Restaurateurs in Soho are pressing Westminster Council to close roads in the area and let them offer al fresco dining as part of an ‘open streets’ movement gathering pace across the country and internationally.
John James CEO of Soho Estates is pushing the authority to come to the aid of some famous eateries like Little Italy and L’Escargot and clubs such as the Groucho Club and Nick Jones’ Soho House by allowing them to spill out onto streets they want closed off including Frith Street and Dean Street. James – the subject of an NLATV interview on these pages this week, says Soho is ‘the most dynamic area of London ‘where eat, drink, and be merry is the maxim for most.’ Some 46% of Soho Estates tenants are in the hospitality business. ‘They were the first to close and they will be the last to open with the given rules we have today’, said James of the ‘hand-to-mouth’ small businesses of Soho he has tried to help over rents.
The move comes against the backdrop of a similar national campaign called ‘Grand Outdoor Café’ started by live music venue founder Alan Lorrimer which seeks to tranform public spaces and streets into al fresco dining spaces. It wants government to help allow temporary deregulation in a similar initiative to one in Vilnius.
James said that in New York, too, another initiative demonstrates precisely what he wants to do in London. The New York City Hospitality Alliance is ‘leading the charge to responsibly and safely open up city streets, sidewalks, plazas, parks and other outdoor spaces to allow restaurants to serve food and beverages outside to offset the loss of business from anticipated indoor occupancy reductions and social distancing requirements due to COVID-19. It has produced Streetflms: Open Streets for Restaurants Explained’ to get its message across, viewable here
. Open space is literally the thing that is going to save the city’, says one commentator.
Meanwhile, in a separate development in Glasgow, architect Marcus Lee has put a team together to bring business back to the sector through the creation of a ‘socially distanced compliant glasshouse that takes over the street’. The Glasgow pavilion proposal, illustrated here, is for 10 restaurants that is sheltered from the Scottish rain and has more of a feel of a continental scene than a food hall, explained Lee. ‘You can imagine many other applications’, said Lee, ‘Berwick Broadway and Shepherd Market, for example - where the street in part is reclaimed maybe for a long time as cars get pushed back’.
The project, which aims to open this September or October when furloughing is likely to end, has strong political backing, although highways, fire and police are yet to be consulted