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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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.
In case you didn’t know, Scandinavia is cool right now. The food, the fashion, the facial hair – plus the Vikings have invaded the British Museum. All we need next is a healthy economy, a reliable public transport system and a sense of social justice, and London will be indistinguishable from Oslo. Meanwhile in Hackney, there’s yet another Northern European-inspired incursion. Or apparently so: the website claims this bar-restaurant-club draws on ‘a Nordic aesthetic’, although it’s not immediately obvious within. Oslo occupies the previously deserted old Hackney rail station and takes on a bit of a railway theme with its luggage-rack lighting, plus there are industrial stylings that give the whole place a Janet Jackson ‘Rhythm Nation’ video feel. The restaurant part is rather fancy, its food incorporating a few of the forages, pickles, jellies and marinations of New Nordic cooking. The kitchen is regularly given over to guest chefs, and you have to book – it’s always heaving. Eat in the bar and the food is more straightforward. Where once the standard snack in pubs was a toastie, sausage roll or pork pie, now it’s the slider or fried chicken. These are served alongside frankly obscene portions of chips, slathered with the likes of cured bacon fat and bacon salt, or braised oxtail, gravy and cheese. There’s a commendable range of craft beers from the vicinity, including a couple from Five Points Brewing just five minutes up the road at the Downs.Head upstairs and you’ll find a