The Groucho Club is in Soho, the louche and liberal heart of London.
London Heathrow is the one to aim for – it’s got the most routes and the quickest links into central London. The Heathrow Express will whisk you to Paddington in 15 minutes; a taxi will take you around an hour if the traffic plays nicely.
If you’re coming from within the UK, all of London’s terminal stations are within easy reach – most are just a few stops away on the Tube. Leicester Square is the closest Tube station; Piccadilly Circus and Tottenham Court Road are hot on its heels.
You won’t need a car if you’re staying at the Groucho, which is bang in the centre of central London. The Tube has you covered within the city, and trains will take you further afield should you need them. If you do plan to drive, be aware that the hotel is inside London’s Congestion Charge Zone – expect to pay £11.50 a day if driving between 7am and 6pm from Monday to Friday. Want to hire anyway? The Smith24 team can arrange it.
Worth getting out of bed for
Once synonymous with red lights and rouge lips, Soho has always taken its role as London’s entertainer seriously. Behind closed doors, x-rated attractions used to draw the crowds; out on the street, it was café culture and the lure of neon lights. For better or worse, it’s lost much of the seediness of its earlier days, but it’s still one of the capital's most lively, diverse and liberal quarters, and staying at the Groucho puts you right in the thick of it. As you wander the streets, keep an eye out for the much-mythologised Seven Noses of Soho. These plaster cast noses were fixed to various walls by artist Rick Buckley, who put them there in 1997 but didn’t tell anyone for more than a decade, allowing dozens of urban myths to take root in the meantime. But if Soho’s got a good nose, she’s also got a first-rate ear. The area is joined at the hip with the music and entertainment industries and home to iconic venues like Ronnie Scott’s, the seminal jazz bar known for hosting the cream of the crop – Earl Hine, Chet Baker, Ella Fitzgerald and the like have all taken the stage over the years. Other worthy contenders include legendary gig venue the 100 Club, blues bar Ain’t Nothing But and Live at Zédel, an art deco relic that hosts cabaret shows, drag acts and more.
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Soho has had a French connection for hundreds of years, which has done no end of good for its restaurants. There are plenty to choose from, but few carry more weight than L’Escargot, favoured by everyone from Coco Chanel to Mick Jagger. As the name suggests, snails are the specialty, but you'll also be hard pushed to find a better lobster bisque or chateaubriand anywhere in town. An old favourite of King Edward VII and Oscar Wilde, Soho staple Kettner’s is often credited with bringing French cuisine to London society. A reputation for scandal gave it lashings of raffish charm in its heyday, and although it’s better behaved today, it’s still got the power to transport thanks to its decadent art nouveau interiors. Quo Vadis – which is in a building that Karl Marx once called home – doffs its cap to St George with a menu as English as they come. Enjoy the flavours of this green and pleasant land in dishes like skate wing, pheasant pie or the smoked eel sandwich, which is served with a punchy horseradish cream.
For coffee, try Café Italia, a 1950s relic that wouldn’t look out of place in Brooklyn or a Chicago suburb. The walls are decked with black and white photographs and the till is an old-school manual job, so make sure you’ve got some cash on you.
Stop in for a pinot or glass of Breton cider at the French House, a Francophile (and pint-sized) pub down the road from the Groucho. It’s jam-packed most evenings, so you may find the best option is to grab your drinks and decamp to the pavement, where the talk is often lively.