Bethnal Green was once your archetypal East London rough-and-tumble neighbourhood, a place where the Kray twins and their gang once ruled the roost, but they'd barely recognise it now. Still a little gritty, gentrification has arrived in the shape of design hotels, booming property prices and hip eateries and bars tucked within two sets of railway arches (Paradise Row and The Arches).
The hotel is a two-minute stroll from both the Bethnal Green tube station on the Underground's Central line and Cambridge Heath Overground station, 2.8km from London Liverpool Street. Although Bethnal Green doesn't seem an obvious place to open a boutique hotel, Singaporean hotelier Loh Lik Peng is known for transforming buildings in unfashionable locations into destination properties (in Singapore he turned a former brothel into Hotel 1929 and in Sydney a former sticky-carpet pub and Carlton & United Breweries office morphed into The Old Clare Hotel). Other design hotels have sprung up in Bethnal Green since Town Hall Hotel opened in 2010.
Unsurprisingly, given the name, the grand Edwardian building was once Bethnal Green Town Hall. After opening in 1910, the building, with its Portland stone-clad classical façade was extended in the 1930s, accounting for the lavish Art Deco interiors that have starred in films such as Atonement, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Run, Fat Boy, Run. The council chamber is lined in Australian walnut, the mayoral office in mahogany and air vents covered in intricate brass grilles. The council chamber's design inspired the laser-cut, geometric-patterned metal veil that now flows over the building's rear, granting privacy while allowing natural light to flood the rooms. It's a delight to roam the corridors spotting retro features. Pack the cossie (bathers) and goggles if you want to hit the blue glass-tiled pool for a few laps.
Room styles range from doubles up to two-bedroom apartments. My studio apartment suite features a full kitchen off the timber-floored living/dining area and a bathroom separated from the bedroom by a curtained glass wall. Next to the bed is a sheepskin rug – who doesn't love floof underfoot - and you can chill in funky chairs or on the two-seat sofa. Homely touches include jars of teas that include builder's tea and ever-so-English breakfast.
There's a bear in the breakfast room - namely British sculptor Debbie Lawson's Persian-carpet bear that appears to lurch through the wall – and jazz on the sound system, which turns the first meal of the day into an unexpectedly sophisticated affair. For a bargain 15 pounds ($27.50), graze the luxe buffet then tuck into a hot dish such as the full English breakfast or more healthful chili-sprinkled avo and poached egg on toast.
The V&A Museum of Childhood, where trilingual signage in English, Bengali and Somali reflects the multicultural neighbourhood, is on the adjoining block. Further afield is Brick Lane where Jack the Ripper once roamed – it's now known for authentic curry houses. For a classic East London caff, head to E Pellicci on Bethnal Green Road. The warm family-run eatery opened in 1900 and still serves a cup of tea for just 80p ($1.50).
Style aficionados will adore poring over details within the hotel, one of 12 London properties in the Design Hotels portfolio. The lodgings are perfect for those who want to get to know a vibrant London neighbourhood while staying within reasonable reach of other drawcards such as the West End theatre district.
Katrina Lobley was a guest of Design Hotels.
You might become lost within the multitude of corridors.
Homely touches add substance to all that style.