Opposite them are the reigning champions: the hipsters—dressed down in skinny jeans and marginally thicker beards.
A stand-off has erupted over the “Manhattanization” of the city. A growing herd of hipsters has succeeded in transforming the East End of London into a European outpost of New York’s East Village, filled with esoteric organic produce and million-dollar loft apartments.
Not everyone is happy about it.
On the frontline of the battle for the soul of East London is the Cereal Killer Café, a novelty restaurant that serves breakfast cereal, sourced from around the world, for as much as $7.50 per bowl.
That kind of quirky upselling proved too provocative for a band of anarchist street protesters who were spoiling for a fight this weekend.
During a rowdy amble through East London, called the Fuck Parade, protesters with flares and smoke bombs attacked the café.
No one was hurt but paint was daubed on the windows and cornflakes were strewn all over the street as staff and customers cowered inside. There were no reports of spilled milk.
“It’s senseless violence, isn’t it?” said Gary Keery, one of the twins who opened the café last December. “We’ve had some letters through the letterbox saying ‘die hipsters’ and stuff but nothing to this extreme. It just doesn’t make sense.”
“It was just us that was targeted—it wasn’t as if they were walking past and just happened to stumble upon us. They were deliberately coming here, throwing cereal and shouting ‘gentrification’, ‘anarchy’.”
The anarchists, who are members of the Class War party, promise that the Irish breakfast entrepreneurs will not be their only victims.
Another protest will be held in East London on Sunday. The next target is a newly opened museum catering to foreign tourists that tells the macabre story of Jack the Ripper; in some eyes that equates to the glorification and commodification of the darkest chapter in East End history—from Cereal Killers to London’s most notorious serial killer.
“With what we’re having to put up with around here, social cleansing, social apartheid, colonization by the international rich, this museum has been the final straw,” said Martin, one of the more outspoken and eloquent anarchists, on his YouTube channel.
He said the Class War party had only just begun to disrupt life in London. “Fuck Parade is a protest by local and London people against the monstrous gentrification and Manhattanization of our great city,” he said. “Our street space, pubs and caffs are going the way of the tropical rainforest, and we’re being driven out of London by a tsunami of wealth and money.”
Martin said the protesters had no desire and no need to justify themselves to the middle classes or the government who had done nothing to prevent the working classes from being forced out of London, while foreign investors and wealthy executives forced property prices to ever more unattainable levels.
“We really need to heap ridicule upon our ruling class,” he said. “Just think—each time David Cameron gives a speech, pontificates and meets world leaders—of that image of him placing his Willy Wonka in a dead pig’s head. It’s enough to make you wanna go vegan. Who knows how much ruling class DNA is sloshing around in the food chain?”
Prominent among the protesters on Saturday night were pig masks, bought to commemorate allegations that Prime Minister David Cameron once inserted his penis into the mouth of a dead pig.
Other anarchists covered their faces with black scarves or balaclavas as they marched through East London accompanied by their own thudding drum and bass soundtrack. Purple and green smoke billowed among poi dancers and fire-breathers.
It wasn’t just the Cereal Killer owners who were alarmed by the protest.
Jasiminne Yip, who works in the Regimental Vintage shop where you can buy a second-hand Vivienne Westwood beanie for $70, said the crowd had been both threatening and wrong-headed.
“You’re protesting against ‘hipster scum’ how…? By hosting a ‘street party’ with poi dancers, fire eaters, elaborate costumes, rock concerts? Sorry to break this to you, but you sound like middle-class people b*tching about other middle-class people being middle-class,” she wrote on her blog, Posh Broke Bored.
The Cereal Killer Café has caused similar confusion since it opened, with bloggers, hipsters, and hungry Londoners unsure whether to mock or welcome the unusual venture.
When it opened last year, the London media portrayed the café as the apotheosis of hipster consumer self-indulgence. Channel 4 News’ cameras rolled while a reporter berated staff for selling breakfast at a profit while poorer families in the neighborhood struggled to feed their children.
“If you want someone to solve the poverty crises in London, I don’t think I’m the man to do that as I am too busy trying to cure Ebola and get Kim Kardashian to keep her clothes on,” replied Gary Keery, in an open letter at the time.
This week, the same London media is in uproar that this independent business has been singled out by protesters as the height of gentrified excess.
Gary’s brother Alan, who has the same flowing facial hair, said it was “absurd” that the protesters had attacked a small business when outlets of multi-national corporations could be found all around them.
They have already opened a second branch in Camden, North London, but essentially the Keery brothers are still the little guy.
“It’s bullying at its best,” Alan said.