A walk down Old Compton Street right now is pretty unsettling. The stretch of Soho is usually so buzzing with life – and at any time of day – you’d be forgiven for thinking the road was pedestrianised. Its iconic LGBTQ+ bars, restaurants and clubs have stood empty for more than two months now, and the impact is starting to be felt. Restaurant group Balans is the first to go. The late-night eatery has two sites on Old Compton Street, plus five other London restaurants. But The Caterer is reporting that its owner has put the whole Balans estate up for auction, with bids closing tomorrow.
Balans first opened as a sandwich shop on Old Compton Street in 1987 and quickly became a part of the area’s LGBTQ+ scene. Its pavement seating provided a great place for people-spotting and its late opening hours slowly crept up to a 24-hour licence, catering for clubbers in the area looking for a late-night bite. Famous people frequented the restaurant over the years, like Kate Moss and Amy Winehouse, who was allegedly carried out of the venue on a couple of occasions.
Its popularity spawned a second restaurant further down the road. That fast became seven London restaurants – with sites in Ealing, Kensington, Victoria, Westfield London and Westfield Stratford – and offshoots in Miami, too, all under the Balans Soho Society umbrella, and serving popular breakfast and bistro dishes, plus cocktails.
All sites are now being marketed by commercial property agents CDG Leisure, with individual sites and their contents and licences up for sale – although the Balans name and intellectual property is not being auctioned off, according to reports.
Speaking to Big Hospitality on the event of Balans’ thirtieth anniversary, co-founder David Taylor spoke of rising rents and rates in Soho, and how they were impacting the pace of change in the neighbourhood. ‘If you walk down Old Compton Street, there are about eight places that have changed hands in the last couple of years, but they don’t last,’ said Taylor.
The sale of Balans could be a sign of more closures to come in the neighbourhood, with lockdown putting pressure on the hospitality industry when it was already struggling. Soho institutions The French House and Maison Bertaux are among those crowdfunding for survival.
Meanwhile, many of London’s LGBTQ+ venues told Time Out they fear they won’t survive lockdown and the subsequent social-distancing measures being discussed for when lockdown lifts.
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