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Party in Dalston - Top Nightclubs, Music Venues and Bars

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by Dominic Simpson (subscribe)
Freelance writer based in East London. Check out more of my writing at goodnightlondon.blogspot.com
Published September 20th 2012
Looking for a night out in an exciting area of East London with a huge amount of nightlife? No, not Shoreditch. Gentrification and trendiness over the last ten years has meant that Dalston in Hackney, previously a relatively low-key area to go out in, has transmogrified into party central with a large number of venues and places to eat, drink and dance the night away.

The more artily inclined may wish to check out left-field music venues such as Power Lunches and Café Oto,
Cafe Oto Ashwin Street Dalston
Exterior of Cafe Oto
the former a tiny, charmingly ramshackle and idiosyncratic venue up on Kingsland Road. The latter, meanwhile, has become an established fixture on London's experimental music scene, with its mixture of free jazz, avant-rock, folk, and abstract electronica. The staunchly independent venue, open for around five years, is characterised by its darkly lit, intense vibe
Cafe Oto interior
A performer in Cafe Oto's darkly-lit interior...
that has become a by-word for, in their own words, "providing a home for creative new music that exists outside the mainstream." They do nice locally brewed beers too. Next door on Ashwin Street, the Arcola Theatre (which was previously based on the road nearby that provided its namesake) provides some high-quality drama performances, though it's currently being renovated (performances are currently taking place in the Arcola Tent, located to the right of the venue on the same road). Meanwhile, right next to Oto and the Arcola Tent, gallery The Picture House also hosts a roof terrace that's been dubbed the Dalson Roof Park; screenings of cult films take place here frequently, with an impressive view to match. Not far from all this activity, it's also worth checking out the Dalston Vic on Queensbridge Road, a boozer with a large gig room at the back which hosts all kinds of strange nights.

Vortex Jazz Club Gillette Square
The Vortex Dalston


Those still buzzing from their experience at Café Oto might also want to visit the Vortex Dalston, previously based on Stoke Newington Church Street (now occupied there by a Nando's, much to the consternation of locals.) Located in the vibrant Gillett Square, the small venue touches on much of Oto's musical aesthetic, but also concentrates slightly heavily on jazz specifically. The Dalston Jazz Bar nearby, while not featuring live music, also has this genre playing constantly through the (decidedly muffled-sounding) PA, and gets packed (its capacity is tiny).

Rio Cinema
Rio Cinema


The main 'strip' on Dalston for entertainment centres mostly on the area of Kingsland High Street around the legendary Rio Cinema, and includes big two-floor clubs such as Dalston Superstore
Dalston Superstore Ground Floor Interior
Interior of Dalston Superstore's Ground Floor
and the recently-opened Birthdays, both of which are perpetually packed at the weekends, and which draw a
Birthdays Dalston
Birthdays Dalston entrance
mixed, gay-friendly crowd. The latter also has a gig space in the basement. Even bigger are Magnolia Banqueting Suite and Efes, both Turkish-run venue and pool halls which sometimes get tailored by its owners for the trendy clubbers, including at the annual Land of Kings festival. The Kings Festival unites most venues in the area over two nights for the price of a wristband. LOK, in fact, has managed to utilise many amazing impromptu locations in the area, including huge Victorian houses full of antiques and converted car mechanics HQs. The festival has also highlighted the gems slightly off the beaten track in Dalston, such as the super-hip Shacklewell Arms gig venue (previously a non-descript reggae joint added on to a pub) and the Servant Jazz Quarters.

Ruby's Basement Bar Dalston
Ruby's Basement Bar sign


Back on the main strip, and at the other end of the scale, Dalston also seems to specialise in intimate, sweaty basement bars, what with The Alibi
The Alibi bar Dalston
Entrance to The Alibi
, the Moustache Bar, Ruby's Bar, Visions Video Bar (whether it actually is a video
Moustache Bar Dalston sign
Moustache Bar sign
shop by day is unclear), and techno and house-leaning The Nest (formerly freaky rock venue Barden's Boudoir, which still has a presence on the ground floor with Barden's Bar). Next to The Nest, the area even has its very own geek-out record shop, Kristina Records (vinyl-only, natch).

Kristina Records Dalston
Entrance to temple of all things geek, Kristina Records


That's not even to mention the area's myriad and varied pubs, of course. It's possible to dip in and out of venue after venue, and pub after pub, on a night out in Dalston (provided you don't mind putting up with erratic entry prices and queues), such is the close proximity of everything. Just don't overdose on the endless Turkish food on offer – the smell can be enticing, after all, but too much can take its toll on your stomach.
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Why? Top places to eat, drink and dance the night away.
Where: Dalston
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