Conversations: Graeme Hawkins of the London Shuffle Club

20th August 2018

While he frankly states that he didn’t really come up with a new idea, Graeme Hawkins used his unique insight and experience to transform a Eureka moment into one of London’s coolest activity bars. The idea for the London Shuffle Club came about during a trip to New York in 2016, when one of his wife’s friends recommended that they try Shuffleboard in the city. Inspired by the thought of people putting away their phones in favour of embracing their competitive natures, and getting stuck in with shuffleboard - Graeme took the idea and rolled with it. Not one to hesitate, Graeme was already moving the London Shuffle Club into the Old Truman Brewery in the winter of that same year. Less than two years later, and they have now found their permanent home along the colourful graffiti strewn walls of Ebor Street in Shoreditch.

In conversation with Graeme, we talk about how Shoreditch has changed in the last twenty years, his love for the special authenticity of Peckham, and how he hopes that Peckham will still have its backbone in 20 years. And while Graeme says his less ordinary places in London are boring - we definitely disagree. Because what’s great about Graeme is that he loves London with a passion, but has no time for any kind of big city bullshit. We can only hope that Graeme also keeps his backbone throughout the next 20 years too!
Tell us a little bit about yourself what you do/your idea/your business does?
I can’t honestly say that I came up with a particularly new idea, not many people necessarily do. I saw an ever-developing industry kick off in England (not just London) and didn’t necessarily want a piece of it, instead what actually happened is that I got introduced to something that I reckoned London would go for and that I could make a living out of. I had been producing events for years and knew that I couldn’t be a 40 year old event manager (shit, I hope that doesn’t haunt me). My life with events gave me a unique perspective on building a venue and experience, that cut out a major obstacle in producing and managing a space as a pop-up — money. I luckily got the investment and thankfully had the right contacts to make the build of the space happen on decent terms and at fair costs.

What was the spark or Eureka moment for you? Tell us where the idea for your project/business came from?
My Eureka moment was when my wife Nina forwarded an email from a couple of ‘cool’ girls in their Soho ad agency. She had asked what we should do in New York when we went in 2016; and they told us to go play shuffleboard. I opened the link and there it was — a stupidly big area that is 80% unused, except for discs flying along. Per square footage it made absolutely no sense, but the way it was produced tapped into my basic, analogue world. This really appealed to me having done work for Microsoft, Xbox, and Disney games for most of my career. The thought that people would put their phones away and have to talk tactics and argue about shots was lovely.

What’s your journey been like? How did you get to this specific point with London Shuffle Club?
We spent the winter of 2016 in the second floor of the Truman Brewery. We thought we were the first ones there, but Nike beat us to it. It was 20,000 square feet, there was really big learning and we made some money. In 2017, we spent summer in The Yard, which was in an old Victorian Warehouse behind Liverpool Street, and then we moved back to Truman Brewery for the winter. It was so simple, as the space already had all the kit — and this made us profitable. Today, we’ve moved to our permanent location on Ebor Street. We already had a presence in the area with the Little Shuffle Club, which is now the London Shuffle Bar. Our fit out took six weeks and we’re still developing it. We invested heavily in a couple of hero pieces, like the Airstream bar outside. Still, we did our best to maintain a reflection of the old print works that occupied the space. It was empty for three years, which seems crazy to me!

Who, what or where is grabbing your attention in London right now? Who are the ‘less ordinary’ people, ideas, places, and experiences in town that you think deserve a shout?
It’s easy to pick, especially if its right on your doorstep. Peckham is my local train station and that train takes me to Shoreditch High Street. I’ve been going to Shoreditch for nearly 20 years. My friend was a tenant in the Tea Building and had an entire floor for pennies. It was weird, no doors, locks, nor lights. We just wandered about.

I see similarities with Peckham and where that’s going; and I hope that in 20 years it’ll still have its backbone. The High Street in Peckham is unlike anything I’ve ever seen; I love it and so does my young daughter. It’s completely unique and honest and we go there whenever we can. But also, the food that’s coming out of there is pretty special. The fact that bars like Bar Story and the Montpelier have been there for the 15 years really matters.

"The thought that people would put their phones away and have to talk tactics and argue about shots was lovely." - Greame on The London Shuffle Club

What trusted ‘less ordinary’ place in London do you find yourself going back to time and time again?
I’m boring, it’s always a local pub or cinema for me. I think I’ve gone to Shoreditch more than ever, especially since I did the London Shuffle. No faff, just mates, wife, family, and a pub in the afternoon. Probably the craziest thing we’ve done recently was checking out the roof top cinema at the Bussey Building - and it was pissing down.

What are your ‘less ordinary’ hidden gems in London (places to sleep, eat, drink, hang) Why do you think it’s special?
Definitely Shane’s on Canalside in Hackney. It’s a great spot, and the owner’s a lovely kiwi.

Which ‘less ordinary’ B&Bs, hotels or apartments have you discovered and fell in love with in other cities you travel to?
Two of my favourite cities are Florence and New York. In New York, stay at The Ludlow for the location, the normal people, and the amazing breakfast. Go to anything at St Ann’s Warehouse Theatre in Brooklyn and just walk about Brooklyn and the Lower east side. It’s obvious, but I feel comfy there, especially when I want a nice break that really matters.

Florence is my dream city. It’s small enough to walk through the entire city and every day blew me away. It’s hard not to sound wanky, but every street feels like it has a history. It made me look up more when I came back to London just to appreciate the architecture that we have. Before airbnb, we stayed in a tiny Mr and Mrs Smith Townhouse and they gave you a pair of slippers and a Nespresso machine (very 2011). We figured the owners were sick of being asked what to do, where to eat and that, but it turned out that every restaurant was the best food we could imagine. Also, the restaurants weren’t rammed with shit queues because of lonely planet books from 1998. I have no idea what places they were — and maybe that’s a good thing.


Interview by Hannah Tan-Gillies

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