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Friday, April 30, 1999 Published at 20:23 GMT 21:23 UK

Soho - Haven for the unconventional

Soho's reputation as a gay safe haven has been destroyed

Bohemian and unconventional Soho is one of the busiest and most fashionable centres of London nightlife.

The nail bomb terror
Characterised by run-down buildings and narrow, traffic-choked streets, in the last 10 years the area has become a thriving focus for gay bars and businesses.

Old Compton Street is the hub of the area's gay community and has many gay-friendly bars, cafés and shops.

[ image: The area was crowded with Friday-night revellers at the time of the blast]
The area was crowded with Friday-night revellers at the time of the blast
Gay men and women mingle comfortably with tourists, media workers, theatre-goers and other Soho visitors.

Restaurants, bookshops, hairdressing, body-piercing and even travel and accommodation agencies oriented towards a gay clientele have set up there.

Alongside are long-established "straight" businesses including restaurants, and continental cake shops and delicatessens, as well as the Prince Edward Theatre, currently showing hit Abba musical, Mamma Mia!

Seedier side

Soho is the centre of the British film industry and favoured media watering holes. The Groucho and Soho House are a stone's throw from Old Compton Street, as well as some of London's best restaurants.

Some of the seedy sex premises which gave Soho its earlier reputation remain.

Peter Tatchell, spokesman for gay rights group OutRage!, said: "A lot of gay people saw the Old Compton Street area as being a safe haven.

"They felt able to relax and hold hands without fear of attack. This outrage has destroyed that cosy assumption.

"There are no safe and secure neighbourhoods for homosexuals and that we are still vulnerable to violent attack."

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