A couple of Sundays ago, I was on Bacon Street looking for the Vintage Emporium. Outside Des and Lorraine, a genuine East London junk shop, I asked a couple of men the way and was redirected next door. “Ask for Olli,” they said. “You’ll see he is really nice!”. It took me just a few seconds to realise I had stepped into the close-knit heart of East London’s Brick Lane community.
Pushing through the door of this intimate coffee shop, I instantly felt at home. The vintage furniture was harmoniously displayed and the smell of fresh lilies heightened a sense of delicacy as I was welcomed by numerous smiley faces.
On a small stage in the centre of the room was Jess Collins, who co-owns the place with her partner Olli Stanion. She was singing and playing fiddle with another musician, Alastair Caplin. Encircled in thick curtains evoking a baldachin, the look and location of the stage was a give away. “This place is a kingdom for musicians,” I thought to myself.
Over a month ago the Vintage Emporium was renamed No 14 Bacon Street as Jess and Olli just managed to obtain a two-year lease extension from their new owner, the Truman Brewery.
Fiddle player Caplin is already part of the furniture, programming sessions of acoustic folk, jazz, swing and old time bluegrass music.
He explained: “The biggest change of the rebranding is the glass of wine appearing behind the bar so anyone can come with a bottle, pay the £3 corkage fee and listen to music.”
All afternoon, musicians kept on entering a venue that was already packed. “They are all buskers from Columbia Road market and come here to play for fun and to enjoy the tea and cakes provided by Jess and Olli,” I was told later. “Between 15 to 20 musicians can turn up in one afternoon; this is the closest thing to community I have ever felt in London,” insisted Caplin.
Before I knew it daylight had long gone and people started dancing in the remaining free corners of the room, their faces illuminated by candlelights evoking paintings from the chiaroscuro period. Whilst I was taking pictures, I started daydreaming about how Caravaggio or Rembrandt would have depicted the scene, as a musician started playing harp, accompanying me as if by magic in my travels back in time.