A crowd of clubs stumbling on the streets of Soho is a familiar sight.
But the past six months have seen numbers dwindle. The enthusiastic few remained, but the night’s 10 pm curfew in pubs, bars and restaurants was described as the final nail in the coffin of London’s hospitality industry.
London’s legendary party district is preparing to take the brunt of the latest round of coronavirus restrictions. The businesses in Soho have survived the summer of uncertainty, but the curfew threatens to close some places forever.
Milk & Honey is the latest release. Opened since 2002, the venue is a stylish cocktail bar best known for shaping the easy speech revival of the turn of the millennium. But the epidemic killed the business.
The founder, Jonathan Downey, says the curfew ended them.
Speaking to Sky News, he said he’s at a loss as to how to work with what he sees as ever-changing last-minute restrictions.
“We don’t have a choice, it’s impossible to continue.
“We will lose 50% of our revenue, and we are already working 60% of what we usually do, so because Covid-19Our sales are 60% than they normally are and due to the curfew it will drop to 30%. “
Downey says that as he reconciles with the bar’s closing, he feels staffed.
“It’s devastating for me personally, but I feel more like the people who work here. We used to have 15 people working here, and now we have six and they’ve all lost their jobs. It’s much worse for them.”
The prime minister hopes that measures announced in England on Tuesday – including a 10 p.m. curfew for bars and restaurants and wider use of face coverings – will avoid the need for tougher interventions such as a second lockdown.
But at the Bill Murray comedy club, there are now very few smiles – the staff there see the new curfew as a shutdown in all but the name.
They installed transparent plastic screens and reduced the capacity from 90 to 30. However, they will also need to close their doors at 10 pm. A heavy blow to the usual trading hours.
Co-founder James O’Donnell says there is nothing he can do to keep customers safe.
“A lot of bars will tell you that they sell most of their drinks between 10pm and 1am, and that’s when they really get paid.
“We made the COVID-19 place safe, put screens in and out, got in and out safely, we had the track and trace and now, there’s a sudden curfew at 10 pm too.”
London’s night economy is valued at £ 26 billion a year and businesses are warning that 540,000 jobs may be at risk due to new rules such as early shutdown and table-only service.
A joint survey by the British Beer and Pub Society, UK Hospitality and British Institute of Educators revealed high levels of anxiety about the future of the pub and the wider hospitality sector even before the new restrictions were announced by the Prime Minister.
Taxi driver Howard Taylor has been transporting party-goers for over 30 years. Late nights and early mornings are best for work. But with the new curfew in England, the revelers will be no more.
It is a sad day for London, he says: “It will be deserted. They will roll down Shaftesbury Avenue. There will be no one, there is nowhere to go and they will not come.”
When crowds are the enemy, our social spaces are forced to change to allow schools and workplaces to function.
How long can anyone guess – so he’s jostling recent requests – like tonight – it’s going to be intense and off at 10.