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Soho and Mayfair were the heart of Sixties London. The city’s most important clubs, art galleries, gig venues and more were here, and plenty of stars—most famously Jimi Hendrix—lived here too. Much has changed since then, but it’s still possible to get a flavour of that flamboyant, world-changing era. Starting and finishing at Hotel Indigo Leicester Square, here’s a tour that will take you back, complete with soundtrack:
From Hotel Indigo Leicester Square, head for Charing Cross Road. Five minutes’ walk northwards will take you to Denmark Street.
Tin Pan Alley
This is Tin Pan Alley, once full of music publishers and recording studios; now it’s mainly music shops. One of the most interesting buildings is at No 4, now a guitar shop called Regent Sounds, but once a recording studio; The Rolling Stones recorded their first album here. Down the street, meanwhile, is Flat Iron at La Gioconda, a no-reservations steak restaurant on the site of a former cafe. David Bowie and The Small Faces were regulars.
Cross Charing Cross Road and weave your way through Soho until you’re in front of No 90, Wardour Street.
This imposing red-brick building was The Marquee between 1964 and 1988. It was one of the most important clubs in London, hosting the Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds, Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd and many more. The Moody Blues recorded ‘Go Now’, a No 1 Christmas hit, in a garage-cum-studio backstage. Oddly, given the number of bands that played here, a blue plaque remembers just Keith Moon, drummer with The Who.
Walk north up Wardour Street and then left into Broadwick Street. Follow it to the end…
Carnaby Street became indelibly linked with Swinging London when it featured in the famous Time Magazine article of April 1966. At that time it was full of independent boutiques such as Lord John and Mates; now the brands are more international, but it’s still dedicated to fashion.
Cross Regent Street and head down Hanover Street, which becomes Brook Street. Stop at No 23.
Jimi Hendrix’s old home
This is the former home of Jimi Hendrix; as a blue plaque reminds visitors, he lived on the top floor in 1968 and 1969, with girlfriend Kathy Etchingham. “[He said] that it was his first real home,” she said in 2016. Next door, at No 25, is the former home of George Handel, who lived there in the 18th century: there’s now a museum where you can visit his home and Hendrix’s flat as it was in 1969, called Handel & Hendrix in London.
Head in the same direction down Brook Street, past Claridge’s, and turn right onto Duke Street. Stop at No 69.
The Robert Fraser Gallery
This very smart Mayfair street was once home to an art gallery owned by Robert Fraser, a key figure in the 1960s. Friends with the Beatles and the Stones, Fraser was known for exhibiting art that more conservative establishments wouldn’t touch—everything from Peter Blake to Bridget Riley. An Old Etonian, he was arrested with Keith Richards and Mick Jagger during the infamous ‘Redlands‘ raid.
Retrace your steps to Grosvenor Square
The 17 March 1968 Protest
For more than 50 years, this was the site of the US embassy in London—and it was for that reason that it became so important in 1968. A 10,000-strong demonstration, led by Tariq Ali and Vanessa Redgrave, marched from Trafalgar Square to the US embassy to protest against the Vietnam War. The march turned violent; Mick Jagger, who was there, wrote ‘Street Fighting Man’ about it.
Head west along Upper Grosvenor Street.
No. 6 is the former home of The House of Leonard, London’s most fashionable hairdressers during the sixties. Run by Leonard Lewis (‘Leonard of Mayfair’), it had many famous customers, none more so than model Twiggy, whose career was launched after a trim here in 1966. It took eight hours: “They kept drying it to see if it fell right,” she said. “Those short haircuts have to be absolutely precise.”Walk all the way down South Audley Street into Curzon Square
1 Curzon Square
The Sixties only really ended at some point in the 1970s, when drink and drugs overwhelmed many of its brightest stars. At No. 1 Curzon Square (then No. 12 Curzon Place; the flat belonged to singer Harry Nilsson), both Mama Cass—whose soaring, crystal-clear vocals defined the Mamas and the Papas’ sound—and The Who drummer Keith Moon died, in 1974 and 1978 respectively.
Walk eastwards across Mayfair until you arrive in Savile Row.
No. 3 Saville Row
This is London’s home of traditionally bespoke tailoring for men, but on 30 January 1969 it was a lot livelier. That was the day that The Beatles—whose Apple Corps was based at No. 3 Savile Row—gave their last live performance on its roof. (They also recorded ‘Let It Be’ in a studio in the basement). As they left the roof—hurried along by police officers—John Lennon remarked, “I hope we passed the audition.”
Head south, across Piccadilly and into Mason’s Yard
Although it’s now dominated by the White Cube Gallery in the centre, the quiet Mason’s Yard has more of a feel of the Sixties than the rest of Soho and Mayfair. It used to be home to the Indica Gallery, where John Lennon met Yoko Ono, and is home to the reopened nightclub Scotch of St James, where the shiniest Sixties stars—Beatles, Stones, Animals—used to party.
Head back to Indigo London Leicester Square – but there’s one last sight around the corner.
The Ad Lib Club
In Leicester Place, you’ll find the Prince Charles Theatre, one of London’s finest cinemas. Look up at the building above it—the fourth floor to be exact – and you’ll be staring at the former home of the Ad Lib club, the forerunner to Scotch of St James as London’s grooviest club. It was here that John Lennon and George Harrison first experienced LSD in the spring of 1965—the point at which, perhaps, the Sixties really began.