A legendary abandoned pub, that Brixtonians had long fought to turn into a community centre, is opening its doors again today as the newest branch of Mexican chain restaurant Wahaca.
As nostalgic members of the community feel somewhat disillusioned, the team behind the popular eatery vow they’re not just another high street brand proliferating Brixton’s gentrified centre.
The beloved Railway Hotel, aka Brady’s Bar, has been landmark since it first opened as a hotel in 1880 and was a popular spot of the Brixton music and drinking scene, reputedly frequented by Jimmy Hendrix and The Clash.
The Victorian building was closed down in 1999 and despite long and persistent efforts to convert it for use as a community centre, the council sold it to property developers.
Mark Selby, Wahaca co-founder, admits taking on Brady’s was a tough decision to make.
“We’re aware that we are a multi-site restaurant group coming into Brixton,” he said.
“It’s a wonderful place in terms of its community and we’ve been very conscious about not wanting to upset or disrupt that.”
Wahaca was founded in 2007 by Mark Selby and Masterchef winner Thomasina Miers and is now serving its spicy dishes at more than 10 locations in London, Kent and Cardiff.
But the successful duo wants to offer Brixton more than just hot burritos and creamy quesadillas.
“Apart from our architects and managers living in Brixton we are also really proud of all the great plans we have for working with the local community,” Mr Selby said.
“We want to work with community groups, particularly in the morning, and give them a space where they can come together.
“We’re happy to say don’t worry, you can use our space and we’ll put on tea and coffee.”
A collaboration with SLAP, Spanish and Latin American Poets and Writers London, is already underway and poetry nights will be hosted in the premises.
Mr Selby added: “Amongst others, we hope to have a great long term relationship with community groups like the guys behind Brixton Come Together, supporting them in many ways.”
The Mexican restaurant gives a portion of the revenue from their Street Food Specials to worthwhile causes, focusing o Mexican children’s charity EDNICA.
In Brixton, however, there will be a slight change of plans.
“We recognise, given the amazing community that exists, that we want to channel all the money we raise in this site to giving directly back to local charities that our Brixton team nominate every 6-12 months,” Mr Selby explained.
To add to its willingness to support the community, the Wahaca team has teamed-up with the Brixton Brewery and the two are now launching a special new ale, Lupulo, to be served onsite.
Considerable efforts have also been made to preserve the building’s history and run a responsible and sustainable business.
“We’ve tried to create the ambiance of the Swiss Garden that used to exist there in the 1880s and we’ve put up the original shop sign to the Railway Hotel.
“We’re trying to adapt our business to the site and the community,” Mr Selby said
The Mexican eatery co-founder stressed the old hotel will be one of the most sustainable and energy efficient buildings in the UK.
“We haven’t done it cheaply – we have tried to make it a point of pride for us and for the community,” he said.
The old walls of the first floor are now covered in eye-catching, jaunty-coloured graffiti that makes passer-bys stop to look.
Mr Selby said: “In every Wahaca since we opened we commission a world-renowned street artist to take over the space and leave their mark.
“For Brixton we have found Roid, a really talented south London street artist.”
Although at first the community seemed firmly divided between street food enthusiasts and those dewy-eyed about the past, more and more people seem to be warming up to the idea.
A restaurant owner from Brixton Village said: “The old building has been derelict for years and years and I’m glad they’ve done something to it.
“They’ve made it look beautiful.”
Residents have been taking to Brixton blogs to share their opinions on the new development.
Jane wrote: “I met the father of my child in Brady’s 17 years ago so I’m more than a little romantic about the place.
“It’s been horrible to watch it fall into such a bad state over the years so I am delighted that somebody is finally doing something with such a fantastic building.”
On the same forum Paul wrote: “Fantastic news. It’s a great thing that Brady’s is finally being done up and the food is good too!”
But Brixton pensioner Hermin Sadowski said: “We have so many restaurants I can’t see it doing much good here.”
Robin Gill, 35, who lives in Brixton said: “The building looks really well but it would be nicer to see something more independent or a traditional pub.”
Whether Wahaca will integrate in Brixton’s diverse culture is a bet yet to be won and as the new brand is hours away from opening its doors, it remains to be seen if the Brixton community will be passing through them.