Rooftop destination is back at Tobacco Quay for summer 2019.
One thing I love about the coming of summer is the opening of London’s rooftop bars. With such an amazing skyline in our capital, along with the lovely feeling of the sun on your face, it’s not surprising these sky-high destinations are a big draw over the warmer seasons. This week, one of my favourite summer destinations, Skylight, opened for the new season with its latest makeover. I went along to the launch in Wapping and checked out the attractions, cocktails, and – of course – the views.
Spread over three floors, the venue combines drinking, (casual) dining, lawn games and events, such as live sport screenings. The venue is well prepared for the unpredictable British summer, with plenty of zones undercover should the weather turn for the worst. Returning this summer are the croquet lawns and Palenque courts. My friend and I enjoyed a few games of croquet, which is significantly harder than it looks, but provided lots of laughs. In addition this year, Skylight has also added some table tennis.
Skylight offers three bars over the different levels, serving a mix of summery cocktails, such as Jalisco Sky, Raspberry Rum Margherita, Apple Sunrise and the Gin Basil Spice. There are also more traditional options, including wine, Bacardi spirits, Moet e Chandon champagne and Sharps Offshore, Staropramen, Wolf Rock IPA, Blue Moon and Aspal Cyder on tap. When you get hungry, there’s two stalls YIRO and Flipside, serving up delicious street food. I couldn’t resist some halloumi fries.
This summer sees even more seating and bookable options than previous years, with daybeds and garden booths available for intimate groups. There is more raised seating so even more people can get a better look at the views, while added greenery gives an urban garden vibe. Sports fans will be able to watch big games, including the FA Cup Final, Wimbledon and the Rugby World Cup. There will also be special events throughout the summer, including Hendricks Summer Solstice party (21 June), Gay Day, Opera and Dog Day.
Skylight was originally launched in 2017 on top of Tobacco Dock’s multi-story car park. Located just east of the City of London a short walk from Shadwell station (only a few minutes on the DLR from Bank), it gives stunning views over the capital’s skyline, with sights such as the Gherkin and The Shard visible. As well as its summer season, it is also a popular winter spot, with a rooftop ice rink on the roof.
- Skylight, Tobacco Quay (Pennington Street entrance), Wapping, E1CW 2SF. Nearest station: Shadwell (DLR/TFL Rail) or Wapping. Open from 2 May until (TBA) September 2019. Open Thu-Fri 5pm-11pm, Sat-Sun 12pm-11pm. Free entry, but large groups over 10 are recommended to book. Croquet: Indoor £25, Outdoor £35 (45 min game), Petanque: £15 (2-4 players), Table tennis £5 for 30 mins. Day beds and booths available for booking from £70 for up to 10 people. For more information, visit the Skylight London website.
For a guide to what’s on in London in September, click here.
The history of 17th century almhouses on the Mile End Road.
Standing in a busy, built-up part of the East End, the district of Stepney couldn’t look less rural. However, there’s one particular complex of buildings that have been standing since the area was surrounded by fields. If you walk down traffic-laden Mile End Road, you may find your eye drawn to the historic Trinity Green Almhouses and Chapel.
Originally named Trinity Hospital or Trinity Almhouses, the complex was built in 1695 by the Corporation of Trinity House (est. 1514) to provide housing for “28 decay’d Masters & Commanders of Ships or ye Widows of such”. Captain Henry Mudd of Ratcliffe (1630-1692) – an elder brother of Trinity House – donated the land to the charity in his will. His grave can be found in St Dunstan’s churchyard less than a mile away. Deputy Master of Trinity House, Captain Robin Sandes (d.1721) also contributed funding the building. As well as accommodation, the retired and incapacitated mariners also received a money allowance and coal. It’s been claimed the almhouses were designed by Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723) and John Evelyn (1620-1706), although this cannot be verified. Many historians believed it was the work of master carpenter Sir William Ogbourne (1662-1734).
The Trinity Almhouses featured two rows of cottages facing a central garden with a separate chapel in the north. Each red brick house features is spread over one storey and a basement, with wood block and bracketed eaves cornices providing some lovely period detail. The front doors feature a wide hood supported by carved brackets.
At the south end of the two rows of cottages stand ornate gable ends facing Mile End Road. Each gable end is two storeys high and features white, rusticated quoins. The top storey features a brick niche surrounded by an ornate, stone architrave, while the building is crowned with a stone pediment. While the eastern gable end is still in good condition, the western one’s windows have been bricked up. The main attraction of the gable ends are the four model boats perched on the corners. These are actually 1950s fibreglass replicas of the original marble ones, which are being protected by the Museum of London. The models are of 42-gun Stuart warships of the 4th Rate and carved by Robert Jones. Each gable end also features a cartouche depicting the purpose of the almhouses, the contribution of Mudd and his widow and the year it was built.
The centrepiece of the gardens is the Chapel. Built in a Classical Revival style, it stands two storeys high, with rusticated quoins and pediment. The chapel is entered through a white door, at the top of a flight of stone steps curving outwards. Trinity Green is protected from the street by curved brick wall, wrought iron railing and iron gates.
Shoreditch street art commemorates where the tragic love story was first performed back in the 16th century.
When it comes to checking out street art in Shoreditch, you’ll be spoiled for choice. However, one of the district’s most striking murals has a special historic significance. One particular building on New Inn Broadway features a mural depicting Romeo and Juliet… on the very spot where the play was first performed.
Long before The Globe was built on Bankside, William Shakespeare (1564-1616) used to tread the boards in the East End. In 1572, the Mayor of London cracked down on plays being performed within the City of London in an attempt to prevent the spread of the Plague. As a result, theatre companies started performing just outside the jurisdictions of the City. The Theatre was built in 1576 on the site of the Holywell Priory, which has been demolished following the dissolution of the monasteries a few decades earlier. It was started by actor and theatre manager James Burbage (1530/5-1597) and his brother-in-law John Brayne (1541-1586). At the time, Shoreditch was notoriously rough and was surrounded by brothels, gambling dens and rowdy taverns. The Theatre was built in a polygonal shape, included three galleries and a yard and was said to have cost £700 to build.
The Theatre owner Burbage was a member of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men theatre company, with a certain actor and playwright from Stratford-upon-Avon as one of his colleagues. The LCM was formed in 1594, when Shakespeare had already been making waves in the theatre scene for at least two years. The troupe started performing Shakespeare’s plays exclusively. Shakespeare’s tragic love story Romeo and Juliet was performed for the first time at The Theatre, estimated to have been written around 1591-1595.
After 22 years of entertaining Londoners, The Theatre came to an end following a dispute between the late Burbage’s son Richard (1567-1619) and the site’s landowner Giles Allen. In a desperate bid to protect their playhouse, Richard and his brother Cuthbert enlisted the help of some associates to dismantle The Theatre in December 1598. The timbers were believed to have been hidden nearby in Bridewell, before being taken over London Bridge to Bankside when the weather improved. Timbers from The Theatre were used to build The Globe in 1599.
For centuries, the site of The Theatre was lost until it was rediscovered by Museum of London archaeologists in 2008. They found remains of brick and stone polygonal footings of the gallery, along with seeds and fruit pips and broken beer vessels from the Elizabethan period. Just north of the Romeo and Juliet mural we see today, a building is being erected to house offices and a permanent exhibition about The Theatre.
Today, a Romeo and Juliet mural adorns a modern three-storey office building on the site of The Theatre. The top of the piece features the heroine Juliet in a blue gown, looking down from her balcony for her Romeo, who gazes up adoringly at her from two storeys down. One of Juliet’s passages from Act 2, Scene 2 of the play is featured: ‘My bounty is as boundless as the sea’; ‘My love as deep the more I give to thee’; and ‘The more I have for both are infinite’. Fans of the play will recognise it from Romeo and Juliet’s post-Capulet ball discussion when they make plans to marry after meeting that evening. The mural was commissioned through the Global Street Art Agency in June 2018.
- New Inn Broadway, Shoreditch, EC2A 3PZ. Nearest station: Shoreditch High Street or Old Street.
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Find out about Middle Temple Hall, location of the first performance of Twelfth Night.
If you think bingo is just for pensioners, you’re very much mistaken. In recent years, modern approaches to bingo has been gaining popularity with younger generations. In late 2018, London’s first permanent modern bingo hall opened and I went along to check it out last month. Like traditional bingo, it involves dabbing your numbers in the hope of winning a prize when your numbers are called. However, Dabbers Social Bingo involves a lot of saucy innuendo, cocktails galore, fabulous food and a general party atmosphere.
Dabbers Social Bingo is located on Houndsditch, where the City meets the East End. From the street, you enter a medium-sized bar with outdoor terrace (would be great in summer, but definitely not in January thanks!). I liked the fact the cocktail bar gives no hint of the wildness to come downstairs! After a glass of Prosecco to loosen us up, we headed down to the expansive bingo hall in the basement. It was a surprisingly large space with a variety of tables to suit different sizes from couples to larger groups of friends.
After my companion and I grabbed a well-situated table with a view of the stage, we started with simple, but refreshing pink gin cocktails and settled down for some pre-bingo grub. The food menu has been inspired by bingo balls so features many physically round dishes. It consists mostly of sharing plates, sort of tapas style portions in the spirit of the ‘social’ part of the game. They range from £4-£9.50 and have a wide choice, with a decent amount of vegetarian options. I was pleasantly surprised by how good the food was as I had expected it to take a back seat to the bingo, entertainment and cocktails. We really enjoyed the seared prawn tiger skewers, buffalo glazed chicken skewers, mozzarella ball skewers and pizza bread. It’s worth noting they have brunch bingo on Saturdays and family brunch bingo on Sundays.
Once we were fed and watered, it was time for the main event to kick off. Our compere for the evening was the fabulous Boogaloo Stu. After Stu gave us an introduction to the night, it was over to host James Loveridge and the glamorous bingo calling duo. Bingo newbies are given an explanation to the rules and prizes, before the first game kicks off at a steady pace. While there’s some traditional bingo lingo like ‘legs eleven’, be prepared for some very saucy numerical rhyming, which can be hilariously distracting when you’re trying to strike off your numbers. At various points during the game, a special ball being drawn kicks off a mini disco with the crowd encouraged to drop their dabbers and throw some shapes as the DJ cranks up the music. Throughout the game, people who win one or two lines or a full house are invited on stage to compete for a prize. By this stage, the alcoholic lubrication and the building excitement in the room had clearly got some of the winners as they got on stage so their enthusiastic celebrations were pretty jubilant and amusing to the rest of us in the room.
Overall, we had a really fun evening and it was probably the most raucous Wednesday night I’ve seen in years! The food and drink were brilliant and there was a really fun, high-energy atmosphere. Dabbers certainly offers a more entertaining alternative to the usual catch-up in the a pub, with the added bonus of being able to walk away with a prize. I would particularly recommend Dabbers for group nights out, particularly for birthdays and hen nights.
- Dabbers Social Bingo, 13-22 Houndsditch, City of London, EC3A 7DB. Nearest stations: Aldgate, Liverpool Street or Fenchurch Street. Open Mon-Wed and Sun 12pm-11pm, Thu-Sat 12pm-3am. For more information, visit the Dabbers Social Bingo website.
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William Blake (1757-1827) is widely regarded as one of, if not the, greatest artist in British history. The born and bred Londoner was an acclaimed poet, painter, author and printmaker, although never had much success during his lifetime. Nearly 200 years after his death, Blake’s canon continues to amaze and inspire people around the world. Among his more famous works include ‘Songs of Innocence and of Experience’, ‘The Marriage of Heaven and Hell’, ‘The Four Zoas’, ‘Jerusalem’, ‘Milton’, ‘And did those feet in ancient time’.
Having been brought up as an English Dissenter (Protestant Christians which broke away from the Church of England), Blake was laid to rest in a Dissenters’ graveyard following his death in 1827. The painter died at home in the Strand and was buried in Bunhill Fields in the London borough of Islington. As well as the location of his parents and two of his brothers’ graves, Bunhill also included the burial sites of Daniel Defoe, John Bunyan and Susanna Wesley. Blake was buried in an unmarked grave on 17 August – on what would have been he and wife Catherine’s 45th wedding anniversary. He was buried on top of several bodies, with another four being placed above him in the coming weeks. His widow Catherine died in 1831 and was also laid to rest at Bunhill Fields, but in a separate plot.
Bunhill Fields was closed as a burial ground in 1854 after it was declared ‘full’, having contained 123,000 interments during its 189 year history, and became a public park. Although William and Catherine Blake had both been buried in unmarked graves, the William Blake Society (founded 1912) erected a memorial stone to the couple in Bunhill Fields on the centenary of the painter’s death in 1927. The stone read: ‘Near by lie the remains of the poet-painter William Blake 1757–1827 and his wife Catherine Sophia 1762–1831.’ Re-landscaping in the 1960s following widespread damage during World War II resulted in many of the monuments being cleared. Although the Blakes’ memorial was one of those to survive, it was moved from its location at William’s grave to near Defoe’s memorial stone in 1965. Read the rest of this entry
The Spitalfields Music Festival is an annual celebration of innovative music, featuring local and international talent. Venues across east London play host to a wide variety of performances. The last event of the 2017 festival in December was the captivating Schumann Street. Sixteen artists from very different genre and backgrounds were invited to perform their own interpretation of the songs in German composer Robert Schumann’s 1840 song cycle Dichterliebe (A Poet’s Love).
The audience were split into groups to start our journey on the immersive, promenade musical installation. For the evening, eight local residents of the Huguenot houses of Spitalfields had opened their doors to stage two performances across different floors. The whole event takes place over 75 minutes so participants were invited to come and go as we please from each house, spending just long enough to hear the 16 pieces. We started our experience in Wilkes Street, a small group of us stepping into the parlour of a charmingly creaky early 18th century home. With just six of us squeezed into the wood-panelled front room, we sat quietly as a pianist Andrew West and tenor Rob Murray provided an interpretation of one of the song cycles by candlelight. Next, we headed upstairs for a cosier experience with a guitarist Aart Stootman accompanying singer Abimaro by a roaring fire in the living room.
Despite being a classical piece, the story of Dichterliebe was told to us through hip-hop, Bengali folk, soul, jazz, R&B, blues, as well as a classical. We stood, sat on chairs, tables and floors; or lingered in dark corners as we snuck in and out of the performances trying not to interrupt. The song cycle is about love, then loss, with the musicians giving musical expressions of the joy and the torment the heart goes through. One particularly enchanting performance was Mara Carlyle and Liam Byrne in the basement kitchen of a courtyard home. Carlyle sang while wearing Marigolds and washing up at the sink, as Byrne accompanies her on the viol. She then switches direction with a musical saw, bringing a quirky, modern end to the piece. Moving upstairs, we were greeted by an incredibly emotional performance by soprano Héloïse Werner and harpist Anne Denholm in a darkly lit living room. Werner looked positively heartbroken as she forlornly belted out lines from Und Wüssten’s die Blumen. I also particularly enjoyed German duo Apollo 47 depicting the torment and obsession that love can inflict as they rapped Hör’ ich das Liedchen Klingen. In a room covered in lyrics on the wall, the pair were oblivious to the audience as they rambled around with their lanterns trying to make sense of their emotions.
In the end, I only visited seven houses and was disappointed to have missed the last one, due to the fault of my own time management. I enjoyed the different stagings – from a more formal setting of a singer by a piano, to a drunken singing rampage around another house. While some artists acknowledged your presence, for many of the others, it felt like we were eavesdropping on a private or mundane moment – the writing of love letters, household chores, a lonely moping session. In addition to being entertained by very different performances, I felt privileged to see inside these amazing Georgian houses. I loved checking out their original shutters, fireplaces, wood panelling and window seats. Overall, it was certainly an ambitious premise, but the Spitalfields Music Festival certainly pulled it off. The result was a quirky, innovative experience which brought the classical workings of Schumann to a new audience.
- The Spitalfields Music Festival will return in December 2018. To keep up to date, visit the Spitalfields Music website.
Spitalfields is full of fascinating buildings, with Georgian, Victorian and early 20th century well represented. Many businesses are moving into the area, with some redeveloping or demolishing older buildings. While some historic architecture has been restored and changed for the better, there are others which meet a sorry fate (see my post on a crime against architecture in Artillery Lane). One of the things I love about the Spitalfields area is its many old lanes and alleys. Although many were destroyed during the Blitz, some still remain despite the encroaching modernity and skyscrapers of the City. As businesses come and go from the area, it’s interesting to see which ones embrace the history and heritage of the buildings they occupy… or completely annihilate any original features.
This post focuses on one particular street and one of its buildings. Widegate Street is just 200ft long and connects Middlesex Street and Sandy’s Row. The name Widegate comes from the former ‘white gate’ entrance into the Old Artillery Ground, which was established in the 16th century. Areas of the ground were sold off for housing and shops in subsequent centuries, with its legacy living on today in names such as Fort Street, Gun Street, Artillery Passage and Artillery Lane. Widegate Street used to be longer than what you see today, but some of it was absorbed by Middlesex Street in the 1890s. Today, Widegate Street features a mix of narrow historic buildings, including two listed houses at No.24 and 25 dating back to 1720.
No.12-13 is currently home to Honest Burgers, who have branches across London in a variety of historic premises. However, long before burger buns were being served, more traditional buns were being baked on site. The building was designed in the 1920s by architect George Val Myer as a bakery, in a neo-Georgian style to complement neighbouring buildings. The ground floor features glazed white bricks, giving a clean, clinical look. The two upper stories are made of red brick, Crittal windows and a strong cornice projecting above. The most striking part of the building are four ceramic panels, giving a permanent reminder of its origins as bakery. ‘Bakers Relief’ were created by Brixton-born sculptor Philip Lindsey Clark (1899-1977) in 1926 and were fired by Carters of Poole. The white and blue glazes are 1.2metres by 50 centimetres and depict the baking process. The panels start with a man carrying a sack of flour; a baker kneading the dough, baking the loaf in the oven and a baker carrying a tray of loaves. The original business itself was called the Nordheim Model Bakery and was opened by Charles Naphtali Nordheim (1864-1941). Although the bakery has long moved out, today customers their getting their carb fix in buns with their beef burgers.
- 12-13 Widegate Street, Spitalfields, E1 7HP. Nearest station: Liverpool Street.
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When developers buy old buildings, there is often fear of what will become of them. Depending on what protections have been put in place by local councils, some can be changed beyond all recognition or even demolished. However, some buildings can be mostly destroyed with only the façade remaining. Sometimes this can be done with great sensitivity and the modern building can complement the older. However, there are some pretty horrendous examples of ‘façadism’, one of which I’m going to look at in this post.
Spitalfields is one of my favourite areas of London – I love the architecture, the history and the atmosphere. Admittedly there has been a lot of development in the past 10 years especially, both good and bad. However, when wandering around the back streets of the area, I often sigh when passing by this shocking example of façadism.
On the corner of Gun Street and Artillery Lane stands what remains of the Cock A Hoop tavern. Today, only the 19th century façade remains, with the modern Lilian Knowles House student housing behind. What is so bizarre, is the windows of Lilian Knowles House don’t even line up with the façade’s windows so residents would have limited lighting and views of brick walls… a very strange design decision.
When I attempted to research the history of the building, there wasn’t much around. The Cock A Hoop tavern was established in 1810 and was first run by publican Joseph Hammond. I’m presuming (although please comment if I’m wrong!), that name referred to an earlier building on the site and the current façade we see today is the second building. The pub belonged to Meux’s Brewery, owned by brewer Henry Meux (1770-1841) and subsequently his son, MP Sir Henry Meux (1817-1883). Although the brewery no longer exists, its name became infamous due to the London Beer Flood of 1814. At the time, the company was named Meux And Company and its brewery was based on Tottenham Court Road – around the current site of the Dominion Theatre. Surrounding the brewery was the incredibly impoverished slums of St Giles. On 17 October, one of huge vats ruptured, spilling 323,000 imperial gallons of beer onto the surrounding streets. The beer flooded basement homes and destroyed several buildings, resulting in the deaths of eight people, half of which were children. Meux and Co were taken to court, but amazingly managed to escape prosecution, with the judge and jury claiming the spill was an ‘Act of God’. The brewery was later demolished in 1922, with the Dominion Theatre going up on the site in 1928-29. Read the rest of this entry
We’re currently living in a time of great political turmoil on both sides of the Atlantic, with effects from Brexit and Donald Trump’s presidency likely to be felt for years to come. While it’s understandable to feel despair right now, remember Londoners in the past have gone through similar tumultuous times and have managed to come out the other side. In the past year, it seems like more Londoners are expressing their anger over political issues and taking to the streets to protest. However, back in October 1936, ordinary Londoners ended up clashing with police in a historic battle.
In between the two World Wars, politician Oswald Mosley (1896-1980) founded the British Union of Fascists (BUF) in 1932 after becoming disillusioned with the Labour party. His speeches were so controversial, it was predictable that BUF meetings often ran into trouble with Communist and Jewish groups so Mosley enlisted the infamous ‘Blackshirts’ for protection.
On 4 October 1936, the BUF planned to march through the streets of East London – particularly antagonising as the area was renowned for its large Jewish population. Ignoring their better judgement, the government declined to ban the march and instead requested the police escort the fascists. Outraged by the BUF’s plans, various groups of Jewish, Irish, socialist, anarchist and communist groups decided to put up roadblocks in a bid to stop the march. An estimated 20,000 demonstrators turned up, chanting ‘they shall not pass’, and were confronted by 6,000 police officers, who were under orders to let the BUF march as intended. The ensuing clash between the groups involved protestors fighting back with anything they could get their hands on, including furniture, sticks and rocks. Meanwhile, Mosley’s BUF finally realised what an ill-advised idea it had been and retreated to Hyde Park. Around 175 people – protestors and police – were injured, while 150 demonstrators were arrested. The battle influenced the passing of the Public Order Act 1936, which required political marches to obtain police consent and banned the wearing of political uniforms in public.
Decades later, the historic clash was to be commemorated on a huge mural on the side of St George’s Town Hall on Cable Street. Artist Dave Binnington was commissioned to depict the battle on the 3,500 square feet section of wall, beginning his work in late 1979. It was initially hoped the mural would be completed by the 44th anniversary of the battle in October 1980, but the sheer scale and other technical problems led Binnington to realise it was a bigger task than he estimated. In May 1982, part of the mural was vandalised with far-right graffiti, which prompted a tired and disgusted Binnington to resign from the project. Two months later, artists Paul Butler, Ray Walker and Desmond Rochfort got together to complete the mural, with the top section fulfilling Binnington’s original designs and the vandalised lower portions covered with a modified design. The mural was finally unveiled in May 1983 by Paul Beasley (leader of Tower Hamlets Council) Jack Jones (former General Secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union), Tony Banks (Chair of the Greater London Council Arts Committee) and Dan Jones (Secretary of the Hackney Trades Council).
Unfortunately in the intervening years, the mural has been vandalised several times, but was restored in October 2011 to mark the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Cable Street. Visiting today, it’s an overwhelming and powerful piece of art. The sheer scale and details of the mural will keep many visitors lingering at it for quite some time. The 1930s setting is clear through the style of painting, while the flying milk bottles and broken windows really epitomises the unexpected explosion of violence.
- The Cable Street mural is on the side of St George’s Town Hall, 236 Cable Street, E1 0BL. Nearest station: Shadwell.
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The Old Street roundabout has never been one of the more attractive hubs in London. However, increasing regeneration is breathing new life into the area’s buildings and making EC1 a more attractive place to be.
As part of new office and retail quarter The Bower, a new public art installation is lighting up Old Street for the better. Renowned Dutch artists DeMakersVan have created a facetted stainless steel and glass installation inspired by Shoreditch’s industrial past.
The Art Wall is located at the City Road entrance to The Bower and is visible from the Old Street roundabout. The installation is a 21 metre long, 3-dimensional structure lit up with LED panels. The DeMakersVan brothers were inspired by the Crittal windows commonly found in Shoreditch and warped the shape. Mirrors on the interior of the structure reflect the white haze glass windows and rainbow effect glass panels, resulting in an iridescent light display.
Gerald Kaye, CEO of Helical, developer of The Bower, enthused: ‘The Bower is the perfect location for our Art Wall, which we believe encapsulates both the history of the area and the transformation of materials and aesthetics over time. We are proud to have it positioned in such a public and visible space by Old Street tube station, and hope the public enjoy this fantastic piece of art.’
DeMakersVan commented: ‘We are delighted to unveil our first installation in London, and believe the locations aesthetic complements the work and its philosophy perfectly.’
As well as the Art Wall, The Bower is also home to Bone Daddies, The Draft House, Enoteca da Luca, Honest Burger, Maki sushi bar, Good & Proper Tea and Franze & Evans.
- The Bower, Old Street roundabout, Shoreditch, EC1V 9NR. Nearest station: Old Street. For more information about The Bower, visit their website.