This Hackney Wick bar-cum-events space really does live up to its name.
Situated in the former sports hall of the old Hackney Baths now run by the Cre8 Lifestyle Centre, The Dark Horse has a unique location in one of the most creative areas of east London. Enter through the ‘men’s’ door and you'll come upon an interesting-looking space, which clearly resembles its former life as a sports hall. There's a bar at one end with weird and wonderful knick-knacks and trinkets – everything from old tills, blow-up rubber rings and even an old sink being used to house drinks bottles – a DJ booth on the side of the hall and a large pile of speakers in one corner. Seating takes the form of bar stools and random chairs and sofas, while a projector screens old films on one of the walls behind the DJ booth. The toilets are a further reminder of what the place used to be – cubicles resemble those you'd find in a public swimming pool. The entire venue is used as a gallery space, so expect to see various art pieces filling the wall space.
The vibe varies depending on the night that’s on and events are mixed up, too. Expect to hear everything from reggae to DnB, with listings changing regularly. Until the place really gets going (and it's open until 3am), it does have a strange, almost school disco-like atmosphere, with people standing around the edge of the sports hall-shaped space. Saying that, once the night gets going, it really gets going. The soundsystem is impressive, too, so in that sense it’s nothing like a school disco. Staff are friendly and community-focused, keen to encourage people to run nights in the space or to offer a free shot or two to chatty people. The clientele varies hugely from night to night, with people attracted to the space for a particular event rather than the bar itself.
Cre8 offers pizzas priced at a reasonable £7-£9. Expect everything from classic margherita and pepperoni pizzas to more interesting toppings like salmon and asparagus (smoked salmon, tomato, asparagus, mozzarella, shaved Parmesan and basil) and ackee and salt fish (traditional salt cod, ackee, tomato, mozzarella, green pepper, scotch bonnet pepper, onion and shaved Parmesan). Particular events also mean the kitchen offers up different cuisines from time to time.
The cocktail-focused selection is pretty good. The winter cocktail list includes Rye Manhattan made with whisky, vermouth and bitters (£7.50), as well as favourites such as Mojitos (£7.50), Cosmopolitans (£7.50) and Long Island Iced Teas (£8). Beers lean on the continental side and include some inspired options such as London Meantime Pale Ale (£4), Paulaner (£4), Cre8 lager (£4), Boon Kriek (cherry beer) (£4), Thatchers Cider (£4) and Bruge Zot (£4), with the selection changing regularly. If you're after wine, there’s a Pinor Noir red and a Savingnon Blanc white on offer. Expect to pay £3.50 for a small glass and £6 for a large.
The Last Word
Community-run, beer-focused and very unique in terms of space, this place is a great addition to the every-growing Hackney Wick creative scene.