The changing face of Soho: How iconic London night spot has transformed since 1960s

Soho has long been the beating heart of London’s nightlife, transforming from the center of the capital’s sex industry into an area filled with boutique shops and exclusive bars, theaters and restaurants.

Fifty years of transformation have been summed up in a series of MailOnline photographs, showing how streets once lined with sex shops and around 60 strip clubs are now a bustling beacon of various entertainment and tourist attractions.

With just over 90 streets spread across just over a square mile in the West End, Soho only takes a few minutes to walk and is full of Instagram hot spots.

But while some streets have changed markedly in the last six decades, others remain almost indistinguishable, with independent shops replaced by international chains.

In the 1960s, Soho was teeming with petty criminals trading illicit goods on the streets and was a focal point for the UK underworld, led by crime and prostitution.

Christmas lights photographed in Carnaby Street in December 1967, compared to the same view of the same pedestrianized street today

Shoppers and merchants at Berwick Street Market, Soho, looking towards Peter Street in 1961, alongside the modern view

General view of the Shaftesbury Theatre, a West End theater on Shaftesbury Avenue, in March 1963. It still looks remarkably similar today

A sex shop on Greek Street called the ‘Sandra East Xboutique’ advertising a number of items in 1972. The shop is now a restaurant.

Customers gathered around York Minster, now known as The French House, pub at 49 Dean Street, which is now The French House pub

Scenes in Soho, London, 1966

What does the same street look like today?

The scene in Old Compton Street, Soho, London, in 1966 compared to how it looks today, with a closed shop covered in graffiti.

Members of the public walk down Carnaby Street, Soho, which today is lined with Swatch, Cooper and Ray Ban stores. The road has also been pedestrianized.

Soho Street and Brewer Street are seen to contain an “over 18s only cinema”, today a Prowler, the flagship store of the UK’s largest gay lifestyle superstore.

The Golden Lion Pub on Romilly Street, Soho, has been renovated and now has a much more modern look. The highway has also been turned into a one-way street.

Soho’s Revue Bar bills itself as “the world’s most erotic live entertainment on stage.” But now it’s empty, though an adult store remains open down the same alley.

A bar on the corner of Brewer and Wardour Street, Soho, photographed in 1987 advertising a ‘live erotic nude bed show’, compared to the modern view

A 'peep show' advertising 'beautiful young girls' and a 'male and female double act' in Wardour Street, Soho, in November 1987

A ‘peep show’ advertising ‘beautiful young girls’ and a ‘male and female double act’ in Wardour Street, Soho, in November 1987

It is now home to the Soho Residence, a Regency-style basement bar and club, following a £1million renovation in 2019. Also added are the so-called Boris Bikes outside

It is now home to the Soho Residence, a Regency-style basement bar and club, following a £1million renovation in 2019. Also added are the so-called Boris Bikes outside

There were over 100 strip clubs located in London at the time, 60 of which could be found in Soho.

But far from the seedy side of its nightlife, Soho has also played a pivotal role on the global music scene.

It is argued that the term ‘Beatlemania’ was coined after a Beatles concert at the London Palladium in October 1963, while Jimi Hendrix recorded his first album at 31 Whitfield Street in December 1966.

By the 1970s, many Soho strip clubs had begun to fold, but it wasn’t until the following decade that it entered the gentrification process.

Hedonism became the way for Soho revelers during the 1980s as musicians, fashion designers and artists began flocking to the area’s bars and clubs.

The Wag nightclub became a go-to for many, including David Bowie and Naomi Campbell, as it reshaped club life in the UK.

Police purges and stricter license controls also helped crack down on illegal sex shops and vice rings.

A shop advertising sex movies is seen next to an Indian restaurant in D’Arblay Street, Soho, in December 1970, before the area’s gentrification.

Tisbury Court is seen with the Raymond Revue bar in the background advertising “the world’s center of erotic entertainment” in 1990. The bar remains on the site now

Old Compton Street in Soho photographed in May 1974 (left) and the same street photographed now (right)

A view of Frith Street, looking south towards Shaftesbury Avenue, Soho, in August 1966 and the same road populated by ‘Boris bikes’ today.

The entrance to Ronnie Scott's jazz club at 47 Frith Street, Soho, London, in 1987

And what does the entrance look like today?

The entrance to Ronnie Scott’s jazz club at 47 Frith Street, Soho, London, 1987, compared to the modern entrance

A man pulls a fruit cart on Old Compton Street in June 1975, against a series of concert advertisements in the background, as members of the public walk past what is now a restaurant advertising bagels, a bakery, and a grocery store. bar.

Scenes on Rupet Street in Soho showing the open air market in 1966 and the view along the same street today

Bill Haley and bandleader Chris Barber are pictured with The Comets outside the Tin Pan Alley Club in September 1964. It is now the Yield Gallery.

The 1990s saw the rise of The Grouch Club, previously an Italian restaurant that had fallen into disrepair.

It was remodeled to become a bohemian antidote to the stifling of traditional private clubs.

After initially struggling upon opening in May 1985, The Groucho Club established itself as the place to be seen in the 1990s.

Vibrant shops and cafes had also begun to take over from units left empty due to the departure of sex shops that were unable to renew licences.

Soho has also become increasingly a hotspot for the LGBTQ+ community, with a number of gay bars opening their doors.

The likes of The Village, Halfway Heaven, Freedom, and Comptons welcomed revelers after opening in the ’90s.

As we celebrate a new millennium and enter the 21st century, places like Piccadilly Circus have been given a complete modernization, with the old neon lights used to advertise Bovril and other businesses replaced by a giant electronic screen.

Dugdale &erio; Adams Bakery on Gerrard Street in May 1980, now a Chinese restaurant

People pictured outside the Flamingo nightclub in Wardour Street at 3am in 1960. It is now a Betfred betting shop

Victor Sassie and two waiters outside his restaurant, The Gay Hussar, in May 1970. It is now a restaurant called Noble Rot.

Other venues, such as Berwick Street Market and the Carnaby Street shopping precinct, show how many former independent merchants have been replaced, often by international chains.

Soho’s look underwent another transformation as the Covid pandemic hit London, and al fresco dining became the norm.

Westminster City Council began allowing pubs and restaurants to open sidewalk seating so that venues can start operating again under more relaxed coronavirus restrictions in summer 2020 and again in April 2021.

Soho’s busy Dean Street, Old Compton Street and Greek Street, once packed with cars and buses, were filled with tables and chairs for revelers.

It came as the council unveiled a terrific plan to convince tourists to return to the West End after lockdown as businesses were desperate to get a foothold.

A man in a bowler hat and umbrella walks past fruit and vegetable market stalls on Rupert Street in October 1970, which is now a cobbled street.

A police officer guards the entrance to the Whiskey A Gogo nightclub and Flamingo Jazz Club at 37 Wardour Street in September 1965, which is now a Betfred.

A view of the Paramount City Club Site and The Old Windmill Theatre, with a McDonald’s now built

St Anne’s Court lined with club and shop signs, with the Rose and Crown pub corner of Dean Street in the foreground. The exterior of the building has now been transformed.

The Windmill Theater in Archer Street, which remains in place today advertising ‘tables and dancing’

The Chinatown district on Gerrard Street, looking towards Newport Place, compared to the current view

But now Londoners, even in Soho, are fighting to save the city’s nightlife after being fed up with constant noise complaints that threaten to shut down their local bars.

Pub bosses and landlords say the pandemic led to more noise complaints as people got used to the ‘Covid quiet’, with one saying ‘my heart sinks into my stomach’ every time someone he makes too much noise in his pub.

During the May election, West End Labor councilor Paul Fisher argued that Westminster Council should not issue new alcohol licenses in the area until the amount of noise is cracked down.

Last year, Westminster Council decided to eliminate outdoor dining in Soho despite several bars and restaurants hoping it would stay in place.

It comes as Oxford Street, once Britain’s flagship high-end shopping location, is increasingly being abandoned by the big brands that earned it such esteem.

Photos taken by MailOnline have revealed how Oxford Street has suffered and is now home to empty ornate stonework shops that used to house some of the UK’s most famous brands.

As big names like Topshop, Miss Selfridge, Dorothy Perkins, Debenhams, Oasis and Warehouse disappeared, city centers across the country were left with empty windows and people searched for their favorite brands online.

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