Itinerary for London’s Soho: sex, music, shopping and culture (II)

Here we pick up where we left off on our itinerary through London’s Soho. A quick reminder of the proposed itinerary:

Turn right onto Peter Street and head up Wardour Street, one of the mythical streets of Soho. Why? For the venue I commented on before: The Marquee Club, formerly frequented by The Rolling Stones, The Animals, Jimi Hendrix, David Bowie, Genesis, Led Zeppelin and many others. All this during the 60s and 70s. Later, in the 80s, it was also the birthplace of New Wave, British Punk and Synth Pop, with artists like The Pretenders, The Sex Pistols, The Cure, Clash and a long etcetera.

The club originally opened in 1958 in another location, at 165 Oxford Street. Then in 1964 it moved to number 90 Wardour Street, an address par excellence and the birthplace of the great legends of British music. But the story doesn’t end here. In 1988 they moved to 105-107 Charing Cross, until their closure in 1995. Following this there were other attempts to open in different premises, including Leicester Square. Anyhow, since 2007 this club has been operating from number 14 Upper Martin’s Lane in Soho, on the way towards Covent Garden.

In addition to The Marquee Club, Wardour Street today is home to many film and television producers. It may not look like it, but this is home to the crème de la crème of British audio-visual entertainment. Hard to believe.

Now go north and turn left onto Broadwick Street, formerly called Broad Street. The poet William Blake was born at number 28. Well, poet among other things. He was also a painter and produced etchings, among other talents. Obviously, he was a connoisseur of Soho and often wrote about the daily life of the neighbourhood. One of his best-known quotes is “Imagination is not a state: it is human existence itself”. And the truth is that William Blake never stopped creating. By the way, the Tate held an exhibition on Blake just a few years ago. It was as revealing as it was fantastic, in the best sense of the word. He was a great artist whose work appeared to embrace all facets of the human existence.

Now head back to Wardour Street and back to St Anne’s Court, one of those alleys where the bustle of the Soho streets suddenly becomes the ideal place for a quiet stroll. St Anne’s Court, in particular, is the epitome of charm.

As soon as you get to Dean Street, turn right and walk towards the Soho Theatre. Did you know that just over twenty years ago this was a synagogue? Today, however, it is a meeting place for comedians searching for a springboard to stardom.

A little further down at number 26-29 Dean Street is the Quo Vadis, a restaurant whose history goes back more than 80 years. And most interestingly, one of the building’s residents was none other than Karl Marx himself. However, this was a most unlucky time for him, as three of his five children died during his period of exile in London (1849-1883). One of them during the 1854 cholera epidemic that I mentioned earlier.

A bit further on, turn the corner and admire Meard Street and its 18th century buildings. Once again, the very essence of charm. Here there is an Indian restaurant, film laboratories and the most exclusive residential area of Soho. Well worth a snap, right?

Retrace your steps towards the Dean Street to the left, then turn right onto Bateman Street where you will find one of the best preserved Victorian pubs. Its name, The Dog & Duck. As their advertising states, “famous for serving John Constable, George Orwell and Madonna“. Don’t tell me you’re not going in for a pint? The pub opened in 1754, though the building you see is from 1897. That said, the interior is delightful. Really.


Whether or not you have a drink, follow the street and turn right onto Fifth Street until you get to number 47. This is the famous Ronnie Scott’s, one of the oldest jazz clubs in the world, opened in 1959. Discreetly black in colour, if you have the opportunity to come here at night, you’ll love it. Obviously the cream of the jazz world have passed through here, Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone, Chet Baker, Van Morrison and Jamie Cullum, among countless others.

Now check out the building opposite Ronnie Scott’s. I’m referring to the dark-brick, four-storey building. Well, this was one of the residences of Mozart. You’re kidding? Well that’s what the blue plaque says. Yes, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart lived here from 1764 to 1765. Soho never ceases to amaze.

More surprises? Let’s see, there’s the restaurant next door, Bar Italia, which not only serves delicious food, but the top floor of the building was the residence of Scotsman John Logie Baird. Who? The inventor of television, no less.

We proceed to Old Compton Street, the gay street par excellence. At number 59 you will find the site the famous 2i’s Coffee Bar that I mentioned at the beginning of the post. Yes indeed, this basement has even hosted performances by Cliff Richard himself. A legendary venue indeed.

Now retrace your steps to number 54, where you will find the famous Admiral Duncan pub, which opened its doors in 1839 but unfortunately became famous as being the site of a tragedy in 1999. Depending on your age, you may remember it. A bomb blast that killed 3 people and wounded 70 others. All perpetrated by a man who was protesting against immigration and homosexuality. Horrible. You can see the news here.

Now head back to Dean Street to turn south to number 49, where you will find The French House. Formerly known as The York Minster and popularly dubbed The French Pub or The French House, this place is a true icon that has played host to many a celebrity, in particular artists and writers. These have included the likes of Dylan Thomas, Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud and John Mortimer, among many others. A recommendation: How about a glass of champagne? Another one: Lunch or dinner at their restaurant, Polpetto, known for its Venetian specialties.


Now take Romily Street and head for Greek Street, where at number 29 you’ll find another mythical Soho pub: The Coach & Horses. The most important thing about this place is its link with Jeffrey Bernard, a known British columnist who published mainly in The Spectator and whose life was one long string of excesses, especially with alcohol, and who has always been associated with the bohemian lifestyles of Soho. This pub is also frequented by writers of Private Eye, a satirical current affairs magazine that is very popular in England. Londoners still remember the day in 2006 when Jeffrey Bernard handed over the keys of the pub to its new owner, who has maintained the unique identity of the pub as a meeting place for intellectuals and writers. Even so, the pub was later sold to a chain, which has also promised to maintain its character. Will they manage it?

Turn onto Moor Street then take Greek Street to the north, making a quick stop at Ed’s Easy Dinner for a take-away milkshake. Or, if you have time, why not eat in, with a delicious hot dog. I know, it’s so American, but it’s fun and I’ve always been treated well whenever I’ve gone there.

Now go back to Greek Street and walk along it all the way to Soho Square Garden, the prettiest square in Soho. Along the way, you’ll pass by several interesting restaurants the likes of L’Escargot or the small, intimate Gay Hussar. By the way, at number 9 is the Jazz After Dark, where Amy Winehouse often performed.

Once you have reached the Soho Square Garden, take a moment to relax! Just sit down on one of its benches and watch life go by. This square dates from the late 17th and was originally called the King’s Square. In fact, it used to house a statue of Charles II, which was relocated following a reform in the 19th century. In its place there is a wooden structure that for more than 150 years served as a shelter for homeless women. Unfortunately this is no longer the case.

The square is a great place to kick back, especially if you are looking for shade in the summer. I repeat, it’s a great place to sit and watch life pass you by. You will see people from all over the world, and not just tourists. If there’s a more cosmopolitan place in London, I don’t know about it.

And here ends our Soho itinerary. In a later post I’ll tell you about another event that took place here in the last century. An interesting gangster story.

All that remains is to remind you to download the free pdf map of London with over 100 points of interest clearly marked and which correspond to the PLAYandTOUR audio guide to London. Bye for now!

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