Brixton has always been one of London’s most diverse and vibrant neighbourhoods and it is changing at a breathtaking pace. The area is now home to a thriving restaurant scene and has become a magnet for start-ups and small businesses looking to free themselves from the Shoreditch bubble.
But as its star continues to rise, so do its residential and commercial rents. Fierce battles are now raging between between local residents and developers. Network Rail’s plans to refurbish its famous railway arches on Atlantic Road and Brixton Station Road have been met with outrage by many of the businesses housed there, some of which – like FS Mash fishmongers – have been trading for generations, and worry they won’t be able to meet rising costs.
As the fight continues, we look at the anchors and innovators who’ve shaped the area to date.
Supertone is the record shop for dub and reggae in Brixton. It started as a soundsystem back in 1969 (and still continues to tour to this day), before moving into retail in 1984. Pop in and test your music knowledge against that of founder and Brixton legend Wally B.
Visual artists Xabier Basterra and Jane Hayes founded Block 336 in 2011 as an artist-run project space and studio provider. Housed in the basement of a Brutalist warehouse that was once home to Coutts Bank – and a focal point of Brixton’s 1980s illegal rave scene – the gallery’s focus is firmly on the contemporary, with established and emerging artists like Robin Mason and Mike Ballard encouraged to create site-specific installations, minus the pressure of gallery sales.
Many mourn the loss of the legendary Fridge club, but the new tenants of this former cinema have been sculpting a similarly eclectic musical offering since taking over the building in 2011. A £1m refurbishment saw the interiors restored to their gilded 1912 neo-classical glory. The 1,700-capacity Electric puts an emphasis on live bands, perfecting the role of little sister to the nearby Academy.
Mark Eley and Wakako Kishimoto have lived and worked in Brixton since founding their eponymous fashion brand in 1992, and their studio is now based just a short walk from Brixton prison. The masters of print continue to innovate through collaborations with international brands such as Vans and local design studio 2MZ, as well as Carl Turner’s POP Brixton.
Overall winner at this year’s New London Architecture Awards, the Black Cultural Archives’ new heritage centre on Windrush Square is the UK’s first dedicated to evidencing the history of African and African-Caribbean people in the UK. The empty Grade II-listed Raleigh Hall was renovated by architects Pringle Richards Sharratt and includes dedicated learning and events spaces, as well as a reference library containing over 6,000 books.
It’d be easy to walk straight past the scruffy exterior of this tiny pub on an unassuming residential street, were it not for the muscular rottweilers stalking the roof. Originally built in 1971 to service the nearby Blenheim Estate, The Windmill is one of the best small music venues in London. Alumni include Hot Chip, Florence & The Machine, and Frank Turner.
This private cinema and bar has been quietly doing its thing on the fringes of Brixton near Loughborough Junction since 2010. At £99 for annual membership (currently full) it’s part of a growing trend in London for affordable members’ clubs (see Lights of Soho for example). Your oyster even doubles as a membership card. Whirled shows global art house cinema, free of advertising and trailers.
The Clink restaurant at HMP Brixton is one of four restaurants in UK prisons. Founded by chef Alberto Crisci, once of Marco Pierre White’s Mirabelle, diners can enjoy breakfast or lunch cooked and served by inmates working towards their City & Guilds NVQs. Dishes include cannon of lamb and perfect peach parfait.
Based at Lambeth Town Hall, this embryonic co-working space is part of a global network of 60+ impact hubs, connecting 11,000 entrepreneurs at various stages of building their businesses. It’s one of several initiatives funded by Lambeth Council. The borough had the second highest number of start-ups in London in 2014, leading to forecasts that Brixton may eventually replace Shoreditch as the city’s major tech hub.
Brixton Village is a foodie haven that draws excited and hungry hordes from all over the capital and beyond, with the sheer variety of cuisine on offer and its cheap prices. It’s difficult to know where to start at the former Granville Arcade and nearby Market Row (wherever you can get a table essentially), but seeing as it’s Brixton, why not head to the highly-rated Caribbean eatery Fish, Wings & Tings.
The area’s famed for its plethora of Caribbean takeaways. If you want to escape the crowds then Refill on Brighton Terrace scores highly for its jerk.
Built in 1911 by EC Homer and Lucas, the Ritzy was one of the UK’s earliest purpose-built cinemas and has become a Brixton institution. Now part of the Cineworld-owned Picturehouse group, it is also a live music venue and is easily the buzziest cinema in south London, with cinema-goers spilling out onto Windrush Square for pre and post-show drinks.
This recently opened creative hub was commissioned by Lambeth Council to provide temporary, cheap space for local start-ups and small businesses in the heart of Brixton, as well as a focal point for community events. Designed by local practice Carl Turner Architects in association with developers The Collective, POP Brixton is made from low cost, low energy shipping containers.
Just as craft beer has entered the nation’s inflation-calculating shopping basket, so the arrival of a microbrewery signals that an area is on the up. Brixton Brewery was started by two local couples in 2013 and has established itself with discerning drinkers across the capital while endearing itself to locals with brews such as Atlantic IPA and Coldharbour Lager.
23-year-old Simon Parkes audaciously purchased the derelict former Astoria theatre and cinema for £1 in 1983, and over 15 years built the Academy’s reputation as an international music venue through a series of seminal gigs and the UK’s first legal raves. He sold it in 1998, but with its powerful sound system, sloping floor and art deco interior, the 5,000-capacity Academy has remained one of the country’s most popular live music venues.
The celebrated British furniture designer and keen cyclist has been based in Brixton since launching his eponymous brand in 2007. From his top floor studio space, Hilton and his small team create wonderfully simple but elegant pieces, such as the Manta chair and the Horizon coffee table, as well as a recently launched watch range.