A Stroll Through Soho and an Exhibition at The Society Club

The news came through the other day that four of my Soho photo will be featured on the walls of The Society Club from this Friday, May 10, for about a month. Very exciting!

The images were chosen from some submissions to Yelp’s contest to capture this area of London. Any sales go to The Soho School. Stop by if you can. The Society Club made it onto CNN Travel’s list of 10 of the most interesting shops in London. We popped in there a few weeks ago when we were to Ginger & White and it’s definitely eccentric with a quirky mix of books on the shelves lining the walls, a long table in the middle and a small gallery space downstairs. There is also a resident dog that hangs out inside. Stop down and check it out if you get a chance. There should be 24 photos of the area in the exhibition, I believe.
One for the diary! (The Society Club, 12 Ingestre Place Soho, W1F 0JF). 

And now for some photos from the walk Jorge and I took around the once-much-seedier streets of Soho. These aren’t the photos in the exhibition (except one and I’m not going to tell you which…). I loved that this fish & chips joint is called the Dining Plaice. A little creativity in a shop name goes a long way! Reminds me of The Codfather.

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We walked through Berwick Street Market, which is small but still vibrant with the few stalls that are left and the creative shops on their side of the street. In the 60s, this street was the place to buy records from independent shops.

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The music scene has been replaced by fruits, vegetables and vintage clothes now and there were a few street photographers scattered around against the walls waiting for a good shot.

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I took photos of a few colourful shop fronts because I liked the names or the colours. Soho is still one of London’s eccentric areas and it attracts a creative and trendy crowd as well as a steady stream of tourists.

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Flowers were for sale in quite a few places as well, outside shops like the one above, or from vendors working a market stall like the one below. Some of these stalls have likely been passed through families as the market has established in the 18th century.

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A little taste of Soho fashion in that one up there as well. And looking up can be key, as my dad says to do in this city. You never know what you might see, like this here roof garden and funky green tiles.

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The Market leads into Walkers Court, a little alleyway.

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There’s not so much left of London’s sex industry for which this area was the main hub. It still is, but there’s no obvious prostitution on the streets as there was once upon a time. It’s mainly closed up in flats now, indicated by signs that say “model” on street level doorways.

Walkers Court has a few sex shops selling vibrators, whips and DVDs, private dance clubs for a good old striptease and plenty of Viagara advertisements.

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From there, we made out way to Soho Square, with its French church, nearby Hare Krishna temple, the British Board of Film Classification and Paul McCartney’s MLP Communications company.  In the 1700’s it was home to The White House which was called a “high class magical brothel”…

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There’s a small cottage at the center of the square which was an air raid shelter during the Blitz.

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Not sure if they are still there, but there was a series of sculptures by Bruce Denny in one corner of the square.

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We sat on a bench in the park people watching for a while, enjoying the nice weather.

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We had a little wander through Chinatown, where you can get a massage and dinner in the same building…

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I found a splash of colour and made Jorge do a bit of modelling for me.

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And then we had a tea and cake in Ginger & White, which I loved and wrote about already so I won’t bore you with any more photos. At the end of that same street is The Society Club which the photo exhibition I wrote about above will be held. We couldn’t help but scope it out. If there’s poetry on a board outdoors, that’s always a good start.

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We ended up exploring the little basement gallery.

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On our way back home, we wandered through the back alleyways.

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Sometimes my favourite photographs to take are the simplest ones – little splashes of colour and textures that are tempting to touch.

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And, of course, street art, like this Invader piece that’s been in Soho for what seems like forever.

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We walked back through the throngs of tourists on Carnaby Street.

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And I played a bit of the tourism game outside of Liberty just for fun. When in Rome, right?

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Speaking of Liberty, it’s a bit of an institution around here and well worth a visit, particularly the first floor which sells expensive but nice things (and they’re one of only a few shops that stock French brand Sessun, which I love) and the top floor which often gets skipped over but they have some amazing furniture and home decor as well as the brand RE, in a little room of its own, where they sell “raRE, REmarkable, REcycled, REscued and REstored homewares and accessories”.

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The old building itself is stunning with its natural light, beautiful wood floors and high ceilings.

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Love their creative plant displays!

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And the spray-painted shopping baskets in RE are pretty fabulous too.

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Do you spend much time in Soho? If so, where’s your favourite place to hang out? 

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Ginger & White in Soho

Finally, a beautiful Saturday afternoon! Obviously, it was a day to be outdoors, so Jorge and I decided on a wander around Soho, partly because of Yelp’s photo contest that Alex mentioned last week, and partly because I have a new camera and Soho always makes for some interesting shots. I gathered up my new Lumix with it’s tiny little 20mm lens and we headed for land of sex, drugs and rock n roll. There wasn’t much of any of the above, but we stumbled on a lovely little place for tea and cake: Ginger & White.

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Their first shop opened in Hampstead in 2009, followed by one in Belsize Park and finally this one trickled down from NW3 to W1 and was planted on the peaceful, pedestrianised road, Silver Place. Inside, the calm continues with tables snaking around the main counter, along the front windows and tucked into the back corner. It’s small, but in a cosy way.  To maintain its British atmosphere, one wall has its signature Union Jack.

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Also, small toy minis and London buses were placed around on surfaces.

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The counter display was mouthwateringly tempting, plates stacked ginger cakes, chocolate desserts and savoury sandwiches. We didn’t stay for lunch but certainly had our fill of dessert. Jorge had a slice of scrumptious lemon cake with raspberry topping and icing drizzled over the top.

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Being more of a coffee person, he also enjoyed a cappuccino. It was pretty.

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I had a rich chocolate brownie.

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It washed down nicely with English breakfast tea from a bright red teapot.

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The sugar was served in this lovely red tin.

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For those non-coffee/tea drinkers, there’s also a fridge stocked with old fashioned Victorian lemonade, ginger beer and various juices.

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The counter was staffed by two friendly guys:

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And had a sign with a lyrical flashback to the 80s: “Frankie Says Relax”.

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Also, they have a pretty awesome floor.

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It’s a bit more tucked away than the others on the W1 coffee trail: Fernandez & Wells, Foxcroft & Ginger; Sacred, etc. And although there were not many people to people watch (which, of course, was part of the reason for its charm), I always thoroughly enjoy a window seat.

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La Bodega Negra: Dinner in a Dark Cellar

There is nothing to indicate that La Bodega Negra (literally The Black Cellar) is a restaurant.

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It’s plopped in the middle of SoHo on Old Compton Street and hides stealthily behind the façade of a sex shop, or a live peep show.

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A bright neon sign that says “Come” entices you inside an unmarked door to be greeted by a mannequin in a mask, all dressed up bondage style with leather straps crisscrossing its body and a fake bullet belt.

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From there you are welcomed inside and pointed toward a staircase that leads to the basement restaurant.

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In a similar style to Gordon’s Wine Cellar, but more roomy, the walls are chipped away creating a cave-like underground atmosphere enhanced by glowing candlelight, a large collection of Tequila and décor like a wall mirror cut out in a silhouetted shape of a woman with a semi lopsided breast.

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We kicked off the night with drinks, of course. As expected, Leslie made a beeline for the tequila section of the menu, which she stuck to the whole time. I chose an apricot margarita then a pear one and Carolina decided on something called a Jim & April before switching to margaritas.

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The first bit of food we ordered was a Quesadilla Rustica, which was like a sauceless pizza built on a thin tortilla  covered in four cheeses, roasted tomatoes and some herbs. Yum!

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This is the point where I got told off for using a flash which means the rest of the food photos are pretty crap and look unappetising  but, oh well – their loss. So, next we went for a round of small tacos that come in rustic looking logs with cut out slits to hold the tacos. They come in pairs. We ordered two soft shell crab, two pork belly carnitas and two braised beef. All delicious.

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We shared all the food so we split two mains. The first was Pork Belly which was really tender and laid on top of beans (which I don’t like, so while the meat was good, that wasn’t my favorite).

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Then the one I liked the best, which had a paella sort of vibe to it – the Mixed Seafood and Rice Cazuela. It was very delicious, full of mussels, squid and other seafood on a bed of rice but very juicy, almost like a soup.

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For dessert we had churros which we were too excited about to remember to take a photo before we gobbled them up. They are lighter than usual because they are made with a waffle iron instead of deep-fried, smothered in sugar and cinnamon and with a chili chocolate dipping sauce.

With two overpriced drinks (£9.50 for a small cocktail) each, we spent between the three of us about £185.00

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All in all a good night with great company, tasty food, friendly staff and a fun atmosphere apart from the couple sitting next to use who were outright bickering before storming out…which was, at least, entertaining.

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La Bodega Negra fills up quick so book a day or two in advance, especially if you plan on eating around 8 or later. They let you keep your table for two hours though we managed to stretch it to two and a half. Remember you want the restaurant on Old Compton Street (not the café which is on Mare Street).

For reservations, call 0207 758 4100.

The People of Soho by Pete Zelewski

Over the weekend, I saw photographer Doug McKinley speak at the Destinations travel show in Earl’s Court. His advice to become a better photographer? Get in as close as possible and make a connection with your subject.

That immediately brought to mind one of my favourite London-based photographers, Pete Zelewski, because that’s exactly what he does. Pete has been working on a project since the beginning of 2011 to photograph the people of Soho, an area he sees as the true heart of Bohemian London.

He’s agreed to let me share some of his images here. The stories and descriptions below them are written Pete as well. These are a few of my favourites (though I love absolutely all of them!)

The People of Soho: Fashion Cognoscenti

Fashion designer Marisol in Lexington Street, Soho, Central London

The People of Soho: Ex Pistol

Former Sex Pistols bassist and current Philistine, it’s Glen Matlock in Bourchier Street, Soho, Central London.

The People of Soho: Oh Carolina

Swedish retail assistant Carolina from American Apparel (and her sister Gabriella), Bridle Lane, Soho, Central London.

The People of Soho: Design For life

Fashion student Leuti in Tisbury Court, Soho, Central London.

The People of Soho: Metalhead

Heavy metal guitarist Henry in Goslett Yard, Soho, Central London.

The People of Soho: Second Hand Chic

Vintage clothing retail assistant Sofia in Stacey Street, Soho, Central London.

The People of Soho: Tailor Made

London’s most iconic and influential tailor who has dressed countless celebrities including Paul Weller, Mick Jagger, David Bowie, Bryan Ferry and the Kray twins. It’s the legendary Mark Powell in Lexington Street, Soho, Central London.

The People of Soho: Jet Boy

Stylist Jet in Wardour Street, Soho, Central London.

The People of Soho: Dream On

Full time dreamer Matilda in Stacey Street, Soho, Central London.

The People of Soho: Rose Tattoo

Stylist Kevin in St. Annes Court, Soho, Central London.

The People of Soho: Legal Eagle

Entertainment lawer Angela in Fouberts Place, Soho, Central London.

The People of Soho: Be Here Now

Music and drama student Bibi in Ingestre Place, Soho, Central London.

The People of Soho: Soho Ink

Tattooist Yaz from Tattoo World, Greens Court, Soho, Central London.

Keep an eye on Pete’s Flickr page for more and to see the rest of the series.