Lon­don’s old­est road has se­ri­ous street cred. (Also: con­cept ke­babs.)

Nine kilo­me­tres, nine neigh­bour­hoods and too many cock­tail bars to count: Lon­don’s old­est road flaunts its street smarts.

TWO THOU­SAND YEARS AGO, RO­MAN NAVIGATORS fol­lowed a great river to a series of is­lands, where the pas­sage nar­rowed enough to in­stall a tim­ber bridge 100 me­tres from where a barista at the Lon­don Grind has just de­nied me al­mond milk for my latte. In­stead, he slides a far more fash­ion­able oat-milk latte along the mar­ble bar. When in Ro­man Lon­don, as they say.

The cof­fee fu­els me for a nine-kilo­me­tre walk along Lon­don’s first road, paved by the Ro­mans in the first cen­tury. Marked on maps with the tran­sit route name A10, the strip switches iden­tity ev­ery few blocks as it stretches north from Lon­don Bridge through the City fi­nan­cial district, Shored­itch, Dal­ston and Stoke New­ing­ton, all the way up to Seven Sis­ters Road. Slic­ing east from west and con­nect­ing Viet­namese, Caribbean, Turk­ish and Jewish com­mu­ni­ties, the road is a cross-sec­tion of the city.

I’ve spent enough time stalk­ing these side­walks to hol­low out grooves like those from a Ro­man char­iot. My house backs onto the A10, af­ter all. But when I moved here 10 years ago, I couldn’t con­vince vis­i­tors to think of it as any­thing but a con­duit to Soho or Not­ting Hill. That was then. I’ve since wit­nessed a slow, steady change: start-ups, pop-ups, art fairs, craft stout re­plac­ing Stella Ar­tois. Vis­i­tors have started to come around, quite lit­er­ally.

“The bridge made the road,” says his­to­rian and arche­ol­o­gist Kevin Flude, meet­ing me at the spot where the ear­li­est Lon­don


Bridge segued into a thor­ough­fare called Fish Street Hill. Arche­ol­o­gists found ev­i­dence here of Ro­man colon­nades built two mil­len­nia ago dur­ing the early set­tle­ment of Lon­dinium. Back then, the road dou­bled as a barom­e­ter for the city’s cul­tural heat. Be­neath to­day’s sky­scrapers sat first-cen­tury ware­houses for olive oil and wine. Be­low the glass ar­cades of Lead­en­hall Mar­ket – a cur­rent des­ti­na­tion for im­ported cheese and shoeshines – was a sprawl­ing mar­ket­place. And be­hind the Vic­to­rian pil­lars and cof­fered ceil­ings of the Crosse Keys pub stood a fo­rum com­pa­ra­ble to Rome’s. So: very hot.

Flude pulls me around a cor­ner to point out rem­nants of the orig­i­nal city walls at All Hal­lows Church. I, mean­while, point out a half-dozen tow­ers built since the turn of the mil­len­nium, when Lon­don’s fi­nan­cial boom tore back the red tape for su­per­tall con­struc­tion. Each has a power restau­rant – Sushisamba, City So­cial – draw­ing evening rev­ellers down­town for the first time in decades.

I leave the old walls for the brick ate­liers of buzzy Shored­itch and turn into a gallery/disco/café/cre­ative col­lec­tive called Dream Bags/Jaguar Shoes. The sun streams in as I pull up a stool at a bar spray-painted with a scrawl of acid colours. Co-owner Teresa Skr­gatic, a freck­led brunette in a black denim jump­suit and high-tops, pours me a half-pint of un­fil­tered And Union lager. Strain­ing to be heard above an af­ter­noon playlist of post-punk and guilty-plea­sure disco, she rem­i­nisces about the early 2000s, when she and her brother were among the first artists to set up here. They hauled in pic­nic ta­bles, threw up their friends’ street art and named their gallery af­ter the pre­vi­ous ten­ants, im­porters-ex­porters of bags and shoes.

With the win­dows flung open, passersby in thread­bare T-shirts lean in, prompt­ing waves from Skr­gratic. Some pile in

around ta­bles with pints; an artist flips through phone pics for Skr­gratic to con­sider for an up­com­ing exhibition. Ex­cept for the sig­na­tures on the floor-to-ceil­ing wall paint­ings, lit­tle has changed in 16 years. It hasn’t had to. Copy­cats like the Ace Ho­tel, which has brought in burly bounc­ers to fil­ter through the cre­atives re­lo­cat­ing from Soho, have only sparked more in­ter­est in the orig­i­nal.

Ten min­utes north, the road arcs over the Re­gent’s Canal, hum­ming now with hand-painted nar­row­boats and wa­ter­side cafés af­ter years of ne­glect. I’m in Dal­ston, erst­while habi­tat of gang­sters and Quak­ers. Slim, sin­gle-bay houses built for ar­ti­sans in the 18th cen­tury now sell vin­tage Martin Margiela over­coats (two sizes too small, alas) and Korean fried chicken (de­voured guilt­lessly be­cause it’s billed as “ar­ti­sanal”).

Only de­voted drinkers can keep up with Dal­ston’s slew of bar open­ings. I set­tle in the speakeasy Three Sheets and warm up with an Ev­ery Cloud, a reck­less com­bi­na­tion of te­quila and lager. Should I be mix­ing te­quila and beer? Do I care? I do not. An­other few steps, an­other few bars and I teeter into Un­ti­tled, which com­bines the lo­cal pas­sion for con­crete and com­mu­nal seat­ing with the ap­par­ent craze for cock­tails served in mi­nus­cule gob­lets. I sip the Vi­o­lin, a snifter packed with oak, pine, beeswax, ben­zoin and black-pep­per vodka, and be­fore long, I catch my­self com­mu­ni­cat­ing with the black and white S&M pho­tos on the wall. It’s time to turn in.


blocks up from Dal­ston to meet Sean Gub­bins, a tour guide with Walk Hack­ney, who has kindly of­fered to guide me on my next leg. We’re mo­men­tar­ily caught in the scrum of Ri­d­ley Road


Mar­ket, a hodge­podge of out­door pro­duce stands that catered to gen­teel Vic­to­ri­ans, then Jewish im­mi­grants and now AfroCaribbeans and Turks. “The only real dif­fer­ence is now they sell man­goes,” Gub­bins tells me.

Thought to be the for­mer grounds of King Henry VIII’s hunt­ing lodge, the vil­lage-y sec­tion of Hack­ney north of the mar­ket was a back­woods un­til the restora­tion of the monar­chy and Anglican church sent Non­con­formists and re­li­gious outcasts up here to set­tle. Same vibe, dif­fer­ent age. Arty types, priced out of Shored­itch, have mi­grated nearby, like Skr­gatic’s for­mer bar­tender, who opened his own place, a tiki spot called Ri­d­ley Road Mar­ket Bar. But when they have ba­bies, they find more suit­able houses a kilo­me­tre far­ther in Stoke New­ing­ton.

“The last boom here, 150 years ago, tripled the pop­u­la­tion,” says Gub­bins. That was thanks to steam trams and then mo­tor trol­leys, which re­placed horse-drawn buses and coaches. To­day, the new Over­ground train line has ac­ti­vated an­other wave of open­ings. “It’s less a growth spurt than a tsunami,” he says, step­ping out of the path of dou­ble strollers.

We pass re­tirees hunched over chess­boards and pierce a cloud of vape smoke out­side Z Bar to pick up triple-shot cap­puc­ci­nos and freshly squeezed or­ange juice. The smell of Turk­ish flat­bread leads to nearby ke­bab shops, where women knead dough in the win­dow. And then Gub­bins glimpses some­one buff­ing a patch of bright blue tile­work up the road. It’s the grand

open­ing of Fanny’s, a crowd-funded “con­cept” ke­bab shop that ad­ver­tised it­self as a “posh” al­ter­na­tive to the area’s sig­na­ture snack, un­til lo­cal out­cry prompted them to drop “posh” from their sig­nage. (The twee and the tra­di­tional, it turns out, don’t al­ways get along.)

In the shade of ma­ture plane trees, we pass women in head­scarves and Ha­sidic men in mas­sive fur shtreimels, and hop the train to Seven Sis­ters Mar­ket, a ram­shackle Latin Amer­i­can mar­ket­place. Hair dry­ers whirr from coif­fure stalls, com­pet­ing with piped-in samba and the laugh­ter of chil­dren eat­ing fresh pineap­ple. At Pueblito Paisa café, we grab seats on the pa­tio next to fam­i­lies watch­ing soc­cer on big screens. The server de­liv­ers thick cin­na­mon hot choco­late and dessert-cheese buns he calls “sweet­meat bread.” I ex­pe­ri­ence that fron­tier feel­ing one might have felt years ago in Stoke New­ing­ton or Dal­ston or all those neigh­bour­hoods be­hind me, when new ar­rivals to Lon­don were mak­ing their mark.

Start­ing the gentle de­scent south, we ap­proach Stam­ford Hill. Gub­bins stops me and ges­tures down through the trees to­ward minarets, steeples and tow­ers. “Af­ter Queen El­iz­a­beth I died in 1603, James VI of Scot­land took this road to meet the lead­ers of the city be­fore his coro­na­tion,” he says. “As they wel­comed him to the new cap­i­tal, this was his first glimpse of Lon­don.” I won­der what he’d think if he could see it now.

TOP Ar­chi­tect Rafael Viñoly’s 2014 Walkie Talkie sky­scraper over­looks 19th-cen­tury Port­land-stone of­fices in the fi­nan­cial district. OP­PO­SITE PAGE, CLOCK­WISE FROM TOP LEFT Smooth ride: cross­ing the Thames on one of Lon­don’s cy­cle su­per­high­ways; shop­ping be­neath Vic­to­rian arches at Lead­en­hall Mar­ket, built on the site of

Ro­man Lon­don’s old fo­rum; bloom time at Columbia Road Flower Mar­ket.

CI-DESSUS Un air de blues dans Shored­itch ; bien rangées : des mai­son à la fron­tière de Stoke New­ing­ton et de Stram­ford Hill.

ABOVE Sing­ing the blues in Shored­itch; front row: homes on the bor­der of Stoke New­ing­ton and Stam­ford Hill.

ABOVE Step­ping up in front of a mu­ral by lo­cal artist Camilla Walala painted in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Colour Your City, a col­lec­tive that brings pops of colour to

ur­ban streets. CI-DESSUS On dé­file de­vant une mu­rale de l’artiste lon­doni­enne Camilla Walala, créée en col­lab­o­ra­tion avec Colour Your City, un col­lec­tif qui ajoute un peu de couleur aux rues de la ville.

ABOVE Footy fans match up at Café Kick, Shored­itch’s long­stand­ing foos­ball club.

OP­PO­SITE PAGE Re­gent’s Canal in Hag­ger­ston, be­tween Shored­itch and Dal­ston, a stretch real es­tate de­vel­op­ers have re­branded the “Hag­ger­ston Riviera” (to the cha­grin of

lo­cals). CI-DESSUS Par­tie de mini bal­lon rond au Café Kick, un club de baby­foot bien établi dans Shored­itch. PAGE

DE DROITE En­tre Shored­itch et Dal­ston, le Re­gent’s Canal, dans Hag­ger­ston, a été re­bap­tisé « Hag­ger­ston Riviera » au grand dam des rési­dents.

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