Soho revisited…

The Blue Posts pub in Soho has always been a special place for me as one of the rare unchanged
boozers in the beating heart of the capital. Despite much around it changing, especially on Berwick
Street where it has historically been the market traders’ pub, it remains resolutely a must-visit for
people looking for a bit of quintessentially old-school Soho.

The Blue Posts, Berwick Street

I was reminded of its particular charms on a number of pre-Christmas evenings in the area when I
set out to drag friends around some of my long-standing favourite drinking venues to investigate
how they had survived covid-19 and the myriad other pressures they have faced lately. The French
House and The Coach & Horses remain beacons in Soho – with Fuller’s having done a superb job of
updating the latter while not appearing to change a single thing – still attracting an alcohol-fuelled
loquacious clientele.

The Toucan

Up the road The Toucan continues to serve predominantly Guinness to a crowd that has always
spilled out onto the road long before it became almost de-facto in the post-covid-19 world. The
compact bar is almost a metaphor for Ireland itself whereby if every drinker at the Toucan was
repatriated to the inside of the venue there would be insufficient room to house everybody. There
is also a downstairs bar but my habits of street drinking at this pub are so engraved that I’m
oblivious to its presence and there’s no way I’d venture down there.

It’s quite the opposite scenario at the nearby Bradley’s Spanish Bar on Hanway Street, which I’ve
been visiting for decades, but have never once considered drinking on the ground floor bar. It’s
always the muggy basement for me, with its classy jukebox and cramped interior that contributes
to its clubby atmosphere. If Spanish lagers are not your thing then soak up the history of Milroy’s
of Soho that continues to specialise in whisky and has been delivering the same experiences to
customers for 50 years.

The half century was also clocked up in 2022 by Le Beaujolais that makes it the oldest French wine
bar in London. It has been presided over by the ever-present Pascal during my lifetime of visits. It
is another cramped venue with a décor and menu that has also remained absolutely unchanged
from one decade to the next.

Le Beaujolais wine bar

The ongoing attraction of these venues is that they have pretty much resisted adapting to modern
demands. This is not necessarily a cause for celebration as the inability to adapt to evolving market
dynamics and delivering on new customer expectations can be the death knell for businesses.
Maybe the beauty of the unchanged character of these venues is because they stand within an
area of London that has embraced much revolution over the years.

Proof of how the area has kept up with social desires can be seen in the accounts of Soho Estates
that owns up to 60 acres of the area’s total 87 acres. It has seen its property portfolio value rise to
£1.2 billion on the back of ongoing investment in the assets. Shaftesbury has also been proactive
in developing its significant estate of outlets in Soho, which includes ownership of around 50% of
Berwick Street on which sits The Blue Posts.

Every time I stroll around Soho there are numerous new outlets that provide evidence of this
ongoing evolution of the area. Latterly I’ve been struck by the number of Simmons Bars in the area. It seems to be rather oddly working on a saturation strategy having recently replaced both
the Crow Bar and Pillars of Hercules pub with its bright cocktail bar concept that sit within
touching distance of its unit on Bateman Street and around the corner from its Wardour Street
and Golden Square bars.

It’s interesting how so many people hark back to previous eras of Soho and denigrate the current
day version of this unique part of London. This is probably a big mistake. It is many years since I
first ventured into Soho on a school trip when it resembled the scenes you now see in The
Sweeney from the 1970s. I’m really not so sure I’d want it to have remained completely stuck in
that period. Retaining The Blue Posts and a few other drinking venues are sufficient reminders of
the past for me.

Thankfully at its heart Soho still retains much of the charm that has continued to draw people
from across the globe to something more edgy than can be found in other parts of central London.
Over the challenging festive period I found its vitality refreshing and it certainly suggested hope for
the future of hospitality as the industry goes into battle in 2023.

Glynn Davis, editor

This piece was originally published on Propel Info where Glynn Davis writes a regular Friday opinion piece. Beer Insider would like to thank Propel for allowing the reproduction of this column.