic of Victorian municipal pride looms over Commercial Road like a mausoleum. But it’s not as neglected as it looks: since 2001 various arts groups have been reclaiming it for the community on the sly. Its grand assembly hall – where David Lloyd George and Keir Hardie once addressed the public gallery – is now a secret HQ for art activists, filmmakers, writers and outreach darning circle Stitches in Time. It won’t be secret for long, though. Plans are in motion to restore the place to its former civic glory – as Limehouse’s new cultural hub and local history museum. Chris Bourn
    646 Commercial Rd, E14 7HA (

    Canalside graffiti masterpiece
    Where is London’s best graffitied wall? You’ll find a serious contender alongside the River Canal just south of Hackney Wick station. This brick wall is the perfect canvas for London and Brighton street-art pack RT Crew’s modern take on New York-subway ‘Wild Style’ pieces – a colourful cut above the rest. Mark Jenkins

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    Trinity Buoy Wharf

    Trinity Buoy Wharf
    Ten years ago Trinity Buoy Wharf, the site where all the buoys and markers for the English coast were once made and repaired, was derelict. Now its lighthouse (the only one in the capital) overlooks a growing creative community. Preserving the Grade II-listed warehouses, the developers have constructed artists’ studios, offices and a riverside café from recycled shipping containers, and transformed the lighthouse into an unusual art venue. They’ve also forged relationships with London’s art colleges, whose students are delighted to have access to the site’s large spaces for ambitious projects. LIFT (London International Festival of Theatre) has its offices at Trinity Buoy Wharf, and the fleet of Thames Clippers is based here – at London’s longest pier which was built almost entirely from recycled materials. Highlights include a nostalgic ’40s food joint, FatBoy’s Diner, and what may be London’s smallest museum, The Faraday Project. Housed in a tiny wooden hut, it’s devoted to the Victorian scientist Michael Faraday who conducted experiments into electric lighting in the lighthouse in 1863. Sara O’Reilly
    Trinity Buoy Wharf, Orchard Place, E14 0JW (7515 7153/

    The Old Peanut Factory
    Having abandoned Shoreditch, the capital’s art squads have spent the past couple of years annexing the post-industrial wasteland of Hackney Wick. One former factory has been converted into studios with the Decima Gallery, which specialises in limited edition Gilbert & George prints, the main draw. Keep an eye out for their regular club nights. Serena Kutchinsky
    22 Smeed Rd, London, E3 2NR (07957 750246).

    Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park
    In the sea of estates between Whitechapel and Bromley by-Bow, this wonderfully decrepit and crepuscular Victorian cemetery is an island of nature and quietness. Regular wildlife and history tours wind their way through the crumbling memorials overgrown with foliage. A stroll here is an atmospheric way to take temporary refuge from the city. Euan Ferguson
    Southern Grove, E3 (

    Regent Studios
    This unprepossessing block of light industrial work-spaces opposite the Regent’s Canal is also home to a cluster of established contemporary galleries including MOT (Unit 54, fifth floor), Transition (Unit 25a, second floor) and Five Years (Unit 66, sixth floor). Less off the beaten track than it used to be – due to its proximity to Broadway Market and the ground-floor vintage furniture outlet The Dog & Wardrobe – it’s still fairly hidden. Don’t be put off by the sometimes erratic temperament of the gates and lifts (stairs are available), as even if the art may not always be to your taste, the higher up you go, the better the views across London. Helen Sumpter
    8 Andrews Rd, E8 4QN.

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    Boom Boom Club

    The Bathhouse
    There’s much fun to be had at this old Victorian bath house. Our highlight? The Boom Boom Club cabaret party, which shifts this week from Sunday hangout to gin-soaked Thursday nights. Burlesque beauties such as Vicky Butterly, cabaret despots and performance types are corralled by debauched host Dusty Limits before DJs offer up ’50s swing and girl-group rock ’n’ roll. Simone Baird
    The Bathhouse, 8 Bishopsgate Churchyard, EC2M 3TJ (

    Viktor Wynd’s Little Shop of Horrors
    Infamously creepy art collective the Last Tuesday Society has just opened a gallery and shop. Look out for gold-dipped animal skulls, taxidermy, bespoke two-headed teddies and art from the society’s favoured artists, plus mask-making evenings and lectures. Dan Jones
    The Last Tuesday Society, 11 Mare St, E8 7RP (

    The Pale Blue Door
    This peculiar pop-up restaurant is found down a cobbled alley off Kingsland Road. Inside, dinner is served by drag queens who usher you to a table in one of the rooms, balconies or secret rooms in the rafters… and who struggle heroically up rickety ladders in stilettos. It’s all thanks to set designer Tony Hornecker – of the infamous Dalston Gay Mafia – who has turned his house into a work of dining art. Just don’t expect an early night: evenings here have a tendency to go on, and on… Simone Baird

    Passing Clouds
    This two-floor venue looks like the inside of a bohemian commune – all lopsided bookcases, comfy sofas, mismatched chairs, birdcages and a tiki umbrella suspended over the bar. But on most weekends you’ll find fantastic parties of the global-village variety spilling out on to the pavement, from Latin raves to gypsy romps, with live bands crammed on to the stage. Drinks are well priced, too. Kate Hutchinson
    Passing Clouds, Richmond Rd, E8 4AA (

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    Lee Valley Park

    Lee Valley Park
    Everyone knows Hackney Marshes, but fanning out north, in the middle of the Lee Valley Regional Park, is a wild landscape of nature reserves. The Middlesex Filter Beds reserve is encircled by water, like a castle with a moat. Which is appropriate, really, given that the reserve is home to the wonderfully bizarre Stone Henge-like sculpture, ‘Nature’s Throne’, by local artist Paula Haughney. Monica Roche

    Pogo Cafe
    You could lose whole afternoons reading ’zines on the battered sofas at this cosy diner, which is run by volunteers and oozes a friendly punk-activist vibe. The lemon and ginger cheesecake is recommended, and don’t be afraid to muck in with the washing up – the folk here appreciate a helping hand. Owen Myers
    6 Clarence Rd, E5 8HB (

    El Aguajal
    From the street, El Aguajal looks like any other intimate Peruvian restaurant – but its basement is host to sporadic underground electronic parties. Although its soundsystem is a little muddy, house and techno luminaries such as Solo, Drums Of Death and Floating Points have all shaken the speakers, while more traditional Peruvian nights cater to a local crowd. Kate Hutchinson
    El Aguajal, 578 Kingsland Rd, E8 4AH (

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    40 Winks Hotel

    40 Winks Hotel
    This townhouse dating from 1717 is the perfect home-away-from-home in the East End. With just two bedrooms, the boutique hotel boasts luxurious furnishings and opulent fixtures, surprisingly reasonable prices and more than a touch of Wildean camp (velvet-trimmed silk dressing gowns not provided). Owen Myers
    109 Mile End Rd, E1 4UJ (

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