Much as I adore everything about Utobeer at Borough Market, and shop there on a weekly basis whenever I’m home, it’s always nice to have more than one of something, which is why I was very pleased some months ago to receive an e-mail from Chris Gill telling me he’d just opened a speciality beer stall, Quaffs, at Spitalfields Market. Stonch got down there straight away last July and liked what he saw, but what with one thing and another, a three month boat trip here or there, it’s taken me about nine months to find a Sunday when I could get the bus down and have a look.
Chris is a very affable bloke and was doing great business while I was there. Quaffs also do mail order within the M25, can host beer tasting events and cater for private functions.
There’s just one problem. They’ve just been given four weeks’ notice to vacate the site.
There was a huge outcry a few years ago when large sections of Spitalfields, a shabby but hugely popular and utterly unique market, were ripped apart and replaced by glass, concrete and upmarket, aspirational chain brands. I’d much rather eat and drink in a Giraffe or a Leon than in a Pret a Manger or a Pizza Express, but I’d also rather see these brands on the high street where they belong rather than displacing individual traders in what used to be a quintessentially London landmark.
One of the compensations of the market being done up was the opening of the food marke in 2006. It was originally intended that this should consist of butchers and bakers, but instead it’s gone more boutique (hardly surprising in the context of how the rest of the market has been gentrified), with people selling artisanal bread, beer, cured meats and the obligatory three thousand different types of olive, as well as 150 speciality beers. While this luxury market-style set-up is almost becoming a brand in its own right, if you love food and drink you can’t walk around a place like this without a big grin on your face.
Unless, that is, you’re the manager of a chain cafe.
The big boys have protested, and insist the market is damaging their custom. Given that there was a queue of approximately fifty people waiting for a space at Leon when I passed, I can’t really believe this is true. But these big shiny chains pay very high rents for the privilege of being there, and so when they complain, small, artisanal businesses are shown the door.
As things stand, you’ve got four weeks to enjoy the delights of Quaffs. Get down there, buy their beers, and sign the petition that the market stall holders have got up against this latest example of the homogenisation of every corner of our lives.