The rise of Hoxton: From derelict buildings to ‘world class bars’

PUBLISHED: 13:35 31 March 2016 | UPDATED: 14:26 31 March 2016

Bar owner Paul Daly has been in Hoxton Square since 1988 and has seen it go from a dump to a booming nightime economy

Bar owner Paul Daly has been in Hoxton Square since 1988 and has seen it go from a dump to a booming nightime economy


Paul Daly moved to the forgotten Hoxton Square in 1988 as a squatter. He’s now a successful bar owner and the area he helped to create is booming. Sam Gelder met him for a chat.

Paul with the Eagle sculpture he bought at a knockdown price from an auction Paul with the Eagle sculpture he bought at a knockdown price from an auction

“We didn’t know what we were creating. There was a magic in it, everyone was young, with no fear.”

In 1988, designer Paul Daly arrived in Hoxton Square as a squatter with his artist friend Gary Hume. He still lives there, but he now owns and runs two self-designed bars and is about to start renting out Airbnb-style apartments.

His success is probably down to his undeniable passion for what he does. As he takes me around Zigfrid von Underbelly – the neon-lit, Hunter S. Thompson-influenced roadhouse bar he opened in 2003, he excitedly points out his favourite designs. There are tables, stools, the glass keg holder and a giant sculpture of two eagles he bought at an auction.

“It was going for £5,000 but I knew no one would have the space for it,” he explains. “I waited ‘til the next day and phoned – got it for about £500.”

Paul in Zigfrid von Underbelly Paul in Zigfrid von Underbelly

He’s definitely in the right job, and more importantly in the right place – even if he didn’t plan it.

“I never knew this was my destiny,” he says. “I was just here doing metalwork. It was all empty commercial buildings. This was an old church that was bombed.”

After growing up in Dublin, Paul moved to England from the East Village in New York to study fine art at Goldsmith’s when his best friend was killed in Ireland.

“I was more scared here than I was in Manhattan,” he confesses. “There were no street lights and a lot of crime.”

For five years the artists had one pub, The Stag’s Head, which is still standing.

Paul read up on squatters rights and took out a lease where he was living, which the council granted in exchange for his welding skills.

“I started doing gates, fences and tables,” he says. “I was here with Gary Hume and Sarah Lucas and a few others. There was no one else here.”

That all started to change in 1993 when Glasshouse studios came and started renting out spaces to artists.

“There’s a building in the square that Aviva have just bought for £15million,” says Paul.

“I remember when it was bought for £50,000 in 1989.” The influx culminated in a now legendary event organised by the late art dealer Joshua Compston.

“A Fete Worse Than Death”, held in 1993, sounds like a madcap village fair.

“That was a surreal day,” recalls Paul. “You had all the artists out in the square – there was no licensing involved in those days, we just did it. Damien Hirst was there doing spiral paintings dressed as a clown.

“That was the beginning of the ‘east side’. Charles Saatchi once told Gary ‘I will never go to Hoxton Square’ – but he was here all the f*****g time! It’s amazing to think about it now. It’s like ‘holy s***, we were doing something influential!”

With the underground scene in full throttle, Paul designed furniture for celeb hotspot Blue Note – now Bill’s – and was a regular at the Sunday parties – “you had Goldie DJing, Liam Gallagher and even David Bowie,” he said.

He describes what follows as a “spiral of development”, but has no cynicism towards it at all.

“I think it’s brilliant,” he says. “The money came in but even though there are some big businesses, it’s mostly independent stuff and there’s a very cool vibe. We have world class bars and they are done in their own way.

“When it first started, people thought we would go away, but we’re not.”

Paul learned about licensing while designing bars across the country for “big boys” like Mitchells and Butlers, and opened Zigfrid, followed by Roadtrip and the Workshop in Old Street in 2008.

He owns other venues, but his next venture is a microbrewery in Hackney Wick, an area he describes as the next Hoxton.

“It needs something like this, a central hub where everyone can go,” he says. “This is the best borough in the country with a massive youth culture. I’ve seen it go from being a dump to such a cool, unbelievable borough. I can’t believe my luck.

“I just want to do something that means something and I want to do it in Hackney.”


Welcome , please leave your message below.

Optional - JPG files only
Optional - MP3 files only
Optional - 3GP, AVI, MOV, MPG or WMV files

Please log in to leave a comment and share your views with other Hackney Gazette visitors.

We enable people to post comments with the aim of encouraging open debate.

Only people who register and sign up to our terms and conditions can post comments. These terms and conditions explain our house rules and legal guidelines.

Comments are not edited by Hackney Gazette staff prior to publication but may be automatically filtered.

If you have a complaint about a comment please contact us by clicking on the Report This Comment button next to the comment.

Not a member yet?

Register to create your own unique Hackney Gazette account for free.

Signing up is free, quick and easy and offers you the chance to add comments, personalise the site with local information picked just for you, and more.

Sign up now

Latest Hackney Stories

Yesterday, 16:04

Arsenal and England midfielder Jack Wilshere has revealed Arsene Wenger told him he could leave the club last summer.

Yesterday, 15:51

Reports from Germany indicate Arsenal are ready to pay Bayer Leverkusen goalkeeper Bernd Leno’s buyout clause.

Yesterday, 15:49

Teachers were celebrated for their contributions to pupils’ academic and personal achievements during an awards night.

Arsenal legend Liam Brady has aimed stinging criticism at Manchester United pair Jose Mourinho and Alexis Sanchez.

Yesterday, 14:00

With tickets only £5 for this weekend’s game, it is worth finding out more about the story of ex-Woking midfielder Damon Lathrope

Yesterday, 13:52

Rogue landlords who leave tenants living in appalling conditions will have to bring their homes up to scratch or pay tenants back up to a year’s rent under new measures passed by Hackney Council.

Yesterday, 13:00

Clapton boss Jonny Fowell wants his side to show him they are winners as they face Takeley in the Gordon Brasted Memorial Trophy semi-final.

Yesterday, 13:00

Hackney songwriter, producer and talent developer Darren Martyn has spent two thirds of his life in music. Now he is publishing a book to share his expertise and experience


To celebrate LGBT history month, Hackney resident Amanda talks about her journey to becoming a foster carer, with the council’s support and training.

Education and Training


Read the
Education and Training
e-edition today

Read Now

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Most read news

Show Job Lists