Under the Bridge

After living in East London for three years, I am very familiar with its urban grime, Vietnamese restaurants and crime statistics. Undeniably pretentious and never dull, the gentrification process of one of London’s poorest and most ethnically diverse regions is a fascinating one.

While still largely working-class because of its industrial past, Shoreditch and Hoxton has been completely transformed since the 1990s. With the creative sectors establishing a foothold and middle-class students always looking for cheap rents, the East now celebrates vintage clothes stalls, street artwork and independent pop-up stores.

Amid the urban deprivation and human decay, I found myself walking along one of the oldest roads in England and discovered the Bridge Coffee House. While Hiram Bingham’s legacy is unlikely to be threatened by a new coffee shop in Dalston, I felt this unexplored venue deserved further investigation. The Bridge Coffee House is more like a vintage antique shop than a coffee parlour.

By taking their inspiration from Venetian coffee shops and lining their shelves with Italian caffè, syrup and cappuccino machines. The retro cafe is like a set from an Old Vic theatre production and their first act is an imperial vision of the 1920s.

On arrival I ordered a strawberry chocolate gatteau and began to visualise Ernest Hemingway drinking himself into a stupor at the bar. Surrounding my creation is a snapshot of 20th Century memorabilia including union jacks, trinklets and an original copper till from 1886. The proud Cypriot owner provides a warm and authentic service in stark contrast to the younger bars in nearby Shoreditch. On taking eight months to complete, the downstairs interior has been decorated with French regency chairs, vintage movie posters and Tiffany lamps.

Although as I listened to 60’s Motown music, I began to question whether this vintage chic shop is any different than any other East London venture. Counter-culture shops can sometimes be as equally homogenous as the H&M wearing masses in Starbucks.

And while the upstairs decor is bordering on the ridiculous with its insanely pink chairs, I found myself seduced by the theatre downstairs. Beautiful girls drink coffee on their own in a nostalgic fantasy land that should be seen now before they receive 4 stars from Time Out.

The Bridge Coffee House
15 Kingsland Road
E2 8AA

Images used with kind permission from Tim Boddy.

5 thoughts on “Under the Bridge

  1. I’ve always found going to cafes alone the best kind of cafe visit. One can look wistfully out the window, scribbling and reading, pretending to be someone else. Even better was the fantasy when shrouded in lots of smoke. When I moved to London in 2001 there seemed to only be Starbucks or greasy spoons – apart from the obvious choices in Soho. I salute these aspiring cafes! Been planning a visit to this place for a while now but wasnt sure if it’d be too faux/trendy old-fashioned – think I most def will pop along after reading this lovely post.

    1. Oh you would absolutely love the cafe! It’s like a lush Versailles palace upstairs full of girls eating cake and downstairs is the smoky fantasy. I’d love to turn up on a Monday night when its torrential rainfall and spend the entire evening drinking liquor, thinking and reading newspapers. Desperately trying not to chat up girls reading their novels on their own. While upstairs sitting area I do have reservations about, the downstairs bar more than makes up for any of its faux Viennese trappings. If you’re ever in East London, then I thoroughly recommend you give it a try and hopefully you will invite me along too!

  2. It is over the top but I’ll lay money one could visit daily for a month and notice something different each time.

    The coffee is wonderful and the baklava is perfect, made as it should be, including chopped pistachio topping. Mmmmm.

    Glad you found it, enjoyed and took great photos while there.

    1. Oh its probably the most vivid and outlandish cafe I’ve ever been to. I mean visually its stunning! Likewise I’m glad you enjoyed its charms. Have been looking through your website and Facebook page. You write very well. Will link you. I am looking forward to reading more.

  3. I remember going along to a jazz concert once by the guy who plays trumpet for Kitty, Daisy and Lewis. I was the only white guy there but had a great time and was made welcome. The place was called Under The Bridge I think and was more or less where this place is. Is it the same place? Has it been bought recently and designed to look the way it does for the benefit of romantic fantasists? Just wondered.

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