A Guide to Soho
For 100s of years, Soho has been London’s go-to district for the thrill seekers, party goers, lushes and libertines. Amongst the bustling streets and alleys, you’ll find remnants of Soho’s red-light history in its handful of sex shops, strip clubs and sex-positive bars juxtaposed against sophisticated cocktail establishments, boutique shops and eateries.
Soho is the epicenter of the LBGT community and is drenched in a rich musical past. For each brick in every building there’s a tale to tell about the area’s colourful past including stories from the Stones to Hendrix to the Krays. It’s a great place to people watch, whether it be from a seat outside My Place Soho or standing on the pavement with a coffee or even cocktail in hand.
Where to shop
There are myriad options for a shopping spree around Soho, with unique independents and a generous handful of larger brands. Some of London’s most interesting boutiques can be found along Berwick Street, which is also home to one of London’s oldest markets.
Top Record Store Picks
Vinyl lover? With soho’s rich musical past, you are spoilt for choice with four incredible record stores in close proximity. Flip through a colossal selection of LPs, 45’s and CD’s ranging from rock to pop, jazz to soul, electronica to punk, and much more. On Berwick Street you will find longstanding stores Sister Ray and Reckless records which was featured on the front cover of the Oasis album – (What’s the Story) Morning Glory. Just a few streets nearby are Phonica Records, and if world music is your bag, Sounds of the Universe boasts the largest selection of Reggae, Dubstep, House, Disco, Funk and Soul, Brazilian, Latin, African and world beats in the UK.
Founded in 2009 at designer David Keyte’s kitchen table, Universal Works provides contemporary menswear underpinned by a strong understanding of the heritage of the clothes. With influences from 70s working-class midlands, 80s sportswear and music, and over 30 years of fashion experience, David’s collections include workwear, military touches, a good selection of colours and exclusive collaborations.
“Disruptor” may be an overused term these days but it’s a term that seems to suit Cubbits quite well. The exquisite eyewear producers are on a mission to bring a 300 year old industry up to date, focusing more on sustainable, well-designed and perfectly fitting spectacles over pretentious sales techniques and excessive wastage.
From classic styles to fun, contemporary and colourful frames, Cubitts stock a plethora of eye-catching (pardon the pun) sunglasses, spectacles and accessories. With a principle of “timelessness” Cubitts prefer the term Redux to Sustainability, promising a complimentary frame rehab after one year of ownership, and repairs and readjustments for life. Donations and recycling are encouraged, with unsold stock being donated to eye-health charities in Kenya and Ethiopia. Head on downstairs to see the store’s deep red basement, where you will find a collection of limited-edition sunglasses and an eye-examination room.
Born in 2002, world-renowned Footpatrol is 20 years old, and its flagship store can still be found in Soho. Known for queues around the block, Footpatrol specialise in top-end, limited edition and exclusive sneakers from a small collection of brands. Be the envy of your friends and get your hands on a pair of trainers that no one else has got.
Sunspel have been producing garments since 1860, they specialise in luxury, timeless everyday classics for men and women as well as a rotating selection of exciting collaborations and carefully curated guest brands.
Having created some of the world’s first t-shirts, they are now the only brand that makes t-shirts in their very own factory in the UK, and it’s the same factory they have occupied since 1937. But don’t be fooled by the history, Suspel still maintains a contemporary edge to their designs.
Not the first place in our guide to start from a kitchen. Alongside best friend and business partner Sam, Stylist Alex Brownsell has grown Bleach London from dying their mate’s hair over the sink to the world’s first salon focussed on colour over cutting. They are known for their colourful hair creations, walk in and out and be the talk of the town!
Now with a strong product range of D-I-Y kits, you can be sure to give your hair the wow factor at home too. Bleach London uses vegan products, proving you don’t need nasty chemicals to create works of art.
Berwick Street Market
Dating back to 1778, Berwick Street Market is one of London’s oldest markets. Today it’s a real favourite among the locals and visitors, a mix of street-food traders selling an array of cuisines alongside traditional fruit, veg and flower sellers.
Where to Eat & Drink
It would take a lifetime to eat & drink your way around Soho’s ample coffee shops, swanky bars and restaurants serving up cuisine from all corners of the globe. From brunches to lunches, fine-dining out to going out-out. Here are some of our faves.
For anyone familiar with the Swedish concept of Fika – making time to connect with friends and colleagues over coffee and a bite to eat – Söderberg is the place for you. The Berwick Street cafe serves brunch classics and an array of authentically Swedish cakes, buns, waffles and open sandwiches to enjoy with your friends over a coffee. For those who prefer to connect over a tipple or two, later crowds can enjoy cocktails with a Scandi twist (try the Fika Martini) accompanied by platters, Smörrebröd, and savoury waffles.
Marvel at the blue-tiled, marble-topped bar and chef’s counter that surrounds a wood and charcoal fired oven at Zahter, a sought-after restaurant specialising in the rich and mixed ethnic heritages of Istanbul cuisine. Expect rich and vibrant flavours from seasonal ingredients such as artichokes, quality olive oils and seafood. Look out for the Kofte Kibbeh and the Kofte & Piyaz and don’t even think about leaving without trying the Baklava, pistachio (sweet, flaky and buttery, it’s dreamy!). Add a touch of Turkish warm hospitality and you are in for a treat.
Set in an abandoned train station, The scoundrels of speakeasy Cahoots transport you back to the 1940s with a raucous mix of cocktails, “rationed” snacks and live entertainment. With a choice of the underground, Ticket Hall or Control Room, Cahoots is a place to get your swing on. Stay late enough and enjoy the live music!
The Vault Beneath Milroy’s
Quietly slip past the whiskey sipping crowd at Milroy’s and give the bookcase a push. You’ll swiftly be transported into a moody, candle-lit underground speakeasy with brick walls, and a variety of expertly crafted, smokey cocktails. Whiskey is the focus at the vault but that’s not to say there isn’t the odd mezcal delight and more.
La Bodega Negra
Sex shop or bar? you’d be forgiven for thinking either. Technically a Mexican restaurant, La Bodega Negra’s neon “peep show” signs may attract the occasional accidental perv, who would be unsuspecting all the way down until they reached the mild-mannered restaurant. Beyond the delicious food, the drinks menu includes some of the smokiest and spicy mezcal and tequila-based cocktails, with 40 tequilas and 15 mezcals to choose from. Try one with a jalapeno kick to get you going.
Opened in 1949 as a social hub for Soho’s large Italian community, Bar Italia is responsible for kicking off London’s cafe culture. Open from 7am until 5am the next day it’s the perfect place for an early morning or late night coffee hit. While you’re there, check out the original floor laid by Uncle Torini. It has lasted the test of time and, alongside the original Gaggia coffee machine, it is an important symbol of the cafe’s heritage.
Jazz & Blues
Soho’s has a rich musical history and no self-respecting roundup would be right without these two honorable mentions. Jazz came to the UK via Soho, with clubs such as Ronnie Scott’s and Ain’t Nothin’ But… paving the way and they are still as banging today as they were back when.
Old Compton Street is at the heart of Soho’s LGBT+ scene, and you’ll find plenty of gay-friendly venues to grab a drink or party the night away. The Village on Wardour Street is one of the oldest gay bars in Soho, while The Yard‘s Victorian courtyard on Rupert Street is a great place for a drink, over the summer months, the terrace is opened. G-A-Y is an institution, located on Old Compton Street, the garish pink sign emblazoned on the door will lure you in for the night of your life.
Word on the street
“I love the Berwick Street market during the week, my favourite is Violets – dishing up healthy Mediterranean food. Try the chicken salad dish, I look forward to lunchtimes!
Daniel – Works in Soho
“My favourite restaurant is Zahtar – it has a fantastic selection of Turkish small plates, with flavour sensations transporting you to Turkey.”
Claire – Interior Designer
“Soho is like a village, everyone knows everybody. You’ll find all the locals in My Place – one of my favourite coffee places. While you’re here come visit me above Broadwick Fabrics.
Tony – Soho Tailor