Crammed streets and alleyways, restaurants with queues out the door and the heaving bars of Soho are enough to give you palpitations as you contemplate a one-metre-distanced future. That’s why one of the central London area’s landlords has pushed for pedestrianisation for the neighbourhood, banning cars and allowing businesses to take over the streets. And the initiative has been given the green light, just in time for the reopening of bars and restaurants in England on Saturday July 4.
The managing director of Soho Estates, John James, put forward the suggestion of a ‘summer festival’ for the area, modelled on the post-lockdown hospitality scene of many European cities. The campaign brings hospitality into the streets, with the fear that many of Soho’s independent businesses would have had to remain closed or would have taken a huge financial hit by attempting to put social-distancing rules into practice within their premises.
The Soho Summer Street Festival kicks off on what is now being known as ‘Super Saturday’, the day when London’s hospitality venues are first allowed to reopen. The move bans cars from entering key streets in the neighbourhood – Bateman Street, Dean Street, Frith Street, Greek Street, Moor Street, Old Compton Street and Poland Street among them (viewable on a map here) – and relaxes licensing measures from Westminster City Council to allow businesses to set their tables and chairs outside to serve food and drink. It’ll come into effect from 5pm each evening until 11pm, and it starts from Saturday July 4.
‘This will allow businesses the space to open and operate within social-distancing measures, as well as keeping staff and customers safe,’ says the Soho Summer Street Festival’s website. Personalities like Stephen Fry, Chrissie Hynde and Yotam Ottolenghi lent their names to the summer festival campaign and around 50 of the area’s independent shops, bars, restaurants and clubs expressed their support, too.
Now the area needs to get to grips with new challenges around managing deliveries and waste collection with closed roads, plus access for emergency services. And it’s yet to share a contingency plan for the Great British Weather. But age-old institutions in the neighbourhood – from Bar Italia to The French House – and more modern bars and restaurants like Swift and Le Bab have confirmed they’ll be reopening to coincide with the new measures, while many hospitality businesses look into gaining a fast-track outdoor licence for the summer so they can join in the socially distanced festivities.
In other Soho news, The French House has been saved until February next year.