A Trendy Beach Springs Up Beside A Defunct London Brewery
By Nicholas Judd
A hot Sunday afternoon in London draws a swarm of hip, swimsuited twentysomethings to a packed private beach. Clutching Red Stripe tallboys, they recline, chatting on blankets in the sand. Nearby food stalls offer ice cream, beer, even Pad Thai. It’s free—and therefore a perfect oasis for a broke college student looking for a cheap, good time in London.
This isn’t some elite, members-only beach or Brighton hideaway. It’s in a parking lot, nowhere near water, behind the defunct Truman Brewery in London’s newly-trendy East End.
Visitors pass through imposing (but almost always open) metal doors to find a broad courtyard packed with people. Storefronts and gallery spaces face in. Around the corner, but still within the walls of the brewery complex, Big Chill Bar offers a full menu and outdoor seating, and Café 1001 offers drinks and pizza—and all-night music on the upstairs dance floor.
Then there’s the main attraction: the 60 tons of sand that entrepreneurs Paul Kinley and Richard Lee shipped in from Jamaica in the summer of 2005 as the centerpiece of their concrete Caribbean. A ten-foot-high sign proclaims, in spray-painted, graffiti-style letters: “City Beach.” Perched above the sign is a bright pink early sixties British-made MG sports car, painted-on skeletons grinning down from the windows at the revelers below like watchful party gods.
It’s paradise in a parking lot. There’s no actual water nearby —you’re about a mile from the Thames—though the partners have added palm trees in planter boxes. And “we keep finding seashells in the sand,” said 25-year-old co-proprietor Lee, holding up a small brown shell and grinning.
In keeping with City Beach’s stoned, Alice in Wonderland-esque vibe, it technically isn’t part of any neighborhood, said Kinley, 28. “You’re in between. In fact, it’s a bit of a gray area,” he said. Fitting for the East End, once the poorest part of London, and an area that grew up haphazardly outside the city’s old medieval walls.
As a beach that isn’t officially anywhere, Kinley says, it attracts people from everywhere. “Everyone from kids, families in the morning, the business crowd for lunch, locals in the afternoon, after work crowd, and on the weekends everybody,” he said. “Kids, families, pensioners, mad people.”
“Yeah, there’s one woman who brings her own rocks and seaweed and makes little rock pools, very strange,” Kinley said. But he wasn’t too judgmental. “You meet all the local faces and characters. It’s quite entertaining.”
Even on an overcast weekday afternoon in July, about 30 people were there. Lee, tending to customers behind the bar, had so far served a woman who suspected the orange juice was carcinogenic, a young American currency trader about to end six months of unemployment and a man lecturing anyone who would listen about the perils of public relations and modern media.
The beach is open until the end of September, when Kinley and Lee will bulldoze away the sand for winter (but replace it next summer). Even without the beach, the neighborhood is worth a visit. There are a number of markets, including the indoor Spitalfields Market a block away on Commerce Street, and the Sunday Up Market in the brewery complex. And there are winter plans for the lot. “We’ll probably put in an ice rink,” Lee suggested.
Beers cost £3 (about $5.50) each, about average for London. Lee says he generally lets people bring food and soft drinks from nearby establishments. But not alcohol. “We’ve got to pay our rent somehow,” he shrugged.
Visiting The City Beach Club
Location: Old Truman Brewery, near 91 Brick Lne.
Nearest tube stop: Aldgate East/Liverpool Street
Open: 7 days in summer, roughly noon to 10 p.m.