The name Soho is said to derive from a time when hunters galloped through the area, using “Soho” as their powerful hunting cry. Today Soho calls out far and wide as London’s primary entertainment district.
Penned in by Oxford Street, Regent Street, Shaftesbury Avenue and Tottenham Court Road, it’s a much loved square mile brimming with bars, restaurants, theatres and a good concentration of the city’s LGBTQ venues. It’s a world-class entertainment district with a local feel and is considered by many to be London’s beating heart.
There can be few contained places on the planet that offer the sheer wealth of eating options as Soho. In fact, you could feasibly eat your way around the entire globe in one day here, if your stomach and (and wallet) can take it.
Bibimbap (11 Greek Street) is a top choice for peckish Soho wanderers on a budget. This cool and simple Korean eatery serves spicy rice bowl dishes with superb side options like kimchi pancakes and mandu dumplings. Look out for the cute collection of diners snapped in polaroids adorning the walls.
Jamaican Grillhouse (189 Wardour Street) is something of a Soho institution. This friendly family business serves up generous portions of Caribbean classics like curried goat and tasty patties. It was until recently known as Jerk City, and as you might expect it’s the fantastically flavoursome jerk chicken that has Soho insiders seeking out this cheerful eatery when craving some comfort food.
Bao (53 Lexington Street) is the word on everyone’s lips at the moment. Springing up in April 2015, it’s now legendary for its soft and sumptuous Taiwanese steamed buns stuffed with a variety of fillings, such as confit pork and crumbed daikon. Open for two short windows during the lunch rush and in the evening, be prepared to queue, and be glad you did.
Whilst trendy new eateries appear faster than you can say “pop-up”, Soho still offers restaurants with heart, soul and heritage. The Gay Hussar (2 Greek Street) is a characterful gem just by Soho Square with a history stretching back to 1953. It serves quality Hungarian cuisine, including hearty goulash and tasty dumplings. It’s also been the venue for numerous scandals involving politicians, journalists and rock stars – ask the staff if you’re feeling inquisitive.
Soho is London’s powerhouse for the creative industries, and the theatre scene here is incredibly vibrant. From epic, mesmerising musicals to alternative, original productions, there is a show for everyone in Soho.
You can’t miss Prince Edward Theatre (28 Old Compton Street). This imposing theatre has a history dating back to 1930 and features opulent decor and multiple levels from which to view the spectacle. And spectacular it is sure to be; shows such as “Mamma Mia”, “Mary Poppins” and most recently “Miss Saigon” have all graced the stage here.
On a similarly epic scale, Queens Theatre (51 Shaftesbury Avenue) stands proud on one of London’s iconic streets. First opened in 1907, it just about survived the direct impact from a bomb during the blitz, returning to its former glory in the late 1950s. It’s here that people stream in from all over the country (and beyond) to experience “Les Miserables”.
The twin to Queens Theatre is The Gielgud (35 Shaftesbury Avenue), another beautiful old building overlooking the bustle of the busy street below. This is a great spot to catch some of the top dramatic productions on show in London. It’s currently home to the wildly popular theatrical adaptation of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time”.
For something a little more modern and a little less mainstream, seek out Soho Theatre (21 Dean Street). A relative newcomer to the theatrical scene here in the West End, it showcases a fine selection of performances, from gritty new shows penned by emerging writers to stand-up comedy favourites. The 150 seat auditorium offers an intimate experience, whilst the bar and restaurant is a popular spot to grab a beverage post show and discuss the night’s performances.
Soho has long been a vital area of expression and a playground for London’s LGBTQ community. There are an abundance of bars and pubs proudly flying the rainbow flag in this area.
Next door to the Prince Edward Theatre, G-A-Y bar (30 Old Compton Street) is brash, bold and bloody good fun. Spread out over several floors and adorned with screens featuring all your best loved pop vixens, it’s a favourite for bright young things looking for a fun night out. Offering some of the cheapest pints in Central London (just over 2 quid a pop), G-A-Y is perfect for those looking for a cheap and cheerful night out.
Friendly Society (79 Wardour Street) is an underground wonderland of disco balls, neon fish bowls and best of all, hundreds of barbies stuck to the ceiling like deranged, suspended plastic angels. As the name indicates, this is a friendly, non-judgmental space to come and mingle. The bar tends to evolve into a heaving dance floor as the evening develops.
Follow the alley past neo-classical statues and snaking vine leaves and you’ll reach The Yard (57 Rupert Street). With a sizeable outdoor terrace, chic and stylish upstairs area and bustling balcony, this is a very popular gay bar right in the heart of Soho. During the week it’s a place perfect for intimate dates, whilst at the weekend it’s all about squeezing in together and nattering over pints.
Ku Soho (25 Frith Street) is a cool venue with a relaxed vibe that’s great for dates and pre-drinks. The associated KuKlub (30 Lisle Street) just down the road in Chinatown also hosts various events for the community to talk about pressing issues in LGBTQ London. It’s a great opportunity to meet people and share stories.
When thirsty Londoners clock off on a Friday afternoon, Soho’s ubiquitous watering holes fill up to the brim and the city gets its dancing shoes on. With pubs, bars and clubs aplenty, a wild night out in Soho is never off the cards.
There are plenty of characterful pubs in this vicinity in which to kick off a night, but if you’re of a literary persuasion, we’d point you towards The French House Dining Room (49 Dean Street). With its Tricolore flags hanging side by side with Union Jacks, it’s a unique and eclectic place to enjoy a night in Soho. Grab a half-pint and scribble away into your journal, just as Dylan Thomas and Lucien Freud once did in The French House Dining Room’s illustrious past.
If it’s live music you’re after, Soho will not disappoint. This is especially true for jazz fans who visit the world-famous Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club (47 Frith Street). Set up by saxophonist superstar Ronnie Scott in 1959, it still remains the cultural epicentre of jazz and blues music in London. You’ll want to book ahead for the more coveted shows, but the chilled bar upstairs often has live performances for free – perfect for wiling away the evening in a blur of cocktails.
For a venue associated with some of the world’s best bands, check out the 100 Club (100 Oxford Street). This intimate venue has seen some world-renowned London talent such as The Who and The Sex Pistols rocking out on stage. Its history may be legendary, but its future is looking bright too. The 100 Club is committed to showcasing the hottest in emerging talent across genres, making it perfect for a night out for diehard music lovers.
After a long evening of bar-hopping, chances are you’ll be ready to get those feet moving. Consider Club 49 (49 Greek Street), with its top notch cocktails and dance floor that thrives into the small hours. The club’s resident DJs spin a selection of club classics and chart hits.
Spending a drizzly London day hopping from one charming Soho café to another is a true pleasure in this warren-like neighbourhood. Take a good book or just people-watch the hours away.
Flat White (17 Berwick Street) is a cool and youthful little place imparting a bit of Antipodean café culture to the English capital. It specialises in the strong, artisan style coffee that’s favoured in Australia and New Zealand, and is a popular haunt for expats from said countries. The quality espresso and charming staff are a winning combo.
Joe & The Juice (46 Dean Street) is another Soho success story. Residing on Dean Street (but with outfits dotted around Soho and beyond) it’s a cool little spot that’s perfect for casual business meetings over a coffee, sipping on vitamin-rich smoothies whilst curled up with a story or just grabbing a light lunch in a friendly environment.
Foxtrot & Ginger (3 Berwick Street) is perfect for those feeling a tad indulgent. Opened by a husband and wife team and serving an array of freshly made pastries to accompany your beverage, this is a comfortable cafe that puts emphasis on quality ingredients. It’s also a great choice for tea lovers, as the menu boasts a huge variety of fresh tea options.