Flash back to our autumn issue when Jason Gale, founder of the London Lifestyle Awards®, wrote about the amazing ‘bouncebackability’ of Soho’s hospitality businesses… Little did we know the we’d be back in another lockdown (or two) before long. Let’s hope the roadmap is the light at the end the tunnel, finally.
We will never forget March 23rd 2020 — the day the UK shut down. I did not realise how long we would be holding our breath. As I write we face more months of uncertainty, with shorter opening hours and a 10pm restaurant and bar curfew, which it’s hoped will hold at bay a second wave of this horrendous disease.
But the extended period of lockdown has brought some revelations. One of these is the huge contribution that the hospitality industry makes to the financial well-being of the country. What’s more, we have come to realise its importance to our mental health. Not only because our leaders and health experts have been telling us, but because we have felt it for ourselves.
At the London Lifestyle Awards® we have been celebrating amazing hospitality businesses for the last 10 years. I have never been prouder of the industry. We have seen innovation and creativity from businesses trying to get through this period and huge resilience as they ensure they will be ready for the bounce back, whenever it comes. Some of us over the years may have taken Soho for granted but we should never forget it is packed full of world class hospitality businesses.
In response to the crisis, stakeholders in the area – such as Soho Estates and Shaftesbury – launched the Soho Summer Street Festival.
This was a district-wide Al fresco initiative to keep the beating heart of London’s food and drink scene alive. it gave us a glimpse of what could be the Soho of the future.
In an excellent interview on ‘Posh Cockney TV’, John James from Soho Estates told Liam Norval how they worked with hospitality businesses, along with Westminster Council to create an experience that would give not only a much needed lift to residents and visitors, but also offer a lifeline for the businesses.
It was fantastic to see how people pulled together and supported each other across Soho. District wide schemes have kept the whole area ticking over, and of course Eat Out to Help Out was a huge success across the country. But we can’t expect businesses to keep slashing prices and offering crazy deals without government funding.
Drinking and dining on the streets of Soho has been a great success, closing the Al fresco gap with other great cities across Europe. Kerb-side cafes and boulevard bars were one of the few areas where other European cities could claim to be ahead of London. Well, maybe not anymore! Coupled with the celebrated EOTHO scheme, Monday to Wednesday became the new Thursday to Saturday. The fantastic hospitality businesses of the area grabbed hold of the opportunity. The streets suddenly resembled those of Barcelona, Rome or Paris. They created for me some of the most enjoyable London evenings in twenty years.
And what’s more, they were saving not just their businesses and their jobs, but our way of life.
Putting tables and chairs on the streets was not an option for all businesses but it didn’t stop them finding opportunities to make the most of this unique time. One such business is Century Club on Shaftesbury Avenue. The Club has used the lock down period to refurbish the venue from top to bottom. This includes building a second roof terrace, above the existing one, to give guests the most breath-taking views of London. They have also introduced a beautiful piano bar on the second floor and added a collection of new artwork. All this, coupled with new menus from a new Head Chef, will hopefully ensure the Club can bounce back strongly.
We are fortunate to have Cahoots here in Soho – from the Inception group which owns bars such as Mr Foggs, Barts, Maggie’s, and Bunga Bunga. As a 1940’s themed destination venue they have seized this opportunity to double down on the experience they offer their guests. They took early steps to prepare for reopening and keeping customers safe and are enhancing the customer experience with two very exciting additions. Bootlegger Breakout, launching in October, is an immersive blend of puzzle-solving and cocktail-making. It’s the perfect afternoon experience in this unforgettable subterranean venue. I am also so excited about Allo Allo moving from France to Soho to present a unique comedy dining experience. Memorable entertainment, I’m sure.
Our nights out are likely to be less frequent that they were last year. With the rule of six, there won’t be large groups of people banding together for a night out. So we might want our social excursions to deliver more to feed our souls. We have seen a move towards more holistic and multi-sensory experiences over the last decade and Cahoots seems to be doing their best to indulge us.
Soho hospitality business owners are absolute warriors. I have worked with many of them down the years and seen some of them win London Lifestyle Awards®. The people I have met here, in the bars and restaurants from Greek Street to Kingly Street, have fuelled my passion for the area. Soho makes a huge contribution to London, even to the UK as a whole. I have been so impressed by the creativity, partnerships and collaborations here, bringing together businesses, landlords and the council. This is not only to help businesses survive but to build a platform for them to thrive in the future.
Londoners will no longer be travelling to their offices five days a week for the foreseeable future. On paper we may feel that the new normal, however that evolves, may mean fewer people frequenting Soho hospitality businesses. I have a different, more optimistic view however. If the industry can survive these next few months and even though offices will be emptier, a trip to central London may become more of an ‘occasion’, meaning greater efforts to stay and have dinner with friends and colleagues or indeed step outside for a business lunch.
Soho has been reinventing itself since its inception and its business owners are constantly required to think outside the box. I cannot conceive of a more able, creative group of people to be the custodians of this most fascinating, ever-changing and entertaining square mile. It will need all its smarts and more in the months to come. But I’ve no doubt it’s up to the job.
Long Live Soho.
Written by Jason Gale.
For info about The London Lifestyle Awards visit: http://www.britishlifestyleawards.com/london | @lifestyle_awards
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