Anarchists demonstrating against gentrification in Whitechapel, east London, in 2016. Photo: Mike Kemp/In Pictures via Getty Images Images
East London anarchists have accused the Hilton hotel chain of copying their radical image and history as a brand of a luxury bar for ‘wobbly city types’ where cocktails cost up to £14 £.
The Freedom Cafe was supposed to be East London’s anarcho-communism themed cocktail bar. When it opened in October, customers could sit in a sleek leather chair and spend £13 on a vodka concoction named ‘The Russian Anarchist‘ after Peter Kropotkin, who escaped to London after was arrested in Tsarist Russia for subversive political activity. Or for just £11 they could order a pristine cocktail called ‘Why Work?’, named after a provocative series of essays dissecting work, its forms under capitalism and the possibilities of an alternative society producing for our needs, rather than mere greed”. .
The cafe was named after the historic Freedom of the press anarchist editor down the street in Whitechapel. The bar menu was even designed to look like a copy of Freedom of the press, the anarchist newspaper published since 1886, with “Anarchist Weekly” written at the top of the page. It offered “anarchy, coffee, drinks and comfort food”.
There was just one problem. Freedom Press – still an anarchist collective publishing books and running a bookshop in Whitechapel – says they were never consulted about it and are furious about it.
In an article published anonymously on the group’s Freedom News websitea member of the group explains how they thought it was an April Fool’s joke from a friend “knowing how much we despise the grey, soul-drinking co-optation of London culture for the consumption of wanking types from the city”.
Calling the cafe the latest example of gentrification in the former working-class neighborhood, they added: “Surely these people weren’t stupid enough to basically rip our name, our pictures, and even the introduction to our page from us.” story by ourselves.” website for a nonsensical, dust-chewing corporate branding exercise? »
But that’s exactly what was happening. Owned by the multinational hotel group Hilton, the café is part of Canopy by Hilton London City, “A dynamic hotel with an East London vibe”.
Hilton was forced to make changes after anarchists complained.
According to a now-deleted blurb on the cafe’s website, he is suing the the story London cafes, which were “a gathering place for writers, radicals, entrepreneurs and artists – fertile ground for concepts that would change the world”.
However, local anarchists are unconvinced that the £11.87bn ($15.48bn) Hilton hotel group is committed to political radicalism. Darya Rustamova, a member of the Freedom Press collective, said: “Rather than changing the world, they are entrenching the exact type of market capitalism that is ruining our city and many others like it.”
When VICE World News went to the cafe on Monday afternoon, the word “freedom” had been covered up. The anarchist newspaper-style menu had been replaced with a generic menu. People in suits were holding business meetings. The cafe was still serving “the Freedom Burger”, which comes with big fries for a hefty £16.50. The lounge music, lavish furnishings, and potted plants didn’t evoke much rage against the machine.
Anarchists have also accused the hotel of co-opting the area’s history in order to make money from it without any benefit to the local community.
Rustamova said: “They are selling the area as a tourist attraction because they want people to pay to stay in their hotel.
“It’s not a celebration of Whitechapel or Brick Lane or Spitalfields, this hotel isn’t for us, it’s for the city, it’s for anyone with deep pockets and a weird fetish for sightseeing walk from the working classes. You can’t just say you’re honoring the beauty of the local neighborhood if, in reality, you’re just exploiting it. Our stories aren’t a damn PR hook.
When VICE World News contacted Canopy London City for comment, it said, “The Canopy by Hilton brand aims to provide guests with unique experiences inspired by the local neighborhood. It was this file that was entrusted to a world-renowned third-party consulting group, which was commissioned to create a cafe and bar concept with references to the locality. In response, the agency came up with the Freedom Café and Bar concept, inspired by local publishing house Freedom Press.
“Canopy London City is extremely disappointed to learn that the consultancy did not approach Freedom Press Publishing House for consent before creating the food and drink concept. Accordingly, Canopy London City has established contact with Freedom Press Publishing House with a view to finding a mutually acceptable solution as soon as possible.
Hilton did not identify the third-party consultant. VICE World News asked if Hilton supports anarchism as a political philosophy, but got no response.