London Town has been flourishing as a group of villages since the reign of the present Queen’s namesake four centuries ago. Londoners take pride in their respective villages and fiercely try to protect the distinct characteristics of their boroughs. Soho perhaps is an exception. It has been evolving very fast. Earlier known only for its sleazy nightlife, it is now coming up as a center for art, culture and various creative activities.
Soho was originally a hunting ground for the rich merchants of London. They later abandoned the place when a cholera epidemic broke out in 1854 and its property value dipped enormously, making it a sanctuary for boozing dens and brothels. Artists and poets came thereafter and gave the place an aura of intellectual and creative activities.
There are still some sex shops and strip joints in Soho but they have turned quite harmless because of the changing taste of present patrons. This area is now more known for its television and film studios and their post-production professional associates. Instead of staring at an off-duty stripper you are more likely to spot the familiar face of a budding movie actor in its labyrinth of winding streets and cozy pubs, with a name like ‘Bleeding Heart’. You may even encounter Britain’s richest man (richer than the Queen!) and the ex-Beatle Paul McCartney whose business headquarters are located here.
Soho’s popularity as a foremost entertainment center is known all over the world. It is in this vibrant area of the London Town that abounds with lavish restaurants offering exotic cuisine from countries as geographically apart as Italy and China. It is here that is literally littered with those wonderful British drinking joints called pubs. It is also an area replete with fine arts, theatrical, literary and musical activities.
A walking tour of Soho is an interesting experience but really not enough. A visitor to this place should be actively associated with the facilities that Soho offers. It offers a bouquet of diverse landmarks. There are the sedate cafes on Dean Street with long literary and musical tradition where people talk of Renaissance painter/sculptor Michael Angelo, French novelist Albert Camus and singer, songwriter and greatest guitarist and local resident, Eric Clapton. On the other hand there are the seedy leftovers of the area’s notorious and sordid past. Some sleazy brothels and squalid watering holes are still evident on Berwick Street but slowly disappearing from Soho’s changing scenario.
Traffic restrictions and exorbitant parking charge will convince you to abandon the idea of using your car for exploring Soho. Take a tube and get off at Tottenham Court Road, Oxford Circus, Leicester Square or Piccadilly Circus, depending where you are coming from.
Walk around Soho through the maze of narrow streets and alleyways and get amazed at the cosmopolitan characteristics given to the area by generations of immigrants from various European countries and also from distant China. Soho is now mercifully recovering from the stigma of being Europe’s vice capital and emerging as the most fashionable district of London. Popular television programs are produced and telecast from here. It has carved a niche for magazine publishing and fashionable boutiques. After the night falls it becomes crowded with people – mostly from overseas – in search for sampling a varied range of entertainment that pubs, nightclubs, restaurants, cinemas and theatres can offer.
You won’t be scandalized to be spotted in Soho any longer. It has become a fashionable place to be seen.