Mohammad (Reza) Ahmadi didn’t go down without a fight. The middle-aged Londoner is stocky enough to occasionally assume bouncer duties outside his small cocktail lounge in Ealing, which is where he was positioned last Monday night, standing guard against a mob who were trying to light a trash can on fire and roll it into his place of business.

He showed the rioters his empty pockets and tried for a while to block the door, but against a pack of angry youths he went down fast, taking several blows to the face. They trashed his bar, smashing the windows and grabbing bottles of liquor before taking the mayhem farther up the street. It all happened in a few minutes.

The next morning, sporting stitches on his forehead and a handful of cuts on his face, Reza was quietly sweeping up glass outside his bar, stopping every once in awhile to receive a hug or a handshake from a fellow proprietor or local resident. The entire neighborhood was a mess of shattered glass, burned-out cars and police tape. A chair was somehow wedged into the window of a nearby pizza place. A passing radio reporter asked what happened to him. Reza shrugged.

“The same as what happened all across London,” he said.

Watching the trouble spread across the paralyzed city that night, I called friends who were close to the action. In Clapham to the south, James had a surreal view from his third-floor window, of children jumping for joy as they tore into Debenhams clothing store. A teenager approached a couple for a light, Molotov cocktail in hand. The couple couldn’t help and he thanked them before wandering off on his search. A few hours later James looked up from the TV to see his room filled with an orange glow — the café downstairs had been set on fire. He grabbed his jacket and staggered out into the night.

Out east, Chris, a conscientious graphic designer, was trapped for hours in his office just off Mare street in Hackney, amid some of the worst of the violence. Finally he made a run for it, hoodie pulled down low and the office cat under his arm.

Some had braved the streets to bear witness, but Sam, a photographer living in London Fields, stayed inside as the riots flared yards from his door. If he went out, he had two unpalatable choices: try to stop the looters, or else join in. Simply standing there rubbernecking was no choice at all — you’re kind of complicit, he reasoned.

“Plus I was scared,” Sam said. So like most of London, he sat glued to 24-hour news, watching his city burn.

A few days after the city’s bout of “violent consumerism” (as one senior policeman characterized things), it is hard to match London with the lawless vision on the news that night. A few shops were still boarded up but most still open for business. This weekend Brick Lane market was thronged with people as usual, music blaring from several sound systems.

There are noticeably more police on the beat — most, it seems, without a packed schedule. One chatted on his iPhone, another pair sat in Starbucks. I saw three separate policemen eating sandwiches on Sunday (you have to eat, I suppose).

Meanwhile, fighting Reza’s Ealing bar is back up and running, with brand-new panes of glass in the front window. Others weren’t so lucky; just a block away from where Reza tried to defend his business, 68-year-old Richard Mannington Bowes, who also tried to intervene, was beaten in the street and later died from his injuries.

One thing endures, which is that just a week ago, thousands of young Londoners demonstrated little enough hope in their own futures to steal from and set fire to their own neighborhoods, without, in most cases, bothering to hide their faces.

A former reporter for the Vineyard Gazette, Sam Bungey is a freelance writer living in London this summer.