Shoreditch in London - the home of street art is perfect for a ‘staycation’
‘Street Art Gentrification Zone’ proclaimed the coloured burst of cartoon-like animation on the wall of a Shoreditch building.
In those few simple words two sublime truths were revealed: this was the home of street art where that great creative movement was born ... and the whole area was in the process of being transformed.
Or being ‘gentrified’ as the rather quaint wording explained.
Visitors to London have not always made this quarter of London their first stop.
The West End of the capital normally tops the destination list.
But the imposing Andaz London Liverpool Street five star hotel rich in elegance and history dating from its opulent 19th century heritage is determined to raise its own city quarter up the must see list of attractions.
So along with other regional journalists from across the UK, we were invited by the hotel to spend a weekend as its guests exploring the environment.
It began with a guided Shoreditch Street Art Tours which took us down backroads and past an abandoned car park to reveal a glimpse of the type of art you would never find in the National Portrait Gallery.
First off an early Banksy - an image of a security guard patrolling a ‘Graffiti Area’ with torch in one hand and the lead of a guard dog in the other.Except the guard dog is a rather fluffy poodle.
It’s not just the image that is full of contradiction. The whole genre of the art itself - designed to be washed away by the rain or sprayed over by other artists - is itself protected by plastic.
Shoreditch is tattooed with colourful imagery - there’s not a spare street wall to be found.
But what was essentially the voice of the anti-establishment has transformed itself into a critical part of cultural infrastructure that it might so easily have once condemned.
The walls are covered in design and illustration of sumptuous quality increasingly replacing the early graffiti.
As you walk south to Brick Lane and the glorious Spitalfields Market new pristine buildings are pricking the skyline like shiny new pins.
Affluence is rapidly being daubed over the effluence of a poorer age - and the footsteps of Jack the Ripper have themselves been sanitized in the process to become less a mark of dread and more a story that is told with some pride.
You can grab a TFL bike - although we preferred to walk - as you explore further south.
The Monument built between 1671 and 1677 to commemorate the great fire of London and the rebuilding of the city is itself dwarfed by the current rebuilding of the city.
Then a huge gasp of space as you reach the River Thames and the majestic power of Tower Bridge and the Tower of London, the historic home of the Crown Jewels.
The Andaz London Liverpool Street has its own architectural gems.
Set in what was once the ballroom when the establishment was the Great Eastern Hotel, the 1901 Restaurant is stunning. But you have to look directly skywards above the sweeping breakfast buffet bar to see the prize.
The 1901 glass dome is one of the few surviving original stained glass masterpieces of its type - which spectacularly withstood the bombing of the second world war as staff and guests threw bed mattresses on top of the dome from the bedroom windows above.
Only one fragment of glass was damaged - now marked in red. Can you spot it? We craned our necks for a few moments.
What reputedly proved harder to discover was the city’s only original Freemason’s meeting lodge crafted in 12 varieties of Grade II listed Italian marble. Sealed away it was discovered only by chance when a close examination of the hotel’s footprint during major refurbishment revealed a mystery space.
Now used for special events and photoshoots, we were treated to a special and extraordinary meal there to recreate the series of eight paintings by William Hogarth known as Rake’s Progress - the rise and repeated fall of Tom Rakewell who was finally confined in Bedlam on the site of the current hotel.
Consequently, the hotel has named its Rake’s Cafe Bar after him.
So art of one form or another was to bind the visit together complimented by a creativity of a different nature, a Miyako Sushi and Sake experience in which guests can learn the culinary secrets.
The uncertainties of Brexit has seen a surge of staycations.
London - especially the less familiar parts - is keen to remind the rest of the UK that for an experience unlike any other you can find it all in London.
In artistic parlance, it’s a masterpiece still awaiting discovery.
Shoreditch Street Art Tours: www.shoreditchstreetarttours.co.uk
Miyako Sushi & Sake Experience: https://www.designmynight.com/london/whats-on/classes/andaz-london-presents-sushi-sake-experience?t=5c9b578489c877566759479c