When I first came to Kentish Town from my home in Cricklewood to use the swimming baths in the mid 1970s, it was a shithole. A famous shithole. I was scared to get off the bus here, scared to walk down the pavement, scared to go into the water. But then I was only six. I thought maybe there were sharks in it.
When I moved to Kentish Town in 1994, it was still a shithole. But around that time the Vine closed its loyalist bomb-making room in the saloon bar and went gastro. Kentish Town was still a shithole, but you could eat here.
When I sold my flat and bought a house three doors down in 2003 with a view to starting a family, the Junction had thrown out the drug dealers and poshed up a bit, Harry was selling decent chickens on the high street, we were only seven years away from the Bull and Last reopening as the best pub restaurant in Britain, and there hadn’t been a stabbing death since Jahmai in the Tally Ho car park at the end of the previous century. But Kentish Town was still a shithole.
When my old friend Nick Jones, owner of the Soho House Group, said to me at the beginning of last year, “Giles, I’ve got a new chicken concept that I want to launch alongside a Dirty Burger and a PizzaEast, with a possible option on a Soho House club on the top deck, and people have suggested Kentish Town,” I said “Brilliant idea. Ace. Top spot. Can’t lose.”
And when he said, “But isn’t Kentish Town a bit of a shithole?” I said, “Kentish Town? A shit hole? Are you MAD? Kentish Town is not, never has been and never, ever will be a shit hole. Kentish Town is hot. Kentish Town is the future. You have my word.”
And so he opened Chicken Shop/Dirty Burger/PizzaEast at the bottom of my road, in sight of my front door, all because of me, all because I told him Kentish Town was not a shithole. And the chickens flew out, the place was rammed, life round here was changed forever – especially for the parents of small children – and it became one of the most successful things Soho House Group had ever done.
I had lied to Jones about Kentish Town not being a shithole though. I lied because it made me angry to hear my successful West London friend talking about KT in those terms. It always makes me angry when outsiders disrespect NW5, and I will always, always fight them on it.
Kentish Town may be a shithole, but it is MY shithole.