For some people it’s the birthplace of grime. For others it’s the centre of cockneydom (even though those famous ‘Bow bells’ are in the City of London). It’s even got a radical history as a birthplace of the suffragette movement. But these days Bow stands out for other reasons. Surrounded by areas that have changed rapidly – Limehouse, Hackney Wick and especially Stratford – it hasn’t totally escaped the wave of hip washing across the East End. But Bow still keeps it real, mixing up the old and the new like few other east London neighbourhoods. Here are nine top local destinations that prove it.
Start your day in Bow right at this shabby-chic café at the very end of Roman Road. It’s known for its breakfasts and great coffee, but with its long opening hours, it’s just as good for lunch or an evening beer. If you think that sounds like catnip for freelancers, you’d be right – rock up early if you want a spot during the week.
Serving up London classics since 1937, Kelly’s sits in the pie ’n’ mash premier league. This white-tiled Roman Road favourite is a place for everyone from market traders to creative types to fill up on meat and veggie pies, potatoes, liquor and (if you’re feeling brave) hot or jellied eels.
While away a couple of hours in the canalside terrace at Swan Wharf, which has been taken over by the people behind The Plough in Homerton. There’s meaty American food at pretty competitive prices, and Truman’s beer and cocktails to wash it down. It’s best in summer, of course, but draws a crowd on any given weekend.
It’s just beyond the Bow borders, but this old boozer is well worth the stroll. Still divided in two by the bar like many pubs used to be, and decorated in gloriously tacky reds and golds, it’s a proper cockney holdout: not a pretentious beam in the place. There are regular crooners’ nights and other assorted knees-ups and you can bring your drinks out onto the canalside lawn. A pub to treasure.
A past winner in the Time Out Love London Awards, Snap is a great little graphic design and gift shop on Roman Road. You’ll want to set some serious time aside to delve into their collection of cute cards, stationery, homeware and pressies.
Bow Arts (and Carmelite Café)
For 20 years Bow Arts has been a charitable hub for all sorts of creative goings-on, hosting anything from film screenings to performance art to talks and yoga classes in any given week. Whatever you’re here for, don’t forget to pop into the venue’s Carmelite Café for a cup of delicious Nude Espresso coffee.
If you’ve got a new place to kit out, TPV (recently arrived from Stoke Newington) has got you covered. Dig through the mid-mod furniture, fittings and well-picked homeware bits and pieces, then refresh yourself with lunch and a coffee from a rotating selection of bean roasters.
Print’s not dead – not at LCBA, anyway. Check out the gorgeous books and prints in the centre’s small shop, take a workshop to pick up the skills you need to produce your own beautiful creations – from letterpress to bookbinding to marbling – or become a member for the run of the facilities.
At a turbulent time for London nightlife, thank goodness for Bloc – the permanent home of the long-running dance music festival. Formerly known as Autumn Street Studios, this place books top selectors on a weekly basis: firm proof that there’s more to Bow than pie, mash and posh coffee.
Gone loco for Bow? Check out the new Bow River Village development.