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It might seem seedy to some, but this lively corner of W1 delivers a slice of London like no other – and it’s full of surprises.
Sweeping countryside panoramas, the strains of a string quartet drifting across the rose garden, photos against the backdrop of a grand stately home. If this is your wedding-day vision, stop reading now – a Soho wedding is not for you.
In fact, a Soho wedding isn’t for most people. It’s a very particular type of couple who can embrace the unpredictability, the thrilling vibrancy, and in parts, the downright seediness of it all. This is a setting for couples who love London.
Pounding Soho’s streets won’t help with your research. Spaces tend to be stacked on top of restaurants or tucked inside private members’ clubs or boutique hotels. And with venues this central, you won’t have acres of space to play with, so numbers tend to be restricted. That said, Soho can always surprise – we’ve dug out some large spaces as well as rustling up the smaller ones.
There’s no denying that the location brings some complex logistics – moving between venues, for example, or West End traffic – but you’ll see a handsome return on your investment. Your guests will appreciate the central location, yet they’ll also be surprised by the peacefulness of the area at weekends. Your photos will not only look stunning (and different from everyone else’s), but they will age beautifully. And anything goes – weddings here come unencumbered with the traditional rules, so you can dress, eat, drink, dance and celebrate exactly how you like.
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As you begin preening, your betrothed and his gang can prep with breakfast and a pint. Grown-up grooms might book a table at the suitably butch St John or a private room at Quo Vadis, while grab-it-and-growl types can rip into an Arch burger (with pulled pork) at The Diner. Dean Street Townhouse has leather booths for six for a pre-wedding pow-wow, before heading to the pub for the traditional sharpener.
Soho does a great line in tucked-away hotels. If you’ve got time to hang out, the Loft Suite at Sanctum Soho has stacks of lounging space (including a cool roof terrace). Skip the ‘Tiny’ bedrooms at Dean Street Townhouse if you’ve got an entourage – there are ‘Bigger’ rooms instead – but the suites at The Soho Hotel are some of the area’s largest, with floor-to-ceiling windows (the Terrace Suite has two bathrooms), perfect for hair and make-up.
Cast off the kitten heels – Soho style has never toed the line. Play with your silhouette (Soho brides often opt for a low-maintenance high-hemline approach) and choose brightly coloured shoes, alongside headdresses and cool retro hair, inspired by Isabella Blow. In this part of town, anything goes. For him, a slim-cut suit and skinny tie with sharp hair should do it.
St Anne’s Church on Dean Street for the Anglicans, or the rather lovely – and recently restored – St Patrick’s, Soho Square, for Roman Catholics. Licensed for (small) civil ceremonies are The Soho Hotel (40 people), The Groucho Club (60), Aqua Nueva (100), Century, (80) Courthouse Doubletree by Hilton (150), Kettner’s (55), Soho House (80), Soho Theatre (100) or House of St Barnabus (50), which has a deconsecrated chapel.
Don’t assume that Soho venues will be too small for your wedding breakfast. Members’ clubs – Soho House (80 people), Groucho Club (70), Union Club (60) – are not as bijou as you think, and Century (90), Kettner’s (120) and Paramount (150) have dining space for larger parties. Also check out House of St Barnabus (50) and The Soho Hotel (50).
Wide open spaces are a collector’s item in this part of town, but don’t give up on your blue-sky ambitions just yet. Take the Roof Deck at Soho House for example – come summer, the retractable roof on the townhouse’s top floor comes rolling back; or Century’s gorgeous rooftop bar, which has space for 200 revellers. For West End glitz, there are three separate roof terraces perched high above Regent Street at Aqua, while House of St Barnabus’ leafy garden terrace sits at ground level, with its own chapel and catering by Benugo from autumn 2013.
The hottest no-bookings restaurants in Soho serve crowd-pleasing, easy-to-recreate street food dishes like pulled pork with sourdough (Pitt Cue Co), truffled egg toast and sliders (Spuntino), arancini and meatballs (Polpo), croquetas and traditional tortilla (Barrafina) and pata negra and sherry (Dehesa). And unlike most of them, you’ll be able to guarantee guests a table.
Soho is a mine of private dining space – you just can’t see any of it. If you’re hosting a night-before dinner, or a small wedding breakfast, here’s where to do it: Bob Bob Ricard (8, 10 people), Gauthier Soho (8, 18, 28), Hix (10), Refuel at the Soho Hotel (10, 24, 45), Kettner’s (10, 12, 18, 20, 40, 55, 80), Dehesa (12), 10 Greek Street (12), Bincho Yakitori (16), Quo Vadis (12, 24), Mildred’s (20), Gay Hussar (12, 25), Inamo (20), Aurora (20), The Diner (25), Meza (30), L’Escargot (30, 40, 60), Bocca di Lupo (32), Vasco & Piero’s Pavilion (36), Carom (44), Floridita (52, 75).
Dean Street Townhouse (above) or The Soho Hotel are our Soho picks – they won’t blow the budget to smithereens either – but if you hop across to Mayfair, you’ll find some lovely old-school hotels with bags of character. Try the St James’s Hotel (the Terrace Suite is a corker), Dukes, Claridge’s or The Connaught. For cost-conscious but cosy, The Grazing Goat has a handful of boutiquey rooms just off Portman Square.
Soho doesn’t hit the hay at midnight – neither should your wedding party. Catch some late jazz at Ronnie Scott’s or cabaret, which comes kitsch and raucous at Madame Jojo’s, so hip it hurts at The Box or art deco and elegant at Crazy Coqs. You’ll find proper ‘up West’ clubbing at DSTRKT (right) or across Regent Street at The Cuckoo Club. Archer Street is a great bet for a group knees-up.
This article was first printed in Square Meal Venues & Events, weddings 2013.