With the strip club Raymond’s Revue Bar standing down a darkened alley surrounded by prostitutes, rent boys and drug dealers Soho in London was hardly the destination of choice for most discerning travellers in the 1980s. But today the London property boom has forced most of the cheap sex shops and back street brothels out of the area, seeing them replaced with high end bars and restaurants, according to Bloomberg.
For many years the area was synonymous with all the moral decay of a modern city, but today it is unrecognisable to locals. The free trade is pushing out the pimps as the thirst for high end restaurants and property leaves traditional “traders” priced out of the market.
So now there is genuine pressure to move them on and clear the way for new developments. Last year this culminated in raid on 20 brothels in one day. A spokeswoman for the English Collective of Prostitutes said: “they bashed down doors, came in in full riot gear and with dogs, handcuffed women to the floor, were telling women they were going to tell family at home, pulled women wearing underwear outside in the street.”
The prostitutes have been campaigning against their eviction from the area, with very limited success. A local Fish and Chip Shop owner Paul Giorgio said: “When I started 30 years ago, there was a long run of peep shows.
“Now people come in here and ask me, where’s Soho? If you take the sex industry away from here, you take away Soho, but I suppose they’ve got to if they want to make the money.”
Bloomberg’s Neil Callanan and Patrick Gower suggest the decline in the sex trade in the area and its rise as a upmarket destination is similar to the way Time Square in New York was changed by Mayor Giuliani’s 1990s transformation. Today apartments go for as much £3m in Soho, with houses topping £5m.
The improvements in the area are also in line with what is happening elsewhere in London. Once run down estates are now too expensive for many young professions. In Brixton the home of the 1980s riots, modest 2 bedroom properties go for £500,000.
The Soho district of London is the area surrounding Soho Square, a popular summer drinking spot for hipsters and the gay community. The square itself remains a public park looked after Westminster City Council but much of what surrounds it has changed in recent years.
Even Walker’s Court, the home of the old Raymond’s Revue Bar is to get a face lift. The strip club is long gone but in its place is an exclusive nightclub popular with celebrities called The Box. Soho Estates, which owns the Walker’s court plan to turn it into a high end enclave.
Perhaps the most intriguing of all the swanky new restaurants is La Boda Negra (pictured). The restaurant is disguised as a peep show bar in order to keep out low end customers. The owners are said to believe that no one comes to Soho for sex shows any more so their sleazy looking exterior makes them safe from anyone who is not in the know.
The project to kick out the pimps and drug dealers has been a long term ambition of Conservative controlled Westminster City Council. They preside over some of the most exclusive parts of London but Soho always presented them with difficulties, not least because it always has had a residential population who felt harassed by the local criminality.
The changes are not all good news, there are genuine worries that London is being bought up by foreign property investors creating a boom that is pricing young people out of the city. The government has been encouraged by the Bank of England and IMF to try to deal with the property price rises that have been up to 30 percent in recent years.