Six Old Soho Haunts to Rediscover

To paraphrase that oft-used Samuel Johnson quote, if you’re tired of Soho, you’re tired of life. We visit the buzzy London neighbourhood to discover six addresses with great backstories, all of which are still pulling in the punters today.

To find out more about Chateau Denmark, featured below, read
A Hotel Story in the latest print issue, Volume 36: Discovery.

hunting ground in the 16th century (and, some may say, on the
average Friday night), Soho – whose name is thought to derive from
a cry similar to “tally-ho” – was developed into a residential and
commercial hub in 1679 by the builder Richard Frith. Adopted,
initially, by the city’s aristocrats, then an influx of Greek
Christians and Huguenots escaping persecution, and then German,
Italian and Hungarian radicals fleeing the failed revolutions of
1848, the area soon became known as a refuge for London’s bohemian
community. Today, home to strip clubs and advertising agencies,
film distribution companies and nail spas, with “colourfully seedy”
sitting comfortably alongside “cutting-edge”, the neighbourhood’s
cafés, restaurants, pubs, clubs and hotels remain some of the
most tempting in the capital (read: anywhere). We visit six classic
Soho addresses that still have what it takes to attract today’s
savvy visitor.

Old meets new in Soho: six venues worth visiting

Bar Italia, an old Soho haunt you should rediscover


Bar Italia

Immortalised in the 1995 Pulp song of the same name, Frith
Street’s Bar Italia has been serving up great coffee and a
flavourful slice of Soho people-watching since 1949, when Caterina
and Lou Polledri opened it as a social hub for London’s Italian
community. Today, run by the couple’s grandchildren, and open
7am-3am, seven days a week, the café’s interior is still
characterised by red and white formica, black-and-white
photographs, an ever-present steamy fug and the constant gurgle of
the trusty Gaggia machine. Order a double espresso and some of the
legendary cannoli and settle back to spot a celeb or two, with Dave
Stewart of Eurythmics words foremost in mind: “This coffee shop is
very small but what goes on in there is as big as the world.”
Stewart’s slated stage musical about this iconic spot has yet to
materialise, but we want front-row seats when it does.


22 Frith St, W1D 4RF

Meringue, quince and figs dessert at Quo Vadis
Image credit: Greg Funnell


Quo Vadis

There’s no need to fork out the £150 joining fee for Quo Vadis
club membership to understand why thrill-seekers have for centuries
been drawn to this Dean Street address, once a brothel, and home to
Karl Marx from 1851-6: just book a table and arrive hungry. With
Scotsman Jeremy Lee – one of London’s most best-liked chefs – at
the helm, diners can look forward to modern seasonal British fare
cooked with flair. Whether you plump for the famed smoked eel
sandwich or a more full-on affair like the braised shoulder of pork
with beans, carrots and cabbage, not forgetting a side of the wild
garlic and olive oil mash, we urge you to leave room for dessert:
think steamed ginger and marmalade pudding served with custard and
cream, or pistachio meringue with rhubarb and custard. Thus
fuelled, you can sally forth to explore Soho after dark, where, in
the words of the late, great artist and dandy Sebastian Horsley,
“the air used to be clean and the sex used to be dirty. Now it is
the other way around”.


26-29 Dean St, W1D 3LL

The dining room at The French House in Soho, London
Image credit: Peter Clark


The French House

Looking for an iconic Soho watering hole conducive to talking
politics, whispering sweet nothings, catching up with friends you
haven’t seen since pre-pandemic days or simply staring into your
glass of Breton cider, contemplating your next escape? With its no
music, no machines, no TV and no mobile phones rule, The French
House – open since 1891 – has you covered. An acclaimed restaurant
upstairs – serving the likes of Carlington oysters, and skate with
brown butter and capers – is open for lunch, 12-3pm, Tuesday to
Saturday, and for dinner, 6-9pm, Tuesday to Friday, but we
recommend swooping on a ground-floor table as soon as one becomes
available and chewing the fat amid the lively clientele of leading
creative lights and bon viveurs, just as such luminaries as Francis
Bacon, Lucian Freud and Dylan Thomas did back in their day.


49 Dean St, W1D 5BG

A bathroom at the new Chateau Denmark, an old Soho haunt revamped


Chateau Denmark

From its psychedelic snakeskin-patterned carpets to its
state-of-the-art sound system, the brand-new Chateau Denmark hotel
bottles the grungy, sexy essence of Soho’s musical past and distils
it into a glittering symphony designed to satisfy even the most
demanding rolling stone of today. The devil, as they say, is in the
detail, and there are no half measures in this rakishly cool,
more-is-more Denmark Street indie new kid. Operated by Carrie
Wicks’ CAW Ventures, with interiors by Taylor Howes Design,
accommodation is set across 16 buildings, comprising 55 “session
rooms” and apartments, all of which take their inspiration from the
rich rock ‘n’ roll history of the area. Post-gig, head to the first
London outpost of restaurant Tattu, on the top floor, to devour a seductive menu of
modern Chinese dishes amid Instagram-friendly, Joyce Wang
Studio-designed surrounds, while savouring bird’s-eye city


Denmark Street, London

The Crazy Coqs at Bar Zedal in Soho, London


Crazy Coqs Cabaret and Bar

The history of Brasserie Zédel’s Crazy Coqs is as decadent as
this intimate space’s sultry vibe. Run by restaurateur super-duo
Corbin & King, the property was once part of The Regent Palace
Hotel, opened in 1915 – the largest hotel in Europe at the time,
with 1,028 bedrooms. The “incredibly mannered” art deco Chez Cup
Bar, under the entrance rotunda at the foot of the main staircase –
the best to descend wearing something shimmery, we’d say, since the
one seen in the opening credits to Dynasty – has been meticulously
recreated from the original architectural drawings. Showcasing
cabaret, jazz and comedy most evenings (performances at 7pm and
9.15pm), cocktails, spirits, wines, champagnes and snacks are all
available to order to your table before and during the shows. Look
out for London-based American comedian David Mills next time he’s
on the bill – a man as good at making an audience laugh as he is at
making looking fabulous in a tuxedo appear easy.


20 Sherwood St, W1F 7ED

Ronnie Scott's Jazz Bar in Soho, London


Ronnie Scott’s

London, United Kingdom

Ronnie Scott’s is a bona fide Soho local institution – so thank
goodness notorious gangsters Ronnie and Reggie Kray failed when
they tried to persuade its owner, the eponymous saxophonist, to up
sticks and move to Knightsbridge. One of the most famous jazz clubs
in the world, the 1959-opened venue has played host to such musical
greats as Ella Fitzgerland, Miles Davis, Dizzie Gillespie, Yusef
Lateef, Sarah Vaughn and Count Basie, while more recent acts
include Lady Gaga, who eschewed her dressing room in favour of
hanging out in the pit. One of the best things about the 220-seater
club is how close the performers are to the audience, the stage
being level with the red velvet banquettes and tables. While
remaining true to its original get-down-and-jam ethos, the upstairs
Ronnie’s Bar attracts a younger demographic, with an eclectic
programme of DJ sets and live music including Latin, jive, blues
and flamenco. This is the place to come to experience jazz royalty:
no flip-flops or shorts allowed (unless you’re Lady Gaga, in which
case, anything goes).


47 Frith Street

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