Southwark: Reinventing itself to become the coolest area in London

Come the end of October, just a two-minute walk from London Bridge station will take you to Flat Iron Square, a new site inspired by the vibe of European markets and comprised of seven railway arches housing an acoustic theatre, a cluster of eating spots and 300-capacity live music venue. The imminent opening ties into the global trend for all-hours eating and drinking – there’s a pancake house for early mornings and no curfew for late nights – and, furthermore, the gradual reinvention of what used to be one of London’s not-so-glamorous boroughs: Southwark.

Granted, it’s now home to the all-encompassing Shard, Tom Sellers’ Restaurant Story and yet another branch of the Breakfast Club, but SE1 has undoubtedly experienced a transformation to become what it is today. After the Great Fire of London, families were re-housed in leafy Bermondsey before it declined into poverty and became the setting for Dickens’ Oliver Twist in the mid-19th century.

White Cube Gallery

White Cube Gallery

Fast-forward 150 years and it’s named the third best area to live in London by the Sunday Times; heralded a “hipster paradise”. Arguably owing to this title is the White Cube Gallery and nearby Maltby Street Market, a lesser-known street feast giving Borough Market’s overflowing tourism a run for its money. Running parallel is Bermondsey Beer Mile: where lovers of everything brewed can visit Southwark Brewing, Anspach & Hobday, Ubrew and Brew By Numbers to sample the latest craft ale inventions before they reach the pubs.

Maltby Street Market

Maltby Street Market

This gentrification of everything within a two-mile radius of the Shard’s shadow is also beginning to transform the roundabout of Elephant & Castle. Commonly identified by its run-down shopping centre, the area’s lower rent prices have triggered a rise in independent businesses who can’t afford Shoreditch. The Artworks Elephant follows Pop Brixton in developing its own Boxpark-like venue, comprised of colourful shipping containers containing food stalls, retail spaces and creative work hubs for start-ups. Other hidden gems include the recently renovated Elephant & Castle pub, old school apothecary G Baldwin & Co and Southwark Playhouse – which launches its intimate underground theatre The Bunker this autumn.

The Artworks

The Artworks Elephant

London Bridge is undeniably the epicentre of north Southwark. In addition to the countless eateries popping up – tapas bars José and Brindisa; Gordon Ramsey’s Union Street Cafe; the Shard’s Oblix, Aqua and Hutong – retail brands are also crossing the river in pursuit of a new customer. Paul Smith, Aesop and Kit & Ace, an athletic-meets-casualwear label with stores in Soho and Covent Garden, have all set up shop in the heart of Borough Market. In addition, designer boutique Matches has relocated its head office to the Shard, joining Tiffany & Co in Europe’s tallest building.

Kit and Ace

Kit & Ace Borough

As always, where “cool” Londoners go, the luxury hotels follow. The nautical themed Sea Containers London is a favourite stay of trendier guests, alongside the affordable, yet design-forward Dutch chain CitizenM, which – being minutes from Bankside, home to Shakespeare’s Globe and the Tate Modern – attracts creatives. If you still weren’t convinced of Southwark’s “fashion crowd” potential, a 14-storey outpost of The Hoxton hotel is in the pipeline for 2018, in partnership with all-powerful members club Soho House.

CitizenM Hotel

CitizenM Hotel

When Flat Iron Square opens its doors in October, SE1 will cement its position as the next in-demand postcode. Considering the governor’s future plans for the borough – 800 new homes built beneath the network of 10,000 disused railway arches; a new school and park; and a £300 million development of retail spaces, an art house cinema and private members club – it may just be getting started too.

Flat Iron Square will open on 20th October 2016.

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