Trading up: Grand Union’s new retail and leisure concept

Trade Union Wapping bar

The team behind Grand Union bars have unveiled new ‘retail and leisure’ concept Trade Union. Mark Ludmon reports

Trade Union, a new destination in Wapping in London, has arrived heavy with great expectations. “We are pioneering a completely new retail/leisure experience,” said Adam Marshall, founder and CEO of bar group Grand Union when it was announced. Described as an “innovative, experiential blended concept”, it is more than just a bar, bringing together food and drink under the same roof as a barber shop, a coffee shop and a florist, making it a “new kind of lifestyle venue”.

It is located in Thomas More Square, an office development dotted with a handful of shops and bars, close to St Katharine Docks on the edge of the City. The interiors were created with hospitality specialist Kai Design, eschewing the eclectic, vintage-style interiors of the company’s popular Grand Union bars for a more stripped-back, industrial-style look. Concrete finishes, neon lights and machine-like metalwork contrast with floral motifs and comfortable upholstered seating in burnt orange, deep purple and gun-metal grey.

The design was inspired by the still-striking futuristic images in Fritz Lang’s 1927 classic expressionist movie Metropolis. “In the main bar, the brass pipes that run in the front counter give the impression that we stripped away part of the carcass to reveal what is inside – like the engine of a machine or the gears of a clock,” points out Kai Design interior designer Maria Oliva. “Part of those inner tubes also appear on the rear wall of the bar counter, featuring tube lights at the extremities that provide a shiny and sleek look. In fact, we wanted to reflect the metallic underground city of the film Metropolis where the machines, robots and technology play a major role in the daily life of the people.”


The large 6,700 sq ft ground-floor space has been split into different areas, with the drinking and dining area next to the main bar counter and a large open kitchen. With table service, this features high and low tables and booths, with exposed concrete and metalwork above. The furniture also spills out into some exterior space on the square. Tucked away behind the kitchen is The Great Harlot Club, a late-night space with its own bar and a photobooth.

On the other side of the venue are steps leading up to the VIP area, the Penthouse, especially suited to private hire – with an “adults-only” slide leading back down. The VIP area features Art Deco elements, a concrete finish wall, dark timber for the counter bar and dark grape leather for the booth seating.

Beside this are the elements that take Trade Union in a new direction: the barber shop and coffee shop, open plan to link them into the overall space. These arise out of partnerships with Vagabond, a coffee roaster with three other cafés around London, and Drakes of London, an upmarket barber’s founded in 2004 in Fulham in west London. Men can enjoy a haircut or a hot-towel shave, while sipping an Old Fashioned or Pina Colada from the bar, until 7pm every day.

The third partnership is with Maua London, a socially and environmentally conscious enterprise that sources seasonal flowers, particularly roses, from Kenya which are available to buy all day – with examples of its blooms and arrangements available throughout the venue.

Trade Union bar

Under the name of Bushwick Pizza Co, the open kitchen specialises in Brooklyn-style oven-fresh sourdough pizzas, developed by Italian chef Lazarin Kroni who previously worked in New York City. Toppings include prosciutto, spicy luganiga sausage, roast fennel, courgettes and cheeses such as mozzarella and gorgonzola. Other dishes on the menu include veal and pork meatballs with Brooklyn Brewery IPA drench, ricotta and fennel sourdough and Cornish crab cobb salad with fried pork skin, avocado and burnt lemon, alongside sharing plates such as nachos, wings, fish tacos and cod goujons.

With Grand Union bars well-known for their cocktails, the menu at Trade Union has a similarly strong selection of classics old and modern, from a Negroni and Mai Tai through to a Cosmopolitan, Pornstar Martini and June Bug, priced around £9. A page of prosecco cocktails ranges from an Aperol Spritz and Bellini through to a Desert Island Fizz – sparkling wine with Malibu and mango puree. As well as a list of gin cocktails such as a Bramble, Raspberry Collins and Ginpirinha, the menu features a selection of G&Ts using different gins, tonics and garnishes. As Trade Union is also a late-night destination, open until 1.30am, there are plenty of Bomb serves and shooters to choose from with liqueurs such as Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Fire, Cointreau, Jägermeister, Amarula, Tia Maria and Fireball.

Open from 8am Mondays to Saturdays, Trade Union is also somewhere for local people to work in the daytime, promoted as a space for “hot desking” with wi-fi and charging ports. A hub for working, coffee, dining and dancing, Trade Union transforms throughout the day into the night to become a “one-stop lifestyle destination”.

Trade Union, 1 Thomas More Square, London E1W 1YN
Tel: 020 7488 9356

Trade Union bar

Behind the scenes
Interior design: Kai Design
Fixed seating: Hill Cross Furniture
Seating leather: Crest Leather, Futura Leathers
Loose stools, chairs: Contract Furniture Group

Originally published in the September 2016 print edition of Bar magazine.

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