A proper guided London walk has been on the agenda for quite a while but somehow we haven´t found the time, with enough opportunities in our much loved Chiswick for refreshing but at times rather less informative walks. By chance we came across a modernised version of the classic guided tours, National Trust’s pioneering location based app, Soho Stories, celebrating the personal and cultural stories of the district. We decided it was high time to explore Soho and where better for the Chiswick residents to start their adventure than in a house that once upon a time attracted sculptors, architects and artists, the painter William Hogarth among them. In the heart of Soho, Dean Street Townhouse occupies a pair of Georgian residences built by carpenter John Meard in 1732-1735.
There’s been a lot of buzz in town for quite a while about this hotel and restaurant, and rightfully so. Our Saturday night dinner was excellent, the breakfast in our spacious cosy chic room even more so, maybe apart from the coffee but that was pleasantly compensated downstairs before walking out into the crisp morning air. Whether you’re seeking a rural like retreat or an urban adventure this is a perfect base.
Since opening their first private members’ club in London in 1995, Soho House has gradually and carefully expanded to other areas. Each house is slightly different depending on its location, but the ethos remains the same; to create a comfortable home for a community of like-minded, creative people, wherever they are and this ethos is certainly present in Dean Street Townhouse.
On the walls you will find a good collection of artwork by notable artists along with lesser known work of emerging British talent, a fine backdrop to the delights of what our townhouse and its surroundings had to offer this fine weekend in January. Soho Stories will undoubtedly have to adapt to changing times but many will hope that not all their narrative of Soho’s vibrant creativity and enduring character will be in the past tense. Save Soho is a very recent coalition of performers, residents and politicians who have now come together out of concern after the closure and repossession of world renown club Madame Jojo’s and as the founder Tim Arnold puts it ‘Soho has always depended on building around and adding to what has gone before, not by demolishing it.’ The first joint production of Nick Jones, founder of Soho House, and Richard Caring, who owns The Ivy, Le Caprice, Scott's, Annabel's and others, Dean Street Townhouse has achieved just that and feels like it has been part of Soho for a long time.
Here you have a sense of those who have passed through the doors before you. The address was a well-known hangout of politicians, intellectuals, artists and entertainment royalty, including Noël Coward, Tallulah Bankhead and Fred Astaire and when the decadent and lavishly decorated Gargoyle Club went into decline by the mid 1950s it survived as a drinking den frequented by artists such as Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud.
Whether you want to immerse yourself in accounts of bygone days or simply enjoy the unique atmosphere of Soho as it reveals itself to you in the present state there is no better base for your exploration than Dean Street Townhouse. The late poet Felix Dennis wrote many a verse about Soho some of which are part of the aforementioned Soho Stories. His last poem on the topic he claimed was a work in progress. ‘It is incomplete and unfinished’, he said, ‘and is meant only to offer a glimpse into the notebook of a poet at work. ’ But need he have said anything more:
‘New’ Soho, London
Old Soho waits, revamped, new-lamped,
For bouncer’s dusk to fall—grown proud
Of her new horde,
Neat rubber-necks who scan the crowd
In search of what has long decamped.
Skin deep—her plastic surgery
Has served to hide the old whore’s limp.
The sluttish fraud
Now plies her trade sans bruise, sans pimp,
Grown fat on gloss and perjury.
The fools who crow: ‘The ghost is laid!’
Should save their breath to sniff her sheets
Still neatly stored.
These forty years I’ve walked these streets:
Old Soho waits—new paint will fade.
We were happy with the present day Soho when leaving our townhouse but could not wait to find what might be hidden behind the new paint, the houses where John Logie Baird first demonstrated television in his laboratory, where Mozart lived for a few years as a child, where the principles of The Communist Manifesto were laid out, where Karl Marx lived, where The Beatles had their suits cut... Old Soho awaits.