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The Street
            Back to Open Skies

Berwick Street, London

1 September 2014

Words by Gareth Rees / Images by REM

If you are in central London and you find yourself trapped amid the chain stores and foot traffic of Oxford Street, take a turn west and escape on to Berwick Street, which, extending deep into the heart of the West End’s infamous Soho neighbourhood, will give you a much more authentic taste of what London is all about. The street’s history can be traced back to the 18th century, and is the location of Soho’s two oldest shops: antique lighting store W Sitch & Co and Borovick Fabrics. 

The street is historically best-known for the popular Berwick Street Market, where fruit and vegetables have been sold since the 1770s, but also its connection to the fashion and textile trade and the music industry. Berwick Street is now home to tailors, fashion brands, vintage stores, record shops, restaurants and cafés, famous public houses – The Green Man, at 57 Berwick Street, occupies a spot that has been occupied by a pub since the early 18th century – fabric shops and haberdasheries and many other independent businesses. 

Like many Soho streets, Berwick Street has its own unique character (and characters), shaped by its long and storied history, and its boutiques, cafés and restaurants, supported by the local community, offer more than enough to keep you occupied for a full morning or afternoon of shopping, exploring and imbibing.

Bang Bang Clothing Exchange Soho

‘Vintage’ was a word that cropped up in pretty much any conversation about fashion during the early 2000s, and people’s love of clothing with a history shows no signs of abating any time soon. As a result, Berwick Street is home to four vintage stores, including Bang Bang Clothing Exchange Soho. There are three Bang Bang stores in London – the original store can be found on Goodge Street, while the latest addition to the Bang Bang family is located on Drury Lane – but the Berwick Street store, which opened in 2005, is the only one that stocks both men’s (downstairs) and women’s (upstairs) fashion. 

Refreshingly uncluttered, and stocking an impressive range of retro and vintage clothing and accessories by highstreet and designer brands, Bang Bang both buys and sells. If you’re selling, the store’s buyers will offer 25 to 30 per cent of the sale price in cash, or 45 to 50 per cent in store credit, for any items they are interested in. If you’re buying, well, you know how that works.

9 Berwick Street, Soho
London
Tel: +44 20 7494 2042
bangbangclothingexchange.co.uk

Flat White

This small café, opened in 2005 with the aim of bringing a taste of the thriving coffee culture found in Australia and New Zealand to the British capital, has since gathered a cadre of loyal regulars, mainly coffee loving Londoners working or living in Soho. 

Despite its name, Flat White serves the full range of coffees, all expertly prepared by the extremely friendly, passionate and knowledgeable staff, as well as a concise list of breakfast items, including a delicious dish of scrambled eggs on toast to which you should add a portion of chorizo and a portion of avocado. With no Wi-Fi, Flat White is all about taking time out with a first-rate coffee. 

17 Berwick Street, Soho
London
Tel: +44 20 7734 0370
flatwhitecafe.com

Gosh!

Gosh!, owned by Josh Palmano, who several years ago transferred the store to Soho from Great Russell Street in Bloomsbury, where it had been doing business for 25 years, caters to serious graphic novel fans, but anyone who loves print will enjoy browsing its well-stocked shelves. On those shelves – filled by Steven Walsh, who oversees the day-to-day running of the store with a small team of knowledgeable staff – you will find everything from superhero titles to children’s books, Manga and hard to find small press titles. 

The store hosts a regular workshop and discussion group for comic artists, Process, and past events have included books signings by the likes of Watchmen writer Alan Moore, Ghost World creator Daniel Clowes and Kevin O’Neill, illustrator of The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Gosh! is a comic book utopia. 

1 Berwick Street, Soho
London
Tel:+44 20 7636 1011
goshlondon.com

Soho Bikes

Hawker, Tom Hodder and retired pro-mountain biker Rob Warner, Soho Bikes is the new kid on the block, having opened its doors just this year, but it is just the sort of independent enterprise that belongs on Berwick Street. More than just a bike shop – although the range of mountain bikes and accessories and the workshop will keep all visiting bike nuts happy – Soho Bikes is designed to attract cyclists looking to socialise as well as shop. 

The store-café holds regular events, and the superb long black, prepared by the fully trained baristas, is proof that Nick, Tom and Rob take coffee almost as seriously as they do mountain biking.

26 Berwick Street, Soho
London
Tel: +44 20 7439 9577
sohobikes.co.uk

Percival

Independent men’s clothing brand Percival opened its flagship boutique in 2012. Percival’s only outlet, the Berwick Street store is also the brand’s headquarters; the basement houses its studio, where the clothing displayed on the shop floor upstairs is designed. 

Percival specialises in rethinking classic staples from what it describes as the “everyman wardrobe” – the current collection features an unlined twill trench coat brought up to date with bright orange inside seams and a large inside pocket designed to fit a tablet – and is dedicated to working with local London producers and British materials where possible. The store hosts regular talks and exhibitions. 

3 Berwick Street, Soho
London
Tel: +44 20 773 44533
percivalclo.com

Oliver Spencer

Self-taught tailor and clothing designer Oliver Spencer quit art school to learn his business selling second-hand clothing at London’s famous Portobello Market, before starting his own men’s label in 2002. Since then, he has expanded into women’s clothing, in 2008, and become one of the best-known names in British men’s fashion, renowned for using traditional techniques to create unique and thoroughly modern pieces. 

He has three London stores, including the Oliver Spencer boutique on Berwick Street (the other two stores, one men’s wear, one women’s wear, are on Lambs Conduit Street), which stocks items from Spencer’s men’s range. 

81 Berwick Street, Soho
London
Tel: +44 20 7287 1310
oliverspencer.co.uk

Polpetto

Originally opened in 2010 on the first floor of the French House on Soho’s Dean Street, Polpetto closed in 2012, before reopening on Berwick Street in 2013. The 60-seater restaurant in an integral part of Russell Norman and Richard Beatty’s ever-expanding London restaurant empire, which currently encompasses four incarnations of the pair’s bacari-style restaurant, Polpo; a unique take on the American diner, Spuntino; Mishkin’s deli; and the Ape & Bird pub-restaurant. 

Enjoy a couple of small plates and a glass of something perched at the aperitivo bar, or book the chef’s table and experience the full range on offer from the open kitchen presided over by celebrated chef Florence Knight, whose regularly-changing menus feature simple but beautiful dishes celebrating quality produce. 

1 Berwick Street, Soho
London
Tel: +44 20 7439 8627
polpetto.co.uk

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