THE RUSSET café is to close. On Sunday 5 June 2016 this semi-secret venue on the northwest edge of Hackney Downs will serve its last skinny latte, to the distress of dog and baby walkers, joggers and the occasional flaneur.
The pleasant and often well-patronised restaurant was more than just a place for a snack: it was a bar, a space for music, theatre, cabaret and film and workshops.
The opening of the Russet was a casebook example of what is pejoratively termed gentrification: a stylish venu replacing a printworks to sell fashionable food and drinks to the affluent or at least aspirant young middle class.
Locals from the adjacent housing estates were not interested. Yet it is hard to deny that the venue helped to enliven an under-utilised corner of Hackney, bringing cheeriness and colour to a site where once there had been noise, greyness and decay.
Now the Russet is itself a victim of gentrification: rent rises stemming partly from the area’s recent popularity have led directors Tendai Davies, Rachel Ring and James Storey to lock up for the last time.
Expect some development likely to give a better yield than a hip restaurant. Expect more collapses of coffee shops and small restaurants in northeast London.
The seed of a good idea had been planted in 2011. But as any gardener knows, even a fruitful tree can succumb to an adverse climate.
David Altheer 110516
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