In an innocuous grey-fronted building at the Old-Street end of Curtain Road, Zoey Henderson and her team of two, serve flat whites to Silicon Roundabout’s tech elite, yummy mummies who’ve just come from yoga, and students from the London College of Fashion, whose campus is next door.
In the three years since it opened, Slate coffee’s clientele has reflected the eccentric essence of east London. Around one side of the building (though you wouldn’t know it from the main road) is a watercolour-style mural by street artist Dan Kitchener, taking up the entire wall. “The landlord doesn’t like it, he paints over it every few months,” Zoey tells me, once the morning rush has settled. “It’s turned into a game of cat and mouse, where every time he covers it up, I commission new artists to do something fun. He’ll never win.”
Inside, three walls are covered in murals. The vibrant colours set Slate apart from other coffee shops in the area, which all seem to conform to the “east London uniform” of bare wood and minimalist furnishings, accessorised with surly baristas who do not make eye contact when they serve their long blacks. Slate is super friendly, treading the perfect line between laid back and chaotic.
“I started looking for properties about five years ago when there was a load more derelict buildings. The street I’m on was a lot quieter.” We’re sitting on one of the old school benches by the window, watching the throng of Londoners on Curtain Road head to their offices of classrooms. “We’ve seen lots of redevelopment happening in the last three years, it feels like the city is creeping in…every day it feels like a warehouse is knocked down and another glass tower is going in its place. Shoreditch is definitely a different place to what it was a few years ago.”
Has she found it hard to maintain the balance between friendly neighbourhood cafe and fuel-house for highly strung city types? “There are still enough locals and people who spend every day here in their offices to build a sense of community,” she says. “People who spend a lot of time here are very aware of what’s happening – gentrification, progress, development – whatever you want to call it. And I think it actually becomes more important to have this kind of neighbourhood base.”
A lot of the “proper East Enders” have been priced out of Shoreditch, she adds: “There are still large estates and lots of council housing around towards Hoxton, but they aren’t a part of the area in the same way anymore. The type of people who live around here and come into Slate love that there is still a sense of community – but how long that will be able to continue and Slate will be able to be a part of that, I don’t know.”
It has not gone down well with the hyper-loyal regulars that, thanks to long-standing plans for regeneration, Slate will be shutting up shop at the end of March. Kat, a web developer, affectionately nicknamed by the Slate team as “The Master”, tells me he already walks past three other coffee shops to get his morning espresso from Slate.
But Zoey is hopeful she will secure new premises nearby. “I knew when I took on the lease there was a clause for redevelopment. Our building has been served with a demolition notice, so within the next 18 months it will be redeveloped – probably into flats and retail, which it is already, but bigger and snazzier.”
It is true that Slate and the flats above it, with their ramshackle wooden fronting, seem increasingly out of place in the area. And yet, for those that come here every day, the fact that it has resisted the 21st century transformation of the Old Street area and kept its character is exactly the thing that they love.
Slate is open Monday to Sunday, 8am – 7pm on weekdays and 10am – 6pm on weekends. Slate will close on March 18.