Manzi’s Pie & Eel shop on Chapel Street Market in Islington seems to have been left behind from a monochrome period in London’s past. The pies and mash and eels and liquor – a frighteningly green liquid poured over the pies – still appear on the counters every day, but as the working class nature of the market subtly changes such places have a tendency to vanish. Broadway Market is already unrecognisable; posh enough now for women to play harps in the street while you shop – and Chapel Street Market can’t be far behind.
So what’s the fate for places like Manzi’s? One way of securing their future is to use such spaces in the evening, so at the moment it’s also home to the pop-up restaurant ‘Seagrass’, which offers a very good three-course meal for £30 BYOB, and is enjoying great success.
But why stop there? With space at a premium in the city, you could use other dark buildings at night, turning shops into cinemas or board-game parlours. The proliferation of pop-ups has meant that this year none of my Christmas presents were purchased in big stores at all. The Garrison Pub and others have recently put cinemas in their upper rooms. ‘Shop Make & Do’ has a cocktail bar in its basement, and there are plenty of cafes that double as homeware stores. To show that the British Film Institute doesn’t have a lock on movie events, the Cinema Museum now regularly hosts special nights, including one recently where actors performed next to clips of Chaplin to show how his comedy works. The Haymarket Cinema hosted a version of ‘Brief Encounter’, where it originally ran, in a 1940s setting, mixing live action performance with the film.
This idea of make-do-and-mend suits the times, too. It helps preserve the building and opens up places we might never have seen. London has many civic buildings that could be used as venues at night, but they need to be sympathetic to the property’s original purpose. It’s a trend that I hope will continue to grow.