down in old soho

Greek Street

I would love to draw the whole of Soho, if that’s possible. Like every single block. And I kind of want to do it immediately because it’s changing, year after year, but then it always has done. Centuries ago this was a hunting ground (“So-ho!” was a hunting cry, like “Tally-ho!”), its borders marked with blue posts (hence the two pubs called ‘The Blue Posts’, and when I was a guide on the open-top buses I used to wheel out the old chestnuts about it “still being a hunting ground, know wot I mean”, but I’m not even sure wot I mean now. In my 500-miles-away-ness in California, I’ve been concerned about pubs and other famous London landmarks closing down or disappearing, and I’ve been eager to record these narrow streets while they are still here. Above, Greek Street, at the junction with Romilly Street. Greek Street was so named because of a Greek church nearby, and former residents include the very same Giacomo Casanova. On the far left, past the Prince’s Theatre on Old Compton Street, is a Michelin-starred restaurant called L’Escargot, where a long time ago a friend of mine worked for a week before quitting. I recall it being a much funnier story at the time. The timber-framed pub is the Three Greyhounds, another name reminiscent of the royal hunting ground days, while the patisserie in blue is the Maison Bertaux, which has served tea and cakes since 1871. On the corner is the Coach and Horses pub, also known as ‘Norman’s’ (after the infamous long-standing landlord Norman Balon, who claimed to be the rudest landlord in London). This pub has a good claim to being Soho’s most famous, a haunt of well known writers and actors such as Peter O’Toole, Jeffrey Barnard (he of ‘Unwell’ fame), it’s about as Proper an old Soho Drinker as it’s possible to get. Further down on the right Romilly Street leads to Cambridge Circus, at the junction of Charing Cross Road and Shaftesbury Avenue.

old compton street sm

For those of you who haven’t gathered by now, I am talking about Soho in London, not the one in New York, which is a contraction of the words “South of Houston”. Our Soho as I always told people is named for “South of Hoxford Street” of course, with ‘Hoxford’ over time becoming ‘Oxford’ due to the predilection of London English speakers to drop the ‘h’. No, not really. One of the thoroughfares that really defines Soho is Old Compton Street. Old Compton is well-known for its gay community, and in centuries past it was populated by the French Huguenots; there are still several French-themed places in the area. Above we see some of Soho’s other European residents, with the Spanish tapas restaurant Cafe Espana located next to an Italian deli. ‘I Camisa & Son’. I do love an Italian Deli.

And here is the map, showing where I sketched…

map, soho 2015 sm

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9 thoughts on “down in old soho

  1. johnberk says:

    Your sketches are something special. Thanks for sharing them with us. I appreciate you are paying such an attention to bars and restaurants, since they are my favorite places and make cities more colorful and filled with life.

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