In the first two weeks since lockdown restrictions were lifted — and since restaurants have been allowed to reopen their dining rooms — there has been a tentative return to venues across the city, reflecting a wider public nervousness towards returning to spaces which are synonymous with social proximity. Businesses that have always relied on bustling spaces and service at close-quarters are now operating with Covid-secure safety measures in place: face masks, temperatures checks, sanitiser, and floor markings to encourage safe physical distancing, the enforcement of which is left to the discretion of the individual operator. It is a reality that is now part of hospitality and will be for the foreseeable future.
But, like New York and other European cities, pockets of London have embraced a relaxation in the regulations attached to street-trading. Nowhere can its effect — aided by temporary road closures — be seen more obviously than in one of London’s most central and historic enclaves of hospitality venues: Soho. Westminster council seeks to aid the recovery of the hospitality industry; on behalf of its landlords, tenants, and for the wider economy of central London, which operators have cautioned risks becoming a ghost town — with fewer tourists and office workers.
Soho though, for now, has been transformed. The streets have been busy, especially at weekends, with customers taking advantage of the expansion of outdoor seating. This is what it looked like this week.
Frith Street Soho, looking south.
Old Compton Street has been among the busiest in Soho over the last fortnight. Here, guests occupy tables outside the Soho House group’s casual Italian restaurant, Cecconi’s pizza bar.
Left, one of London’s original espresso bars and most famous cafes, Bar Italia, has extended its terrace out onto Frith Street. Right, one of Soho’s few speciality coffee shops, Milkbar on Bateman Street, gives customers the option to drink from a deckchair.
Staff are being encouraged to wear masks in hospitality venues across the city, although it is not mandated by government. Below, left, a barista at Milkbar on Bateman Street and, right, a waiter at Cafe Boheme elected to wear a face-covering while serving customers.
One of London’s most popular pizza chains, Pizza Pilgrims, with customers on Dean Street outside the restaurant.
Customers occupy a street table outside Vietnamese restaurant Cay Tre, next door to Ducksoup — one of the city’s early natural wine and small plates restaurants — which remained closed. Temporary barriers have been installed throughout Soho to encourage physical distancing. Right, guests being served outside the Michelin-starred Spanish tapas restaurant Barrafina on Dean Street.
Jacob Kenedy’s beloved gelateria, Gelupo, on Archer Street with the smallest and most unobtrusive queuing aids.
Customers sit on the terrace outside the French House — a pub and dining room — on Soho’s Dean Street.
Service staff at Malaysian and Singaporean restaurant Rasa Sayang on Frith Street wear masks and visors to serve customers on new tables set up in the road. Right, a waiter from cocktail bar and restaurant Dean Street Townhouse serves drinks wearing a mask.
The John Snow, one of Soho’s most famous pubs with a handful of drinkers outside on Lexington Street.
Berwick Street, which was already pedestrianised now with much more seating positioned outside cafes and restaurants.
Old Compton Street, looking west, with new temporary road blocks in place, with a sign indicating the new restrictions.
Elsewhere, individual venues are restricting the number of guests allowed on the premises in order to comply with Covid-secure guidelines. Other venues are encouraging physical distancing with floor markings.
Mildreds, Soho’s longstanding vegetarian restaurant on Lexington Street with a sign announcing what it feels like to have reopened.
Frith Street, looking north. Ronnie Scott’s jazz bar to the left, Bar Italia to the right.