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Soho was once known as London’s “foreign” section, providing sex trade, drugs and other sinful pleasures. A few particular streets north of Shaftesbury Avenue are notorious for being especially dangerous after dark.
Although this reputation still somewhat exists today, it is on a much smaller scale, and Soho has transformed into a much more respectable area. It provides many options for food, drinks, entertainment and nightlife. Its inhabitants can be classified as the typical young, rebellious and artsy type. The area is particularly attractive to bachelors, young partiers, overseas students, the homosexual community, people who work in film, entertainment, or advertising and alternative personalities.
The name “Soho” came from an ancient hunting call; the area used to be a royal park in which hunting would take place. Royalty rejected this neighbourhood from the beginning, and so the French immigrants overwhelmed the area until a cholera outbreak in the middle of the 19th century, during which the upper class moved out and the sketchy characters took their place. Most of the area’s residential population disappeared quickly after the strip clubs moved in.
The area is bordered by Oxford Street to the North, Charing Cross Road to the East (separating it from Covent Garden), Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus to the South and Regent Street (dividing it from Mayfair) to the West. It is in a great location, providing easy access to the West End shops and attractions, along with many theatre and entertainment options right next door in Covent Garden.
Soho has a grainy, edgy atmosphere, and Westminster Council and the Soho Society are trying to clean it up, but the local residents are putting up a good fight. Sex shops have significantly decreased in numbers, but the belligerent, drunken crowd that conquer the neighbourhood around 2am is not a pleasure to deal with either, unless you’re one of them.
Soho is known best for its mix of quirky restaurants, and the list to choose from is endless. Refuel, which describes itself as being “Modern Eclectic”, resides in the Soho Hotel and is raved about by locals and tourists. Acclaimed British chef, Mark Hix, brings his own flavour to his restaurant, appropriately named Hix. Arbutus, Andrew Edmonds, and Dean Street Townhouse, among countless others, provide a great dining experience. Most restaurants have a trendy, East Village New York vibe.
Chinatown, in the southern part of Soho, is a tight-knit community, obviously providing many Chinese restaurants and decorations during the Chinese New Year. The Chinese reside in the majority of this section and place great demand on property prices.
A small section in the Southwest corner resembles a kind of business district of Soho; it is quieter and more respectable. Streets such as Golden Square, Soho’s only green area, provide newly-developed flats in interesting building conversions such as an old hospital.
Studio apartments and small flats dominate the housing market in Soho, with most being in odd locations or above a commercial-use unit. Soho is a conservation area and therefore a number of 18th and 19th century buildings have survived and have been restored. This neighbourhood also offers the “loft style” flat, with an open plan and high ceilings, although many are not “true” lofts, in the regard that the buildings did not originally have this architecture.
Prices here are much lower compared to prestigious areas surrounding it, such as Mayfair. A beautifully refurbished three-bedroom house is for sale on Wardour Mews for £1,070/sqft and a two-bedroom flat in the luxurious Regent development on Marshall Street is on the market for around £1,100/sqft.
The area lacks in private schools, most likely due to the fact that families do not typically reside here. The closest private day school would be Portland Place School, which is located on Regent Street, right on the line between Soho and Mayfair. Dylan Thomas and George Melly, a jazz musician, are well-known previous residents of Soho.
Soho benefits not only from a great location, but a good amount of transportation options as well. Tube stations such as Leicester Square, Covent Garden, Oxford Circus, and Tottenham Court Road all provide access to the Victoria, Central, Piccadilly and Northern lines, and provide a straight shot into the City in about 15 minutes and an hour-long trip to Heathrow.