But when I left, I remember people saying to me: “London is not going anywhere. You can dip back in and visit any time.” I took comfort from this. But I was wrong to believe them. London was starting to disappear.
It started with the Astoria being pulled down. And God, it was sad to see that big gaping space there where it stood. It was hard to know where Soho began and Tottenham Court Road ended. Where would bands play in WC1? They couldn’t all fit into the corridor of St Moritz or the Borderline.
There was something intrinsically British boozerish about that shabby old fly-posted building. It shouted back at the American architecture of Centrepoint and the way Charing Cross Road pandered to the advancement of home entertainment and furnishings. It was as though, when it was pulled down we were being told: “The pub is dead. Don’t go out and have fun. Don’t drink or dance or listen to music. Here, get yourself some nice shiny techy HD kit with surround sound and sit on your faux leather sofa with some scatter cushions. Charing Cross Road is all about staying in.”
I begrudgingly bought some scented candles and jumped on a train to Brighton. It felt like it was all my fault for leaving London in the first place.
Now, it’s happening all over again. This week, the Troubadour, one of my favourite London haunts, has gone on the market. And boy, am I cross - I visit the Troubadour for a Reviver breakfast with regularity, despite no longer living in town – I rely on its unchanging charm. To me, it’s London as I still know it.
But this happens doesn’t it? It happens everywhere. And the great British pub has been the victim of many a closure. Those boarded up windows and that peeling paint no longer looks charming. To some developers, in fact, it looks like an opportunity for some “luxury apartments.” But who wants to live somewhere without a social scene, without any kind of soul? Who wants a penthouse on a building site?
Next up for being wiped off the London map is the Royal Vauxhall Tavern, an iconic pub built in 1863 that has long been a part of the London gay community and has been referred to as the UK’s oldest gay pub. Add that to other closures within the LGBT scene, such as Madame Jojos, and we’re on our way to reducing the numbers of some of the most seminal venues for illustrating London’s cultural diversity. It’s just saddening.
“London is not going anywhere.”
Yes it is. It’s being bulldozed. It’s losing its edge. The developers are closing in. I don’t like it.
But where is old, cool, cultural, iconic, diverse London going?
Dare I say it? Brighton.