If you, like me, are fortunate to know a little about London’s Soho, then you will know that The Coach and Horses pub on the corner of Greek Street is a precious jewel of London town.
If it’s just a pub you happened to have visited and enjoyed, then let me tell you why, without doubt, you stumbled into a venue that contains a history as rich and influential as The British Museum itself.
First of all, it is not the norm for theatrical plays to design an entire set based on a real London pub. No, this is a celebration of a whole other majesty, that rests upon the singular fact that both the clientele and the personnel of that pub has nurtured and presented some of the most beloved characters in English society that we have ever known. And the characters are due to the independent landlords that have presided over the Coach and Horses throughout it’s incredible history. I do not wish to presume, but rather, bet on the fact that, pubs run by corporate breweries with no personal affection for the community in which they operate in, do not get sell out West End plays written about them.
As Caitlin Moran so exquisitely observed in her article in The Times back in 2015 ‘Where is London if Soho is Gone?’ – we are talking about physical spaces with real people where ‘ideas’ are allowed to happen. One of those ideas that was ignited on a regular basis in The Coach and Horses was of course, the United Kingdom’s bi-weekly satirical and current affairs magazine ‘Private Eye’. This beautiful and fertile ground for freedom of expression, free thought and… Magic Betty on the piano, are all, exactly what mid-Brexit Britain needs more than anything else at this moment in our dramatic history of extremes. It’s a place you can talk over a pint, about anything at all, and know that by closing time, you may have begun a magazine, a band or an organisation that embraces civil disobedience. And, there is often a cheerful lock-in at this pub where the new ideas can become bona fide manifestos. `The Coach and Horses is punk, poetry, literature, comedy, music and above all – a temple for an unruly and gorgeous congregation who discuss, criticise and LOVE humanity.
Since the pub’s great English landlord of disobedience and rebellion Norman Balon gave up his tenacious tenure, Soho and London itself have been blessed with a predecessor who held the torch of freedom higher still. Alistair Choat has, these last few years, kept the torch of rebellion and acceptance burning bright. Here is another landlord who has welcomed people from all classes and culture in the way that Soho has, for 400 years, always excelled in. He knew, when he took up the task of taking over one of Soho’s most iconic pubs, that Soho is all about ‘firsts’. And so, he made it Soho’s first Vegetarian/Vegan pub. As a lifelong Vegetarian, this of course pleased me no end, and their quinoa filled butternut squash Sunday roasts with roasted medallions of beetroot have won me over again and again. But it’s the diversity of people that frequent this bustling boozer that have kept me hooked, not the dietary adventure.
So for this reason, it is with some trepidation that I, and many of my Soho-loving fellows reach out to you now, in the understanding that The Coach and Horses may be next on the corporate chopping board. It’s in the pipeline folks. Your favourite corner of Soho might, like so many of it’s corners, become another faceless, pointlessly handsome part of London that advertises itself on it’s rich past with no promise whatsoever that it’s future could ever match up.
What can we do? You can nominate it as a community asset here if you are a resident of any of the following London boroughs:
Kensington and Chelsea
We saved Madame Jojo’s. We saved Soho Square. But a precious pub can only be saved by the public. I know there’s a lot going on right now that takes our minds beyond British shores, but it’s never a bad time to protect the local boozer. Save Soho.
Tim Arnold, founder of Save Soho
2nd December 2018
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