The Soho Summer Street Festival is a huge boon to restaurants and bars hit badly by the lockdown.
No part of London has been operating as usual over the past few months, but that gulf between the pre-pandemic normal and lockdown normal was starker nowhere than in Soho, where the once-bustling streets fell eerily quiet. What’s worse, part of Soho’s infinite charm – the throngs of people feasting, drinking, dancing, and shopping – emerged as a major obstacle to its reopening, as social distancing became the buzzword of any easing of lockdown. Thankfully, a new campaign dubbed the Soho Summer Street Festival aimed to temporarily pedestrianise streets in a bid to bring back Londoners and resurrect the area’s hospitality industry – and now, Westminster Council have given the scheme the green light!
Over 6500 people – from Stephen Fry to Chrissie Hynde, Damien Hirst to Bill Nighy, and Amanda Holden to former Manchester United keeper Edwin van der Sar – signed the petition to bring the festival to life, and from this Saturday, July 4, it will become a reality. From 5pm each evening, seventeen streets in Soho will be pedestrianised, including Greek Street, Dean Street, Old Compton Street, and Frith Street. This will allow local businesses to reopen safely in the age of social distancing, as the vast increase in space available to restaurants, bars, and more means the streets can be flooded with alfresco dining, drinking, and partying, whilst maintaining a safe distance from others.
Restaurants and bars in the area are understandably chuffed with this outcome, and will be launching a range enticing offers to celebrate their return this Saturday – including plenty of tributes to the incredible work of the NHS through the pandemic. Pasta aficionados Pastaio are giving under-12s free meals all summer, which NHS and key workers will get 50% off their bill, and hospitality workers, students, and over-6os will see a 25% discount. Meanwhile, Bar Italia will have NHS and key worker discounts, and Poppies will gift any diner a free glass of wine or bottle of beer. Barrafina, Bar Termini, Dean Street Townhouse, and Bar Swift are amongst the other bars and restaurants to make use of the new seating arrangements.
As the campaign website noted upon launching, “with Soho being a place of activity, entertainment, eating and drinking, we have been amongst the worst hit. With so many independent businesses in Soho, we are at risk of losing the culture that makes the area so special.” Thankfully, the plan – which has had to surmount the logistics of things like licencing laws (to allow people to drink on the street), deliveries, emergency service access, and what will happen if the rain comes – has been a success, and Soho will be the vibrant heart of town once again. Head down on Saturday to join the fun!
You can see the exact locations of the street closures, plus the hours each will be closed, on the campaign website.
Also published on Medium.