There was a great programme on BBC 4 last night about the history of Soho in London. The show took us to all the old haunts and bars where the ‘Bohemians’ hung out. It was really awesome to watch some of the old famous artists/writers on old black and white movie reels. Francis bacon, Jeffrey Barnard, Dylan Thomas, Lucien Freud to name but a few, were all up there drinking, fucking, painting, writing poetry and being anything that made them the misfits of society!.
I love Soho, when I first went to London in 1994 it was the first place I stayed. I booked into the Regents Palace Hotel just off Piccadilly. The hotel is Victorian, and some of the rooms have no toilets or bathroom facilities and so you pressed a bell on the wall and a wee gnarled man in a white jacket carrying two thick white towels came and escorted you to a huge white tiled ancient bathroom that housed an enormous claw footed bathtub! It was so odd!
I loved Soho at night; if you stood still long enough you could see the creepy, drug fucked, pimps, hookers and various members of the London underbelly shape shift around the dark alleyways and dimly lit cobbled stoned streets that lined the back lanes of the Famous Theatres on Shaftsbury Avenue.
The front of the buildings are brightly lit and very photogenic, but just step around the back and watch whole different version of a ‘West End Show’ take place.
My favourite hang out was the Atlantic Bar on Glasshouse St, it was the ‘Place to be seen’ in the mid 90’s and I ended up running a comedy club there! The interior had original Art Deco surrounds and became the most used setting for music videos in that period. Madonna shot her video right in the same room where I stood telling jokes! Robbie Williams, Oasis and many more big stars spent late nights in the Atlantic. No comparison to Dylan Thomas and his Boho mates, but it was fun!
Late into the night, we would all go to Bar Italia on Frith Street for coffee. The outside tables would be crammed with people even at 3am! Bar Italia has been serving coffee’s since 1932 and the décor has hardly changed since. They used to have a wee strange hairdresser’s shop next door that had one stool, one sink and a real dead stuffed cat on a glittery chair!
The house above Bar Italia is where John Logie Baird first displayed his ‘Television’ to the world!
I never knew that fact until last year when I brought my daughter to a late night coffee session at Bar Italia, she leaned back and read the Blue Heritage Plate that told of Logie Baird’s existence in Soho.
All those years I had sat there and never thought to look up!
Ashley loves Bar Italia also, she went last year on her own, whilst I was performing at Soho Theatre, she met a bunch of middle aged bikers carrying two angry poodles and a transsexual magician, who had a fight with a street beggar and decked him…then invited Ashley to a ‘biker party’ as long as she brought her own crystal Meth.
Now that’s the Soho that would make the old bohemians smile!_