Best-known in decades past for strip joints, sex shops and smoke-filled pubs, Soho has largely reinvented itself as a place where media types and City slickers want to live.
The remodelling began with the arrival of the Groucho private members club, beloved of the media, in 1985 in Dean Street. A decade later came Manhattan Loft Corporation’s ground-breaking Soho Lofts homes in Wardour Street, and the first Soho House private members club, in Greek Street.
Today, the imminent arrival of Crossrail marks the dawn of another new era in Soho. The redevelopment of Tottenham Court Road Tube station to accommodate the Elizabeth line includes a new entrance and ticket office at the junction of Oxford Street and Dean Street.
The station will be one of London’s busiest with more than 200,000 passengers a day, many disembarking for the streets of Soho.
Crossrail has unleashed a development boom in this corner of the neighbourhood. Once the service from Abbey Wood to Paddington is up and running in two years’ time, Derwent London will start building above the station at 1 Oxford Street.
It has permission for a new office block with ground-level shops, and a new 350-seat theatre in place of the old London Astoria.
Down the street in Charing Cross Road, Soho Estates, the property company started by the late porn baron Paul Raymond, has planning permission for Ilona Rose House, a 300,000sq ft redevelopment of the old Foyles bookshop site with new shops, restaurants, high-end offices and improved public realm.
In Walker’s Court, work is under way on a replacement for the Boulevard Theatre, home to the Comedy Store where Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders, Alexei Sayle and Ade Edmondson cut their teeth.
New street food stalls have arrived in Berwick Street and building has begun on 90-104 Berwick Street, a joint venture between the council and developer PMB Holdings, to include improved shop fronts, a new hotel, 16 flats, and new roof terraces for residents of council-owned tower block Kemp House.
Soho covers no more than a square mile south of Fitzrovia, west of Covent Garden, north of Chinatown and east of Mayfair, but history oozes from this central London district’s every pore.
Blue plaques commemorate famous residents in many streets: the painter Canaletto in Beak Street, poet Shelley in Poland Street, furniture designer Thomas Sheraton in Wardour Street, Karl Marx in Dean Street and TV pioneer John Logie Baird in Frith Street.
Estate agent Laurence Glynne, of LDG, says a certain edginess still remains, and attracts buyers to Soho, though he adds: “It has become quite boutique-y in places. There is part of me that regrets the passing of the old Soho.”
There’s just a small residential market in Soho, with a mix of fine early Georgian houses, converted flats above shops, loft-style warehouse conversions and new-build flats.
The most expensive home currently for sale is a £13.95 million five-bedroom duplex flat in The Saint Martins Lofts in Charing Cross Road, the art school conversion that has also provided new premises with a café for Foyles bookshop.
The Sherwood by Thailand-based Polaris, on the corner of Sherwood Street and Brewer Street, is a former YMCA base being converted into 48 flats including seven penthouses.
By architects Allford Hall Monaghan Morris and due to be ready by late summer next year, prices range from £1.3 million for a one-bedroom flat to £6 million for a three-bedroom duplex penthouse. Visit thesherwoodlondon.com. Call JLL on 020 7087 5111 or CBRE on 020 7420 3050.
Soho Thirteen in Ingestre Place, by Barratt, has 13 flats with private terraces and underground parking. Four remain, from £3.75 million. (sohothirteen.com; 020 3858 2642).
Soho is the centre of the country’s film production and post-production industries, so many renters are top professionals working in the movie industry. The district is also popular with young professionals and sharers working in the City, who like to live close to the busy nightlife.
There is a low turnover of homes in Soho — people hang on to their homes.
Soho is in the coveted W1 central postcode.
Meard Street has a fine terrace of Georgian houses.
Up and coming
Local agent Laurence Glynne suggests looking near the new Dean Street exit from Tottenham Court Road station. “That corner of Soho has always been cheaper but the coming of Crossrail will change that.”
Well-conected now, Soho’s transport links will be even better when Crossrail is complete. There’s a Tube station at each of Soho’s four corners: Oxford Street (Bakerloo, Central and Victoria lines); Tottenham Court Road (Central and Northern lines); Leicester Square (Northern and Piccadilly lines) and Piccadilly Circus (Bakerloo and Piccadilly lines).
Westminster council is Conservative controlled. Band D council tax for 2016/2017 is £668.81.
The final stage of Crossrail in December 2019 will bring Elizabeth line trains from Tottenham Court Road to Heathrow Terminal 4 in 36 minutes. All stations are in Zone 1 and an annual travelcard costs £1,296.
Shops and restaurants
Carnaby Street is decorated this Christmas with bright red banners that bear the words Love, Joy, Rebel, Hope, Kiss and Wish, in a collaboration with the V&A — inspired by the museum’s exhibition, You Say You Want A Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-70, that celebrates the swinging Sixties.
The largely pedestrian streets around Carnaby Street include Newburgh Street, Foubert’s Place, Ganton Street, Kingly Court and the more recently upgraded Kingly Street, and they offer respite from the Christmas crowds in Regent Street.
In Carnaby Street green plaques celebrate the life of John Stephen (1934-2004) cited as the founder of Carnaby Street as world centre of men’s fashion in the Sixties; impresario Don Arden, and mod band Small Faces, who worked there in the mid-Sixties. Liam Gallagher of Britpop band Oasis opened a flagship store in the street for his menswear brand Pretty Green in 2010.
Menswear is strongly represented in Soho with UK brand Wolsey and US outdoor brand Woolrich in Brewer Street, Oliver Spencer in Berwick Street, cult Swedish denim brand Nudie Jeans in D’Arblay Street and YMC in Poland Street.
Two long-standing Italian family-run delicatessens survive: Lina Stores in Brewer Street and i Camisa in Old Compton Street, where you will also find Algerian Coffee Stores.
New restaurants open almost every day in Soho, although only three are Michelin-star — tapas restaurant Barrafina in Frith Street; Jason Atherton’s Social Eating House in Poland Street; and Yauatcha — a dim sum tea house with a stunning array of patisserie in the window in Broadwick Street.
Other favourites are Polpo — an approximation of a Venetian bacaro in Beak Street, now a small chain; Brasserie Zédel, the sister restaurant to The Wolseley; Spanish restaurant Copita in D’Arblay Street, and Italian Bocca di Lupo in Archer Street where it is fun to eat at the bar.
And because London is a world city there is Peruvian restaurant Ceviche; and Hoppers, specialising in Sri-Lankan pancakes, or hoppers, both in Frith Street; plus Bao serving soft, steamed Taiwanese buns in Lexington Street, also home to Soho’s most romantic restaurant the dark, candlelit Andrew Edmunds.
Randall and Aubin in Brewer Street is good for fish, while Bob Bob Ricard in Upper James Street serves English and Russian comfort food and more champagne than any other restaurant in the UK.
Soho is a close-grained urban neighbourhood with little green space. However, there are two lovely little squares where workers take their sandwiches and takeaways on sunny days, even in the middle of winter: Soho Square and Golden Square.
Leisure and the arts
Ronnie Scott’s, Britain’s leading jazz club, has been going strong in Frith Street since 1959. Soho Theatre in Dean Street puts on theatre, comedy and cabaret.
The Box Soho is a cabaret nightclub in the former Raymond Revuebar in Walker’s Court. Favoured by some of the young royals, it describes itself as a “theatre of varieties” and has a risqué reputation.
“Small school, big heart” is how Soho Parish primary school describes itself. It is the only school in Soho and parents there recently raised funds for an imaginative vertical playground above the new entrance in Great Windmill Street. The school is judged “outstanding” by the Oftsed government education watchdog.
The closest state secondary schools are: Westminster City (boys, ages 11 to 18 with girls in the sixth form) in Palace Street; St Marylebone CofE (girls 11 to 18) in Marylebone High Street and The Grey Coat Hospital (girls, ages 11 to 18 with boys in the sixth form) in Greycoat Place; the first is judged to be “good”; the last two “outstanding”.
The nearest private schools are: Queen’s College (girls, ages four to 18) in Harley Street; Portland Place (co-ed, ages eight to 18) in Portland Place; Wetherby Senior (boys, 11 to 18), which opened in Marylebone Lane in September last year as an offshoot of the famous preparatory school; Southbank International School (co-ed, ages 11 to 18) also in Portland Place, and Westminster School (boys, ages 12 to 18 with girls in the sixth form) in Little Dean’s Yard in the Westminster Abbey precincts.