Shoreditch has suffered. Stagnated even. Its edge needs serious sharpening after the devastation of the pandemic. One of the early symptoms was the surprising closure of the Ace Hotel, an imprimatur of the area’s global cool, in 2020. Now it has been reincarnated as One Hundred Shoreditch, relaunching last month in a move many are hoping will give the neighbourhood a booster shot and become a revived high-point on its eternally shabby High Street.
The new hotel, owned and operated by the Lore Group (which also has Sea Containers House on London’s Southbank, Riggs Washington DC and Amsterdam’s Pulitzer in its stable) is a rare example of a retrofit which builds on, rather than entirely strips out, its predecessor’s bones. It strives to retain the cool, boutique-hotel feel of the Ace, but at 258 rooms, this is a big property: its fate will make a difference to the area.
The subtly evolving shape of this bulky, banal building tells a story of Shoreditch, of the rapidity with which neighbourhoods can be radically reimagined and the vicissitudes of hyper-gentrification. It also suggests a sustainable alternative to always starting again, a pattern to take notice of.
The shell dates from the early noughties when Shoreditch was street-cool but before big money had taken over. First as the St Gregory, then as a Crowne Plaza, it catered for travellers keen to be close to the edge of the City, before the City got its own hotels and before the edge itself became the destination. In 2013 it reopened after a major makeover as the first Ace Hotel outside the US.
The Ace brand had been engineered by the slightly wired, slightly frazzled good guy and “cultural-engineer” Alex Calderwood. It was a seductive, if sometimes over-designed collage of global nomad urban cool. From the record players and guitars to the abundance of felt, leather and straps, it exuded a kind of hipster-fetishism. It instantly commodified its own look; you too could purchase examples of the furnishings at a shop on the ground floor.
The long table in its lobby became an in-demand piece of real estate in its own right, with intense, hairy creatives, isolated between their over-specified headphones, plucking away at MacBooks every hour of the day and night. With the installation of a marquee entrance and a constellation of cheesy lightbulbs, it gave shady Shoreditch High Street, the neighbourhood’s always underwhelming main drag, a shot of SoHo or Tribeca self-consciousness.
I met Calderwood for coffee and dinner a couple of times in the hotel’s cafés and restaurants and he raved about the Shoreditch scene, how the hotel was designed with the particular place in mind. He seemed to suck in the buzz of the night-time city and radiate it back out as good vibes; the staff clearly loved him. Six weeks after the Ace Shoreditch opened he was dead from an overindulgence of the London scene’s drink and drugs. The hotel survived until the pandemic but Calderwood seems a hard act to follow.
The Lore Group’s designer, Jacu Strauss has, smartly, not entirely ditched the Ace look. The starry marquee remains, still brilliantly lit, still an event. But he has added a row of oriel windows which give the rooms on the front a terrific glass bay — exhibitionist fishbowls for soaking in the scene, the scrappy rooftops, scruffy roof gardens, street art, fast food billboards and drunken, meandering late-night wanderers. The lobby is recognisable and the long table survives, albeit in a slightly altered and more refined form. But it feels more like a hotel than it did before, less like a co-working space.
The restaurant is exactly where it was, even retaining the same banquettes — the room was always really good. It is now occupied by Goddard & Gibbs, an English seafood outfit (with plenty of other stuff too, including excellent veggie options). It is informal, not expensive by London standards and still cool. That it looks a little lighter on the celebs than the old incarnation, Hoi Polloi, does not hurt it at all. It has just the right amount of theatre and service is friendly and fast.
At the centre of the room is a big yellow sculpture (by Strauss), looking a little like a Day-Glo Franz West, handmade and clunky. I could not tell whether I liked it. The lobby meanwhile is full of big bits of timber turned and carved from fallen trees around London by designer/maker Jan Hendzel. Sitting somewhere between art, design and furniture they impart a warm woodiness and a presence which inhabits the space even when it is empty. The rest of the art, the tapestries, paintings and pots are all by Strauss. He has been a busy lad.
Down below is the Seed Library, a tight, intimate basement bar overseen by Ryan Chetiyawardana, a creative mixer of addictively strong, herby cocktails. It’s a curious space; objectively a bit rubbish, with no windows, cheap brown spur-shelving, naff spotlights and junk-shop glass and ceramics. But it works; it has a cosy buzz, a semi-catatonic DJ spinning lacklustre ’80s funk in front of an impressive wall of vinyl spines. Its car-boot aesthetic makes it feel eccentrically undiscovered, as if you’ve come across something surprising and good.
At the top, a fine-looking roof bar runs along the whole frontage. It opens in May so I couldn’t attest to atmosphere but I don’t doubt that this is going to be one of the neighbourhood’s places to go, a rare accessible rooftop that isn’t part of a private club but looks as exclusive and slick as if it was.
Sitting in the lobby on a Saturday morning with a designer friend and longtime Shoreditch habitué, we got to discussing what became of the area. The hotel’s website features images of Columbia Road Flower Market, Broadway Market, Spitalfields, the canals — nice things all but none of them are about this neighbourhood. It looks like it was done remotely, perhaps from Melbourne. The streets here are a very particular and very deliberate blend of post-industrial architecture, fiercely sourced coffee shops, bars trying to cover their blandness with neons and “quirky” vintage furniture, groups of guys and girls and plenty of patches of vomit. Like SoHo and Soho, it will never be as good as it was a decade ago (and in a decade it will not be as good as it was now) but it is still pretty lively.
With its iron-fronted architecture and hip cafés, its mix of industry, railway arches, clubs and galleries, start-ups and estate agents, Shoreditch is probably as close as London gets to New York, which was why Ace latched on to this site and why it has slotted so effortlessly into the Berlin/New York axis of clubs, coffee and cool. One Hundred Shoreditch makes no real effort to be part of a scene. It is more grown up than the slightly needy Ace, less self-consciously hip but more laid back and confident. There is no fake street art, fewer battered sofas, less emphasis on the grooves (my designer friend, pointed out that the music playing as we talked might have suited a 50th birthday party: they could still work on the soundtrack).
There is no shortage of Shoreditch hotels now: the Hoxton, Shoreditch House, the Mondrian, all trying to be a bit New Yorky. This one doesn’t try too hard. The lobby still has a buzz about it, still looking like a genuinely public and welcoming space. Apparently, the headphone-wearing laptop pokers just moved right back in, as if they’d been just waiting for two years. Everything changes so that everything can remain the same.
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This article has been updated to include the Mondrian Shoreditch in the list of Shoreditch hotels as it now occupies the building that was previously the Curtain hotel