London Is A Little Less Peculiar Every Day
Chris Webb, from whom I stole the above photograph, pointed out that this minuscule Soho pub is older than America – or rather was, because it’s just gone the way of nearly all the rest and is being turned into offices / flats. It’s a common refrain on this site, but the speed with which it is happening now is quite unprecedented. Anything small, indie, private or quirky is being steamrollered out of the city and replaced by chain retail stores or giant companies. Sometimes pubs don’t lose their licences but sell out to All Bar One, the horrible drunk-tank bar chain that has proliferated like cancer cells across the capital.
It’s not just the users of those closed-down venues that suffer but their neighbours. Case in point; a friend’s delicatessen, small, unique, social and local, now has a Costa Coffee shop right next door to it, and has lost much of its custom. Given the choice, why would anyone select a boring corporate chain with lousy coffee over a fantastic neighbourhood one?
The Molly Mogg, above, was one of the city’s last traditional drag pubs, defiantly un-PC and quite mad, deafening and friendly inside, filled with the most bizarre clientele, straight, gay, black, white, office workers, nutcases, everyone and anything. It was impossible not to make friends in there because you couldn’t turn around without asking someone to move. Of course you’d eventually have to take a restraining order out on them because they’d want to follow you while they explained how flat-each theory impacts on global warming, but it was precisely the sort of place that Arthur Bryant would visit.
The new Bloomberg building near St Paul’s has been praised for its almost zero-carbon footprint and its interior design, but from the outside it’s just another boring office block that’s far too big. And as a member of the public I’ll never get to see this grand Nordic interior in all its glory; I’ll just be stuck with walking around the blank exterior.
I had thought that pop-ups would perhaps give us a way to add indie freak-zones to corporate areas, but these now fall into two groups; cocktail bars and international street food. London is too overheated for a group of artists and entrepreneurs to unite and prevent the loss of special places. Yet it can be done, and sometimes from scratch; this year London has opened at least three new theatres, including one 900-seater.
Perhaps places like the Molly Mogg are relics that need to be cast aside so that we can move on. No-one cares whether society’s more peculiar clientele get to share their wonky views with one another or just stay home…