Talking gentrification, Pop Brixton and the sexiest salt beef bagels south of the river…
What is it about Brixton that excites me so? Is it the people: the immigrant-rich community who have formed a vibrant fusion of cultures within the South London suburb? Maybe it's the abundance of Jerk chicken, procurable from every street corner – or something in the air: gusts of wind infused with marijuana smoke and hot sugar, reminiscent of the French Quarter in New Orleans. Or perhaps it's the sentiment: Brixton is where, as a freshman to London culture, I felt I had my first London-esque experience - I visited my Cockney friend Josh who lived on Electric Avenue, and we ate crawfish po-boys in a dodgy caf, drank pints at The Beehive, then spent the evening hanging out with his 50-year-old flatmate “Mad Jackie” (who collected leopard print coats and took a lot of speed.)
Either way, Brixton is, and always will be, where I dream to live out the rest of my London days. It is the Isreal Zangwill of cultural melting pots when it comes to London, and to me, a trip to the once infamous Brixton is more appealing than a trip to the Private Members’ rooftop pool at Soho House; with more to do than in Piccadilly Circus, and more to see than at the top of The Shard…
Its Sunday morning and we’re walking through the urine-soaked streets of Lambeth’s liveliest district, in search of hangover-curing street food - a fair cinch in this densely populated, culinary haven. Under the railway arches, steam rises from the underground, an elderly woman passes on a mobility scooter chauffeuring a pair of costumed Chihuahuas, and to our right, an Asian man is sweeping fag butts off the pavement outside an emporium named “Home ‘n’ Fashion”: a gaudy Shangri-La of tawny carpets and, ironically, not-so-fashionable garments.
We're headed to Pop Brixton, a thriving food market within an assembly of shipping containers just off Pope’s Road. Although the concept has received some negative reviews from the locals since it’s opening in 2015 (word on the street is the ethnic majority are unhappy about the unwelcome influx of Caucasian Hipsters), it has created over 200 jobs and opened up a wealth opportunities for young Food & Retail businesses by offering cheap rent and pop-up schemes, and providing a pretty edgy environment for like-minded entrepreneurs, foodies and artists. With everything from vinyl shops and vintage clothes to micro-bars, crepes, gyozas and tacos, it truly is Al Fresco dining at its best.
First up, we grab a bottle of Chang from Viet-Box and order a couple of Bao’s while we wait for our friends Elle & Aidan to arrive. Viet-Box is one of my favourite pop-ups in circulation at Pop – they do an amazing “Popcorn Chicken” which is literally Satay Chicken on a bed of Coconut Popcorn. It’s so good y’all. I hadn’t tried their Bao’s until now, but can now safely vouch for their being delicious, authentic - and dare I say better than BAO’s bao’s(?) (N.B. So can my hair, which enjoyed a healthy drizzling of Viet’s homemade hot sauce – an accessory to the coffee I spilled down the front of my white t-shirt earlier in the day).
Next – what with it being Rosh Hashanah and all - we pick up some Salt Beef Bagels and Fries from The Bell & Brisket. Gherkins, yellow-ass mustard, maple-cured bacon (not very kosher of us) and some of the most tender brisket my lips ever did taste. Its insanely good – or as the Jews would say – Geshmack as fuck! (Would they, though?)
We wander around the market a little more before heading through Brixton Village and onto Electric Avenue. The streets are alive with people, traders and revellers powering through from Saturday night. On a street corner, we look up to see a flashing window, loudly distributing house music – a ‘sesh’ which is very much still in session. (It’s now 4pm.)
At Bookmongers on Coldharbour Lane, I find a half-done crossword puzzle and a bookie receipt from ’98 in the worn pages of a psychedelic motorcycle manual lost in an organised chaos of second-hand books. I purchase a street art book aptly named ‘The Art of Rebellion’ featuring work very much reminiscent of Brixton’s Railway Arches presently; run-down archways plastered with protest graffiti revolting against the upcoming evictions of over 150 tenants from the arches, courtesy of Lambeth Council and Network Rail.
In 2017, traders and residents of the arches will be forced to leave their digs for one year, while the council undergo renovations. Thereafter, they may return to business-as-usual, although this time around, the rent will triple in price. Alongside the obvious concerns that jobs will be lost, and fixtures like Catwalk Wig Utopia and Café Rio could be no more, their corrugated shutters forever replaced with state-of-the-art, glinting windows, residents fear that the redevelopment will create a “dead-zone” in what is currently the busiest part of the area.
For the locals, gentrification is an aggravating problem, and many argue it started with Pop Brixton. And we get it – London is ever in flux and rapidly growing. Areas like Brixton, once considered ‘The Sticks’, are now being classed as ‘central’, as a tidal wave of millennial start-ups search for cheaper terrain with undestroyed character. But there are certain areas of this morphing metropolis that simply are, and should remain, the embodiment of Old London. The smog, the street art, the crime, the food and most importantly the culture, which is so unique – so quintessentially Brixton – are elements we should strive to preserve.
Imagine a future Brixton – perhaps we’ll rename it ‘Brex-ton’… Home ‘n’ Fashion has closed and been replaced with a Veggie Pret, the Fish Wings & Tings owners have been evicted to make way for an Oliver Bonas, the streets are clean, there’s no sign of the Afghan banana salesman and you now have to travel out to Tooting to get some proper fried plantain…
Even if it means no more Brixton Pop, I’m with the locals. #savebrixtonarches
Sign the petition to stop the evictions at Brixton Arches here.