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Style on the Fly

3 minute read
Marion Hume

Blink, and you’ll miss the coolest places to go in London. The latest obsession among trendsetting Brits is the guerrilla destination, or the pop-up: a temporary restaurant or gallery that gathers buzz, then disappears.

The Reindeer, which was open for just 23 days and nights in the run-up to Christmas, was booked solid before it even existed. More than 11,000 lunch and dinner slots in a candlelit winter wonderland, complete with snow-dusted pine trees, were filled by Nov. 1, thanks to an October spot on YouTube, a viral e-mail campaign and word of mouth. It helped that the Reindeer’s creators, Pablo Flack and David Waddington, who also helm an East End venue called Bistroteque, are particularly plugged in. A former fashion student turned restaurateur, Waddington studied at Central St. Martins alongside Giles Deacon (he designed the Reindeer’s plates) and stylist Katie Grand (she designed the Christmas crackers—complete with Stephen Jones hats). The duo also drafted chef Tom Collins, known for high-quality, traditional food.

As for passing trade, there was none. Two leaping-reindeer cutouts, stuck to the wall of a grimy East End car park, were the only clues. “I like to make it tough to find a restaurant. If you can’t find it, you shouldn’t be coming,” says Flack, who reveals that the pair’s investment was about $1.7 million. As to why anyone might want to build a kitchen and bring in a gas supply to an old brewery for less than a month, Flack says his core crowd expects it. “Young Londoners are used to everything around them changing quickly. They’ve grown up with the rave scene, and their mentality is to try new things.” Waddington says, “It’s all about the moment. Things become ‘so yesterday,’ ‘so over’ really fast. The great thing about a pop-up is it doesn’t have time to go out of fashion.” The pair are investigating building restaurants in shipping containers that can be attached to events, including London’s Frieze art fair.

The pop-up phenomenon, which started among retailers like Comme des Garçons and Target, has migrated to the art scene. Works by Banksy, a graffiti artist, are now so acclaimed that residents of London neighborhoods want to keep them as local attractions. Banksy was among those artists contributing to a one-month-only gallery on Oxford Street in December that proved so popular, security had to be hired to control the line waiting to go in.

But the fact that people love pop-ups means things intended to be ephemeral might return. Although every last scrap of the Reindeer—from the private dining log cabins to the cups and saucers—was sold off, Waddington and Flack are already being asked about next year and are talking about a ’50s-theme Christmas pop-up, this time in Los Angeles.

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