Makeover for the East End of London
“END the occupation of Tibet,” the graffiti would have said, if some wit hadn’t crossed out the word “Tibet” and scribbled “East London” instead.
There’s graffiti all over this part of London, but these particular words, tinged with nostalgia and rebellion, tell a story. This gray and unfashionable immigrant-heavy neighborhood is going through a major makeover, and not everyone is happy about it.
The neighborhood of Stratford is taking the torch from Beijing as the site of the next Summer Olympics in 2012, turning the dingy area into a giant construction zone as world-class sports venues, complexes and shops are built. Some locals grumble about what all this development is going to do to the character of this gritty district, one of the city’s most deprived.
For others, it’s finally Stratford’s turn. The area exudes an energy it hasn’t had in years. New cutting-edge bars and restaurants are serving the cardigan-wearing trendsetters and young families trickling into stylish apartments.
Among the shiny new spots is the Bow Arts Trust (183 Bow Road; 44-20-7538-1719; www.bowarts.org), an arts center ensconced in a dark-blue building that stands out among the street’s dilapidated row houses. Its Nunnery Gallery, a spare, chapel-shaped space, shows innovative artworks by local students and international artists.
The gastropub has also arrived. The Morgan Arms (43 Morgan Street; 44-20-8980-6389; www.geronimo-inns.co.uk/themorgan) is the place to grab a pint or tuck into some excellent food. The menu changes daily, save for favorites like its trademark fishcakes served with spinach and poached eggs (£13.50, or $21.06 at $1.56 to the pound).
And on Saturdays, Roman Road comes to life with a street market, one of Britain’s oldest, with vendors who sell fashionable clothing, jewelry and local artworks. There’s also a new farmers market once a month.
But the old East End still holds on. Duncan’s Pie, Mash and Eels (365 Green Street; 44-20-8552-1288) is one of the few places left in London where you get a traditional “pie and mash” of minced beef and potatoes (around £3.80), as well as the infamous jellied eels. Old men with Cockney accents will tell tales, the taller the better.
And the neighborhood is still a first stop for many new immigrants, and the rhythms of Bangladeshi, Hindi and Gujarati can be heard in the side streets just southeast of Stratford.
Nowhere is this mix more obvious than at Queen’s Market (www.newqueensmarket.co.uk), on Green Street near the soccer stadium of West Ham United. Housed in a large concrete hall, the market has everything from Afro-Caribbean vendors to Indian silk suppliers to halal meat shops.
“The Olympics ruin East London? Nah,” said Gary Childs, who works in his family’s produce stall, where his father barks out to potential customers in Urdu. “If you’re not happy about the Olympics, you’re either lazy or stupid.”Not that Queen’s Market itself is immune to change. There are proposals to demolish and replace it with a modern market. “Nothing stays the same,” Mr. Childs said. “You’ve got to move with the times.”