This is another place that is difficult to categorise on VT as it has several functions. It is a bar, restaurant and comedy club all in the one building. I have not eaten here nor been to any of the shows so I shall treat it here as a thing to do.
The Backyard Bar is the brainchild of the prominent British comedian Lee Hurst who is well-known as a stand up and also a regular panellist on various TV shows. As a bar it is a modern and very friendly place with a pool table providing the daytime entertainment. The staff here really are a delight and are always happy to chat if the place is not too busy.
There is a limited menu of burgers and pizzas (pictured) and at time of writing (June 2013) I know that the current chef trained under the celebrity chef Jamie Oliver and I have it on good authority that the food is very good. I shall write a seperate tip when I sample it for myself.
The main attraction here is the evening entertainment which consists of stand-up comedy as you might expect. There are regular Saturday night comedy evenings featuring top names from the circuit and full details are on the attached website. An insiders tip here is to go for the Thursday night gig (held every week) which features up and coming acts and established comedians trying out new material or warming up for tours. It is a bit of a lottery as often the website will just say "an act who cannot be named", presumably for contractual reasons, so you could get a really big name act and all for £5. There are concessions for students with an NUS card, NHS staff and emergency service workers so it can be a pretty cheap night's entertainment as the bar prices are broadly comparable with local pubs and not hiked as is often the case in entertainment venues.
All in all, a pleasant place for a drink and a decent entertainment venue in an area which seems to be offering less and less of it. Do however note the slightly restricted opening hours, as the place is closed Monday and Tuesday and only opens at 1700 hours on other days.
I am never quite sure whether to put takeaway food places in the restuarant section or the things to do section so I have developed a sort of rule for it. If a place has any sort of seating at all it goes in the restaurant section and if not it is a thing to do. The Fish Plaice on Cambridge Heath Road falls into the latter category. However, don't let the fact that you have to take your grub home put you off, this is a cracking chippy.
Many of the chippies round London seem now to be adjuncts of "Chinese" takeaways but that is not the case here, there isn't a sweet and sour or chow mein to be seen. It concentrates on old-fashioned fish and chips, sausages, pies, chicken and the like and does them very well. Although I have had the fish here and it is excellent, my favourite chippy dish is battered sausage and chips as seen in the second image. Apologies for the mess on my dining table and not using a flash, but you get the idea.
If you are in the area, this is a good bet.
I must have walked past the Church of St. John on Bethnal Green literally thousands of times as it stands opposite Bethnal Green Tube Station, a place not ten minutes walk from my home and which I use regularly. Strange then, given my fascination with just about everything and my proximity to the place, that I had never been over the threshold of it. Regrettably this is partially due to the fact that it is just not possible to leave a place of worship open and unattended in London any more but that is the way of the world.
I had looked at the architecture certainly but did not know until I was researching this tip that it was designed by Sir John Soane between 1826 and 1828. For those of you who do not know of Soane, he was responsible for the design of many famous buildings, including the Bank of England (not the modern building) and Freemasons Hall which is not far from the wonderful Museum bearing his name in Lincoln's Inn Fields, London. Frankly, I do not find the architecture very inspiring although it has been recently sand / water blasted to remove the grime of the large amount of traffic passing which has certainly improved it's appearance.
One afternoon, I was standing having a smoke outside the excellent Salmon and Ball pub which is just over the road. I noticed the doors to the Church were open and decided to go and have a look. I have to say that I was totally amazed by what I found as I shall explain. St. John's Church is still an active place of worship, describing itself on it's own website (see below) as being of the "Anglo-Catholic tradition [which] seeks to combine dignified traditional worship with a commitment to social justice and an engagement with contemporary arts," although I did not know that at the time. As an aside, should the reader wish to visit for the purposes of worship, full details are given on the website and they do state that they are "a church that is enriched by the ordination of women and unconcerned with sexual orientation!" I do not wish to be contentious here but I know this information may be of interest to some.
I was expecting to find a Church which would have undoubtedly have had points of interest. I have stated many times on VT that I have no religious faith myself but I find places of worship, of whatever faith, fascinating and visit them when I can. I have been to all sorts of unsusual such places but I must admit to having been slightly unprepared for what I walked into as it was certainly not "advertised" outside. It was clear that the Church had been turned into an art gallery which did take me aback somewhat. The exhibiton has changed now and obviously, I can only show five images here but I have created a travelogue to showcase some more which are primarily of the exhibiton whilst those here are of the building itself.
I found the juxtaposition of artwork in an old religious building very interesting and not at all incongruous. Some of the pieces were certainly socially challenging, and I got the overall impression that this is in keeping with the religious ethos of the place. Certainly, as well as the artworks, there are the usual trappings of a Church of that age including several military memorials, another subject dear to my heart.
In all honesty, the trip I made up the ladder into the belltower was because I genuinely thought there may have been more works of art up there as the layout of the exhibition certainly suggested that may have been the case and there were no prohibitory signs. I have to say, if you do find your way up there, it is absolutely fascinating and I had never been in a Church belltower before. I am stil not sure if I was or was not allowed up there but it was safe enough and the traveller may wish to have a look themselves.
I would suggest that the major reason for visiting this area for the traveller would be a visit to the simply wonderful Museum of Childhood which is literally a couple of hundred yards away but I would suggest that if the Church is open it is well worth a visit.
Admission is free although donations are obviously welcome. For mobility impaired travellers, there is a ramp allowing access to the ground floor although I did not see any means of access to the upper floor. I am afraid that it is a building of that age.
I have no doubt that this tip will be buried in the VT database as I have chosen to put it correctly in a Bethnal Green page and not a general London tip but so be it, that is how I construct my VT pages. I do however hope some of you see it and do decide to visit, it is certainly worth the effort.
I remember when I moved to London in the late 1980's that Bethnal Green Road was one of the hotspots of nightlife in the city. It seemed that there was a nighclub or very lively pub on just about every corner and it really was very lively at the weekend. That really is no longer the case. For a variety of reasons, there are far fewer pubs and I don't know of a proper nightvlub except when you get away down to the City end of the road and these are designed for the City types not the locals.
However, if you happen to be wandering about the BGR (as the street is sometimes locally called) on a Sunday night, you could do worse than pop into Valiente's, the pub in the image. Sunday night is karaoke night with a resident DJ and his daughter keeping the whole thing going. They are both very good singers. I remember in some of the old-fashioned East End pubs when someone would play the piano or more usually an electronic organ, and people would take turns singing. I suppose karaoke is just the technological equivalent of that type of entertainment. Believe me, the locals do love to sing, and there is never a shortage of volunteers. It can be great fun in there and whilst I am not a fan of karaoke myself, someone told the DJ I was a msucian and so I do get dragged onstage sometimes. If you do visit and I am singing, please feel free to step outside for a few minute, I won't be offended!
One last thing. If you are asking directions here and people don't know where Valiente's is, try asking for the Bohola which was the previous name of the premises and which is still used by many people.
Dress Code: Casual.
Update January 2013.
I do like to keep my tips as up to date as I can and there has been a change in the music scene now in the Salmon and Ball. The original tip, which I shall leave here for interest, was written almost four years ago. The rock bands no longer play here regularly but there are occasional blues outfits, normally very good. If the bands are not on (usually on a Saturday), the music is provided by the house DJ who is a lovely and very obliging bloke. He has a vast selection of music and will play you whatever you want from 60's pop to modern house music and anything in between.
I also have to report that the pub is still very safe to drink in, there is absolutely no trouble here like there was some years ago. If you are watching the pennies, there is never a door charge for the entertainment and it is still one of the cheaper options for a drink in the area.
Original Tip, May 2009.
The East End has long been known for music, especially of the rock variety. Although various factors, including ever-changing licensing regulations and the current recession are certainly hurting live music, there are still places where the good old fashioned rock and blues covers bands thrive, and this is one of them. I say this as a musician myself.
The place in question is the Salmon and Ball pub at the junction of Bethnal Green Road and Cambridge Heath Road, and every Saturday night, very good quality rock / blues bands here. My personal favourite are a band called Tush who do escellent covers.
In the past, under a previous name of Tipples, this place had something of a reputation as being a bit rough. Whilst it is certainly not an upmarket wine bar, I personally have never seen any trouble here.
Dress Code: None at all.
A couple of things to say to you first of all. In truth, this is not off the beaten track at all, it is passed by literally tens of thousands of people a day, but I wonder how many ever notice it. Secondly, I make no apology for using the same title as I did for my Stainer Street tip. The incidents commemorated by the monuments to which I refer are very closely related, and I can think of no better title than that which I used previously.
OK, unless you have used the hyperlink, you are probably totally confused now, so allow me to explain. This tip refers to a memorial at one of the entrances to Bethnal Green Tube (Underground) station in the East End of London commemorating, as the photo shows, the worst civilian tragedy of the Second World War in the UK.
Imagine the scene. It is March 1943. For weeks on end the German Luftwaffe (airforce) have been bombing the East End of London. The only places of shelter are the all too rare Anderson Shelter or else get down the Tube. Well underground, they provided nightly refuge for literally thousands of terrified Londoners from the death falling from the sky. Imagine now the sirens going, indicating another attack. People are anxious to get to safety, suddenly someone at the front loses their footing (the details are still unclear) and a huge mass of people all tumble down over one another. The fear, the panic, the cries of the dying, the suffocation must all have been absolutely horrific. The end result was that 173 men, women and children were killed in the resulting crush.
As the photos show, there is a small plaque commemorating the event. This is why I have made it an off the beaten path tip as I suspect many people do not even see it.
When I walked up there (it is near my home) to take photos for this tip a few days ago, there was a small memorial of poppies (associated with war dead in the UK) and a few messages. This is not usual but the photo of the young girl who would never grow up (see photo) did touch me.
Not, I would suggest, a place the tourist to London would choose to go specifically but if you happen to be on your way through, for example to the Museum of Childhood, spare a thought.
Update January 2013.
Readers of my pages will know that I do like to keep my tips as up to date as possible and there have been developments regarding this site. After many years of lobbying by local people, there is finally to be a proper memorial erected just beside the fatal stairs. Iis provisionally being called "Stairway to Heaven" and I have included a recent photograph of it under construction. I have also added the website of the charitable organisation recorded. I know it has been completed now so I shall go and get another photo soon.
Anybody who follows boxing at all will have heard of the York Hall, Bethnal Green, it is simply legendary. The East End has always been known for it's boxing with many young men trying to fight their way out of the poverty that was traditionally associated with the area. The local flyweight WBC champion Charlie Magri] is merely one example from a long line. Charlie, incidentally, is now a successful businessman in the area.
There are still regular boxing nights held here, and the atmosphere can be quite terrific. At the time of writing this tip, a quick look at the website shows several professional boxing nights including a British welterweight bout. There are also the so-called "cage" fights and amateur nights as well.
If boxing is not your thing, York Hall is a completely equipped leisure centre in it's own right.
Equipment: Nothing to watch the boxing, appropriate gear for other activities.