This week assistant editor James Cartwright attempts to add a reality check to all the hype surrounding Peckham. As ever your comments are encouraged below…
“Pekhamania” the Evening Standard cries, “out on the town in London’s newest hotspot” – before trotting out the usual spiel about Del Boy, gun crime and how all that’s changed because of a little warehouse opposite the station that may or may not be the next Shoreditch, Hacienda and heck, why not, real-world realisation of J.G Ballard’s Cocaine Nights all rolled into one.
“Holy hell,” you’re thinking, “this sounds like the place for me!” And yes, by all accounts, this version of Peckham does sound like a magnificent sensory overload, the kind of place you’d like to end up on all your nights out for the rest of your partying days; with well-dressed twenty somethings gyrating to up-and-coming local acts, the waft of freshly-prepared street food permeating the air. “In Peckham,” they say, “there’s a whole way of life to buy into. Rather than a drink and drugs-fuelled scene, it’s a kind of anti-retirement home: a place designed to spur you back into life.”
Two years before the Evening Standard and Dazed Digital (they’re running Peckham Week this week) started going crazy for the innocuous suburb of South London I’ve called home for the past six years The Guardian was telling its readers to up sticks and move there for its “adorable streets, pop-up bars and dinky delis” clearly aiming to appeal to the Clapham crowd rather than Hoxton’s hipsters. They took the bait and rent has been on a steady rise ever since.
I’m loathe to be one of those bitter nay-sayers, griping over the popularity of an area because I might not be able to afford the rent in the next year or so, but London’s journalists really need to take a reality check before writing any more gushing endorsements of Peckham’s creative and night-time offerings: except Jay Rayner – he can wax lyrical about the two good restaurants all he wants. You can still get tables at those.
The truth is Peckham probably isn’t the utopic final destination of club culture, the hothouse of creative talent destined to rise, phoenix-like, from the ashes of Arts Council budget cuts, nor is it even a good place to eat a decent breakfast. There’s some great stuff going on in the evenings for sure, and there’s definitely a small creative community thriving there, but Monday to Thursday you’ll mostly find it quiet and empty, with all but one or two watering holes closed by ten – they’ve been working on extending their licences for a good few years.
You’ll have to queue for ages to drink Aperol (the new Campari) on the roof of a car park (the view IS exceptional) on the weekends, the now legendary Bussey Building often hosts nights attended by fewer than a dozen people and Canavan’s, the pool bar turned trendy club serves some of the warmest, weakest beer that’s ever passed my lips. And no cultural revolution has ever been fuelled by weak beer.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Peckham, I can’t think of anywhere else in London I’d rather live. But part of its appeal is that it’s not just another night-time destination for London’s fashion conscious, it’s the perfect place to return to after you’ve done all the cool shit you had planned for the night, safe in the knowledge there’ll be any number of Morley’s and Chicken Cottage outlets still open to mitigate the next day’s hangover for the price of whatever shrapnel you’ve got left in your wallet.