Walking up London’s Brick Lane towards the Vibe Bar, you can’t help wondering if the “trendification” of the East End has gone a little far. Old Street is grim enough, but Brick Lane? Even the press release admits the location is “infamous”.
But this is the point. The Vibe Bar, London’s first record shop, bar and Internet cafÃ© rolled into one, is the public face of an expanding creative complex intended to breathe life into a run-down area.
In the three months since it unofficially opened for private events, the Vibe Bar has hosted the launch of Ralph Lauren’s new Polo jeans range and the latest album from Bjrk. It has also staged a London Fashion Week event and an anniversary celebration for photography agency Magnum.
Based at the former Truman Brewery site, the centre houses artists, fashion designers, recording studios, PR agencies and a range of other artistic entrepreneurs.
“The area needed something like this to give it a lift and the Vibe Bar is its focal point. It’s open to everybody really – the people working here, business people, Internet users, clubbers, whoever – although I suppose we’re not really talking about someone in their 60s having a funk out to Goldie,” says Dharmendra Mehta, or Dee, who masterminded the design of the bar.
Dee is clearly casting his net pretty wide. But he thrives on diversity – as the contrast between the bar and its immediate surroundings demonstrates.
Inside the venue he has created a “controlled frenzy” through a series of contradictions, most prominently through his mixing of old and new. Materials and artefacts from the old brewery are juxtaposed with graffiti, computer terminals and a giant video screen.
An old rusty wheel taken from the original brewery and screwed into the ground by the bar should prove a real winner. While this may not generate much excitement when sober, a few pints later and things could be quite different. In fact, an enormous queue of revellers, desperate to spin that wheel, can be virtually guaranteed by closing time.
Dee’s trademark contradictions continue through the eclectic mix of colours with which he dresses the venue: orange for life, blue to calm things down, silver to cool things down and red to heat them up again.
These are woven into old and new materials: wood for solidity and a traditional feel, velvet for warmth and a touch of class, and steel for coolness, austerity and that little bit of edge demanded by a trendy young crowd.
But the last word, as always, must lie with that maker or breaker of a venue, the toilets – which come up smelling of roses. In fact, the fun starts before you even enter, as the rather passÃ© men/women labels traditionally used to channel the sexes have been dispensed with. Instead, a tasteful illustration of a naked man and woman have been worked into the design of a large mural which covers both doors and the wall space beyond.
“It’s a kind of voyage of discovery,” says Dee, who also worked on the Science Museum with Ben Kelly. Once inside you find yourself, Lion, Witch and Wardrobe-style, in an enchanting space. A room decorated with graffiti to reflect, among other things, the basic nature of the job in hand.
The Vibe Bar, at The Brewery, 91-95 Brick Lane, London E1, officially opens today.