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Hackney: A Cultural Guide

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Image © Jayne Lloyd

The best things to do in Hackney including art, cinema, food, theatre and outdoor spaces

It’s no secret the East London borough of Hackney is positively booming. In this locale, creativity, innovation and the arts are always front and centre. From verdant parks, pioneering theatres, archetypal Victorian housing, to a smorgasbord of eateries encompassing a whole spectrum of cultures; Hackney has a little something for everyone, and that’s not just an in-vogue post code.


Like most of East London’s areas, Hackney is a melting pot of cultures and cuisines. While there’s a myriad of coffee and brunch venues offering probably-organic, probably-ethically-sourced coffee alongside 2015’s breakfast-dish-of-choice - avocado on sourdough toast - the real gems in Hackney’s food scene are its diverse international offerings. Cooper and Wolf sits just up from Chatsworth Market, serving Scandinavian food in a laid back and (of course) minimalist environment. Lardo has sharing at his heart, so bring a date and indulge in the nouveau Italian fare with gusto. Mr Buckley’s serves modern European fusion and seductively retro cocktails, in a Williamsburg influenced aesthetic. And if after all that, you’re still craving a sourdough fix, head to the E5 Bakehouse - beautifully nestled in a London Fields railway arch, it will service all of your artisanal needs.


In its more rough-and-ready days, Hackney was a hard drinkers haven, awash with quintessential East End boozers. While still featuring heavily in the neighbourhood, the craft beer and micro-brewery trend has heavily influenced the modern dynamic of many of these institutions. On the edge of the Lea, Crate Brewery set the trend, and the bar, for craft beers. Sampling is highly advised outside this warehouse setting in summer, when the banks come alive with likeminded souls seeking a city reprieve. The Cock Tavern at Hackney Central micro-brews its own beer in a distinctly fashionable but unfussy setting, where Hackney natives and the area’s fresh faces happily unite. The Clapton Hart benefits from being slightly off the beaten track, though it’s always busting with locals drawn to its charming vintage interior full of cosy nooks, and of course - craft beers.


There’s no better way to experience authentic East End culture than perusing a locally run market. The East End’s finest is Broadway Market, where organic and specialist food traders serve to baying throngs of Londoners who travel from across the city to soak up the bustling atmosphere and sample the de jour wares. Netil Market, Broadway’s cuter, younger cousin, sells vintage finds in an upmarket car boot sale manner. There are mid-century sideboards and scores of retro regalia. Making its mark since it reopened in 2010 (it was originally operational in the ‘30s), the recently rejuvenated Chatsworth Market is petite but sure of itself with a kaleidoscope of offerings; think upcycling, handmade and organic goods, both served and bought by patriotic locals.


Hackney is to London what Brooklyn is to New York, hosting some of the capital’s most revered music venues. Whatever the size, the aesthetic is always distinctly lo-fi and indie. In 2014 Radiohead’s Ed O’Brian opened The Laundry, which routinely accommodates crowds of 700. At the smaller end of the scale is the endearing Sebright Arms, it may be shabby and dishevelled, but it’s a hotbed for up-and-coming local buzz acts. Oslo brings a touch of Nordic chic to the area, with live music and regular club nights open to 3am. The crème de la cream is new-but-old Moth Club. Lovingly resurrected by events group Lanzarote(The Shacklewell Arms, Adam and Eve), the venue still acts as a functioning ex-service men’s club but additionally presents a roster of leftfield entertainment, bands and events, appealing to a younger, alternative demographic. The juxtaposition of clientele is part of the charm. And not to mention the glitter clad interior - it’s chintzy, kitch and glorious.

Theatre and film

Hackney Central is dominated by the architecture of arts powerhouses Hackney Empire and Hackney Picture House. The former offers year round family fun, from world-renowned musicians to outlandish pantomimes. It may sound all too commercial for this notoriously edgy milieu, but last year’s Jack and the Beanstalk was acclaimed across the board by London’s hard-to-please arts press. The neighbouring Hackney Picture House screens everything from low-key Sundance nominated indies, to silver screen blockbusters, and the bustling bar and restaurant serves as a regular meeting spot for residents. For those into something slightly more fringe, Hackney Showroom is an adventurous performance space. It’s been making a mark on the London scene since its 2015 opening, partnering with cutting edge productions, while aspiring to unite communities through art and foster inclusiveness.

Art and museums

With so many warehouse spaces in the vicinity, it’s no surprise Hackney has cemented itself as an artistic hub. First Thursdays span 150 spaces in East London and provide a regular draw to the area, hosting aching-hip and free to enter exhibitions. The Hundred Years Gallery has a contemporary interdisciplinary focus, and often exhibits socio-political and boundary pushing installations whilst The Geffrye Museum is a local favourite, its own external architectural beauty as resplendent as the objects it houses. It showcases English domestic history through the ages in a series of beautifully recreated household situations. And best of all, it’s free.