Don’t just leave us with memories

The end of the road for the Roadhouse

Long-standing Covent Garden bar the Roadhouse has become the latest casualty of covid-19 with the announcement it will not be opening again. The toll of dealing with the current uncertainly around late-night London has meant its owners sadly do not regard the operation as viable.

The statement on its website reads: “It is the end of an era. An incredible amount of people have enjoyed being part of the Roadhouse journey, some great times and some great stories will be remembered by all those who have been involved along the way.” 

Although I was far from a regular it was a memorable venue for me as I met my future wife in the basement bar. As the effects of covid-19 rip through the hospitality industry the business casualties are getting ever closer to home for a growing number of people – whether they are the owners of outlets or in my case a mere customer.

For those people who have lived in London for meaningful chunks of their life it is particularly harsh because you can see the things that have helped create your memories start to fall away. It was the same with The Ledbury restaurant, which announced its permanent closure as lock-down eased. This was the venue I had my annual London Christmas meal with my mother in December and it was the venue I took my wife-to-be and mother out for a meal after they had met for the first time.

Other venues that have contributed to the social richness of my time in the capital are also clinging on for dear life. When I worked in the City the Lamb Tavern in Leadenhall Market and Dirty Dick’s near Liverpool Street station were regular spots for a pint or two of Young’s bitter at lunchtime and evening. Both of these pubs are now doing a mere 10% of the pre-crisis level of sales, according to Young’s chief executive Patrick Dardis.

There is no way this is viable on an ongoing basis but Dardis – like other pub company bosses in London – is valiantly keeping such venues open because he wants to help breathe life into central London and the City and not fuel the continuation of what feels rather like a ghost town. The fundamental problem is central London simply has scant amount of people in it right now. 

Although tourists are significantly down this is largely understandable. Most people here in the UK have abandoned the idea of overseas holidays this year and so we can hardly expect visitors from abroad to flock to London. The plan, however, for most people is probably to resume their foreign jaunts next year. That looks like some normality on the horizon.

Another matter entirely, and the real structural issue for leisure and hospitality businesses in the capital, is people working from home. Last week Schroders announced its employees do not have to return to its office in the City full-time after covid-19 passes. This followed news others including PwC and Lloyd’s of London, along with various tech firms, are working on rotas for office working in the capital.

A death spiral is taking hold whereby workers find little of attraction in returning to the office because many of the services around them including restaurants, bars, gyms and coffee shops are not open. This is clearly because there are too few people around to support their reopening! As time goes by the worry is this trend becomes increasingly powerful as opposed to there being a gradual increase in the numbers of people returning to the office. 

London mayor Sadiq Khan played an incredibly successful role in convincing people to avoid the London transport system as covid-19 raged in the capital but as things have eased he has failed to reverse this mindset and make much effort to encourage the use of public transport. Not surprisingly, this continues to be a major drag on people returning to work in central London. 

Greater vocal promotion of returning to work should have been propagated by the mayor and his team who have been conspicuous by their absence for much of the pandemic. It is not too late but more needs to be done as soon as possible before further businesses disappear and all we are left with are memories of once thriving pubs, bars and restaurants.

Glynn Davis, editor of Retail Insider 

This piece was originally published on Propel Info where Glynn Davis writes a regular Friday opinion piece. Retail Insider would like to thank Propel for allowing the reproduction of this column.