Picture the scene. An innocent email drops into a very manic and cluttered inbox. It’s only a few words long, just asking for our address as there’s a surprise winging its way over. An email is fired back, and promptly forgotten about in among essays and practice assessment documents and endless press releases and PR requests and and and. A few days later, a black envelope drops through the door.
A few days later, a black envelope drops through the door.
And in it, an invitation that made me genuinely squeal and jump up and down on the spot for a good minute.
We had become Rooftop Film Club’s Rooftop Royalty!
Now, there are loads of open air cinemas all over the capital. Loads of impromptu projectors popping up in parks and the like. But these guys claim the title for the most variety, most locations, and most Instagrammable set up ever. Think vintage popcorn holders, comfy love seats, and warm blankets to snuggle under when the sun drops below the horizon as classic movies play out, all for £15. For six years they’ve been setting up summertime screenings of classic films, and we think they’ve nailed it.
David and I have been meaning to visit for an absolute age, and now we had our excuse! I hate the cinema as a whole. I hate it. I hate the sticky floors, the claustrophobic feel, the screaming kids… eurgh. So we picked zombie-lover’s classic 28 Days Later at Roof East, Stratford. For us Essex types, Stratford is an ideal location. It’s not slap-bang in Zone 1, so cheaper travel, it’s literally a stone’s throw from the station, and means we won’t get caught up with night bus terror should we want to stay a bit later. So. What did we think?
Roof East is actually an ingenious use of a car park sat above the Stratford shopping centre (not swanky Westfield, the original one with the Burger King). Urban space is at a premium at the now-desirable Olympic Village, and considering most people have no need for parking, the rooftop’s been transformed into a mix of crazy golf, baseball, bowling, and features a few clapped out cars filled with plants and shrubs for that authentic car park feel.
We were a little bit apprehensive as we tapped our cards on the barriers at Stratford station, but it’s so well signposted even the most troubled tourist would be able to find it. Up to the top floor we went in the now-packed lift… and we were trapped. We literally could not exit the lift. A huge crowd of after-work commuters were standing at the entrance, most of whom had no reservations and had to wait for the crowds to empty before they could join in the fun.
Showing the door team our royalty reservation and ID (every venue is 18+), we squeezed passed some rather irate lads in chinos and shirts, breathing a sigh of relief were free of the claustrophobic stairwell.
Despite the rather chaotic entrance, we simply couldn’t believe how incredible the space was. With bars and street food vendors all around, the atmosphere was full of, well, happy people. Happy people enjoying the sunshine after work. Meeting friends and playing crazy golf and just having fun. It was a world away from the stress and delays of commuter hell.
In fact, it was a world away from London.
It felt like an incredible escape from the grit and grime of urban city life.
The cinema experience
After getting our bearings, we aimed for the makeshift greenhouse by Grow Up Urban Farms at the far end of the venue. After introducing ourselves and getting hugs from some of the sweetest staff members, we were given the full tour and some absolutely incredible Greygoose cocktails were whipped up for us.
The introduction had taken longer than planned thanks to my chit chatting with the team, so we rushed back to the little hut by the screen and collected two fleece blankets and our headphones. We were told that when the founder originally started the club up back in 2011, the neighbours prevented him from using traditional amps and speakers. And that’s understandable, right? Who wants to listen to films FOR FREE every day? Anyway, to get around this little hitch, he ended up sourcing a hundred headphones. And people LOVED it. In fact, people still wear them even with the amps and speakers playing. Perhaps it makes the experience a bit more personal? And also, you can’t hear other people munching on popcorn.
Grabbing some delicious food from Jimmy’s Pop Up (and some traditional cinema Maltesers), we picked some seats and settled into the deck chairs to immerse ourselves in zombie heaven. Or is it hell?
If there’s one thing I recommend, it’s watching a film about a devastated, abandoned London on the top of a car park in London, while Londoners scurry to pubs and bars and rush to catch missed trains and sit and wait to meet friends, and eat and drink and just live and breathe.
Surreal doesn’t even explain how I felt. Even better when the sky turned from pastel blue to peachy pink, and then the comforting inky blackness as the stars came out to shine. David and I snuggled under our blankets enjoying every moment.
The overall Rooftop Film Club experience
We had an amazing experience and would reall recommend it to anyone looking to make the most of summer. If I’d realised how fun the entire rooftop is at Roof East we’d have arrived earlier and spent some time sipping even more cocktails in the sun. Leaving it half an hour until the show starts is just doing ourselves out of a fun evening, really, especially with the crowds the venue seems to pull in. It’s a great space to meet up with David after he’s finished work and I’m done with studying.
One thing to bear in mind is the loo situation. After the film finished the bars were already closed and most people who weren’t there to see the film had left. As I didn’t realise they closed at around 11pm (with last orders being around 15 minutes before) I didn’t expect massive crowds queueing for miles outside the jungle-themed portacabins. But for the fact I was busting to go as soon as the film finished, I would have been turfed out and would have had to find a bush. The security team are really keen in locked the doors bang on time, so one to be aware of if – like me – you have a small bladder.
But aside from that, we had a fabulous time. So much so we’ve booked to see Back to the Future at the Queen of Hoxton, and T2: Trainspotting back at Roof East (where we fully intend on making the most of the crazy golf…)
‘But I’m not anywhere near Stratford!’
Fear not, there are a few other locations:
Bussey Building, Peckham (nearest station: Peckham Rye)
Queen of Hoxton, Shoreditch (nearest station: Liverpool Street, or Shoreditch High Street)
The Roof Gardens, Kensington (nearest station: High Street Kensington)
Also NYC if you’re heading over there for summer.
What happens if it rains?
Typical British summer, amirite? In that case, you’ll be given a poncho and a blanket to keep dry! I have spotted some screenings being cancelled, so be sure to keep an eye on on social media if the day’s shaping up to be a drizzly one.
Can I reserve a seat?
Nope, so make sure you arrive in good time if you want to sit next to your group. Although there were loads of blankets sometimes they can run short too. So the key is to arrive early.
Any more questions? Visit their website to take a look at screenings happening until they close for summer in September.