Soho's swinging? Hoxton's hip? That was last week...
Now Clerkenwell's commercial. Notting Hill? Naff. So where's it at? begs Eleanor Bailey
Sunday 21 September 1997
The media's crowning of the new Soho is an almost weekly event. This month's issue of gay style magazine Attitude slags off "Nu Soho" (meaning the Soho filled with the sun's-so bright-in-Romford-I've-got-to-wear- Moschino-shades-indoors brigade). Attitude crowns the young pretender Hoxton, aka Old Street, but the problem with the monthly magazine genre is that it is already late. I mean, even I know that Old Street is a glorified roundabout that was fashionable about a year and a half ago. And if I know it, then it must have been actually fashionable two and a half years ago and therefore entirely dead.
Hoxton photographer Dennis Pedersen, soon to move to a live/work studio there (absolutely the thing, urban dwellers) explains the problematic phenomenon of the constant crowning of the New Soho. "Artists are broke, so they move into an area that's cheap and full of authentic London. Then, because they can make their surroundings attractive, it becomes fashionable. Young trendies start moving in and the council catches on and starts `doing up' the area, gradually destroying the original feel. The end comes when the naff bars move in. Hoxton now has Japanese tourists wandering around wondering what the hell they should be looking at, but all the trendy stuff is behind closed doors."
What makes an area a contender for the influx of the artistic or gay settlers who will create a new Soho? It should be highly urban - not too many nice Georgian buildings. The more abandoned warehouses or deserted council blocks the better. It should have as much authentic, no longer viable, commerce as possible: old tailors, used white goods etc. It should have ancient pubs,seedy cheap "restaurants" with rude waiters who have been there for at least 20 years and an eclectic flea market. The area should be very inaccessible - not even plans for an underground link.
Life in the cool is not meant to be pleasant. Saski Brown, 24, a photographer's assistant, was a Bermondsey resident for two days. "It's a pit. There's one pub, full of dodgy skinheads. The only place to go is the garage, where they sell only sliced white bread and Mr Kipling cakes. I did my best. I stripped the floor, I painted the walls white. But by 3.30pm on the second day, I'd had enough. It was deserted, just one huge arterial road and a traffic jam. I just wasn't tough enough." Saski moved to still-urban Kennington. "It still had that bleak lack of an urban centre which I responded to - in a good way."
Despite attempts to usurp it, Soho itself will always be cool. The mass market deluge of its tightly knitted streets just means that the place has sub-divided. The cool people have gone underground until the storm has passed. Stephen Armstrong, presenter of Channel 5's entertainment show Exclusive, explains that the idea of a place being cool in this virtual age is old. "Everywhere that's good has become bad because it's really crowded. Which means that there has been a rise in members-only bars. In Soho, Quo Vadis is going to become members only, L'Odeon and The Phoenix Theatre Bar are members only. The members- only trend means that the `right' people go to certain parts of Soho and there's room to sit down. That is the trend." People always want to go somewhere central, they just don't want to mix with suburbanites.
This may also be a backlash by those stung by hype about Clerkenwellwhere, since it became mass-market trendy, it is now easier to buy papier-mache than a pint of milk. Trevor Beattie, creative director of advertising agency GGT, agrees that new Sohos are always exaggerated. "If you want dead rough and urban then King's Cross is really buzzing around York Way with Bagley's and so on. It's got shootings and everything. But Soho is actually the best it's ever been. The feel is much safer - it's knives and Camparis, not gun warfare. Soho is the new Soho."
WILL THE REAL NEW SOHO PLEASE STAND UP?
One of the first new Sohos, at the beginning of the Nineties, when Soul II Soul was at its height. Now full of charity workers - check out the incense that hits you as you come off the tube. It's a place for the ecologically minded with an urban edge. Places: The Brockwell Lido. Drink: herbal energy drinks. Dress: ethnic not-so-chic.
Otherwise dubbed Noho, short for North Soho or, as some unkind observers said, simply "Not Soho". This well-kept secret in the heart of London is fast becoming like this sentence, cliche ridden. Thanks to the Union Cafe and other cool hangouts it is flooded with former Soho types come to drink Blueberry Smoothies and enjoy the fresher air. "If you blew up the Patisserie Valerie," says Alex, 34, a writer and Marylebone resident, "the BBC would shut down." Drink: the entirely authentic mocha-ccino. The look: unabashed mobile phone use, all black clothes (drip-dry because everyone has a baby).
The latest hell hole turned cool spot. As customary, it is only a few brave individuals who can stick living there. However, its culture is rubber stamped by the heavy menace of the BNP. Drink: Special Brew. Dress: skinhead and Doc Martens.
Huge amounts of media coverage. Trendy people are moving in by the coach load, but there is still very little to do. The trendy Hoxton Square is an oasis in what is just the nastier part of Islington. Apart from the carbuncle of a tube station, you are entirely reliant for deliverance on the exceptionally slow number 55 bus. Places: The Circus Space, the Blue Note and there's a new arty cinema opening next week. Drink: black coffee. Dress: like a photographer.
Far too fond of itself. The only people who can afford to live here now - apart from the merely rich who are inherently uncool - are successful media types, so there is clearly nothing authentic about them. Drink: Coke (served in lines). Dress: T-shirts from places you haven't heard of, designed for maximum superiority.
The Blair factor has dropped Islington off the cool map. Now full of people pretending to read broadsheet newspapers in cafes on Sunday mornings. The whole place reeks of New Labour. Drink: nice Chablis from one of the middle-class off licences with sawdust on the floor. Dress: Agnes B, except during yoga classes.
The real East End
Has always had a Krays-style glamour. Has the advantage of being quite tough without the downright nastiness of King's Cross. Drink: stewed tea, three sugars, to wash down the fry-up. Dress: Tommy H (but don't ask where it came from).
Soho spin-off on the west side of Regent Street, based solely, it seems, on the rise of one Heddon Street (see Real Life sections passim). Home to Conran's latest venture the Zinc Bar, Momo's and not much else. Embryonic, certainly, cheap and authentic, no. Drink: Bolly. Dress: expensive.
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