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Super Saturday: ‘Enough of this lockdown malarkey’

First night on the town since pandemic took hold brings pockets of partying – but many pubs across the West End kept their doors closed

10 July, 2020 — By Harry Taylor

Crowds in Soho are entertained by a street musician

THE challenge facing venues in the West End was laid bare on Saturday night as pubs, bars and restaurants reopened their doors to the public – but the continued closure of theatres saw pockets of Westminster remain desolate.

The streets near Leicester Square and Long Acre were largely empty. Before the full impact of coronavirus hit the UK in March, Saturday night would have seen it buzzing with theatregoers, drinkers and diners.

With many of the theatres closed and footfall collapsing, dozens of pubs had kept their doors shut, or delayed reopening until early this week.

A blustery and grey St Martin’s Lane, home to three theatres and a host of bars and eateries, was eerily quiet, despite being yards from Leicester Square and Charing Cross tube stations. On the steps of the Coliseum Theatre, home to the English National Opera, three drinkers necked cans of cider while banners advertising long-since cancelled runs of Madame Butterfly and Rusalka fluttered redundantly in the wind.

Such was the scarcity of open pubs that punters queued outside The Chandos in St Martin’s Lane to get in.

One couple visiting the capital from Derbyshire told the Extra that they had been shocked to find so few venues open on “Super Saturday”.

Punters watching football at the Comedy Pub

In the pubs that were open, proceedings were fairly muted and orderly. At the Comedy Pub in Oxenden Street near Piccadilly Circus, staff said the day had been busier than expected. Drinkers occupied two of the pub’s floors, many watching Chelsea beat Watford on TV.

Despite rules designed to stop drinkers shouting, including lowering the sound on music and TVs in pubs, one Blues fan couldn’t help but shout “penalty”, arms outstretched in injustice when Christian Pulisic was fouled in the area. Like eventual goalscorer Willian, his eventual celebrations were more muted.

Yet a short walk away in Soho it was a different story. A week after the annual Pride celebrations were due to take place, thousands of people packed the roads near Old Compton Street. Much of the area had been pedestrianised for the occasion, with many visiting just to soak in the carnival atmosphere.

At one point the crowd in Soho came together, chanting to defend a musician whose electric supply had been turned off by police after complaints by neighbours. Officers patrolled the area, but were largely met with good spirits by revellers.

Virus safety measures for drinkers

Robert Bloom and Jason Gosford were among those who had come down. Speaking outside the Rupert Street Bar, they had brought bottles of Heineken down, expecting to be stuck in queues all night. Yet despite the lack of them, they decided to stay outside and turn their “plan B into plan A”.

“It’s the right time to get life back to normal, enough of this lockdown malarkey,” said Robert. “It’s quite an odd mix of people out tonight. The tourists are gone, you end up with this underworld of people who are out. It’s a bit of a weird feeling.”

“[Lockdown] has bored me,” said Jason. “I have got a garden so it’s not so bad, but it’s not the same. We’ve just to see how many people have come down and the measures they’ve put in place.”

Around the corner in Greek Street, 21-year-old Andrea had travelled up from Elephant and Castle to see what was going on. Like others, she and her friend Laurentiou hadn’t visited the newly-opened bars nearby and had brought their own supplies.

Propped up against her bicycle, she said: “I’ve come out for the fresh air. You’re quite isolated at home, so I wanted to go out.

“I’m not worried about the virus, I see that people are being quite careful.”

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