It’s a rite of passage for every new generation of Londoner to wait for 15-20 years before they start moaning about how great everything used to be, and now, having been here for almost precisely 17 years, it’s my turn. I was once a regular at all of the below places, where I’d pick up hearty lunches or flagons of ale for tuppence before jumping on a horse-drawn omnibus back to my £10-a-week townhouse right next to Buckingham Palace. Or something like that. Anyway, here are three brilliantly cheap Soho venues I dearly miss.
Café Emm, Frith Street Café
Emm was quite simply the greatest restaurant of all time, if you happened to be a restaurant novice in your early twenties with barely any money. The portions were bloody enormous, the food was entirely edible, and for a while it was the perfect date restaurant if you wanted to impress a chick by showing her a massive fishcake. Then a few years ago, for no good reason, they shut it down. Now it’s probably a tattoo studio or a bar where they put balsamic vinegar in cocktails.
Gossips, Dean Street
If you want to spend the night in a good basement club in the middle of Soho these days, you’ll first have go through a full prison-grade cavity search and fork out a grand for a table. Not so in the early 2000s, when you could stumble into Gossips on Dean Street to do some drunken interpretive dance to The Who and barely break a twenty. Older readers might even remember the days when legendary DJs like David Rodigan or Tim Westwood used to play records there. Now it’s probably full of food trucks or it might even be a micro-winery.
The Stockpot, Old Compton Street
Sometimes you just need a cheap plate of bangers and mash followed by an indecipherable fruit crumble drowning in custard. That was The Stockpot’s stock in trade; churning out school dinners to grown ups that wouldn’t cast too much of a shadow on your wallet. Kind of like a poor man’s Ivy or a rich man’s Little Chef. You could hear the anguished cries when it was closed down, but then someone pointed out that it was going to be a Patty & Bun, and everyone kind of went ‘oh, okay then’. Now it’s actually a Patty & Bun.
And rumoured to be on the way out…
Bradley’s Spanish Bar, Hanway Street
Locally famous for being one of the few venues that still has an excellent jukebox, there are people in Bradley’s Spanish Bar who look like they popped in for a drink in 1982, then couldn’t figure out how to leave. One time when I visited a guy strode in wearing waders like it was really no big deal. If the chatter-monkeys are to be believed, the bulldozers are already revving the engines for this one. It’s probably being turned into luxury flats or studio space for emerging synthesiser acts.
So thank god for…
Blue Posts, Berwick Street
Still by far the best place to go if you enjoy standing outside a pub on a busy pavement trying not to spill a pint on your desert boots.
Phoenix Artist Club, Charing Cross Road
At one point this was one of central London’s best-kept secrets: a downstairs pub full of actors that never seemed to close. Now it does close.
Bar Bruno, Wardour Street
Not as cheap as it used to be, but the sandwiches are still gigantic and the trend-shunning indie ethos is just as evident as it’s always been.