The street runs east from Piccadilly Circus to Leicester Square via Haymarket and Wardour Street. It was constructed in 1681 as a thoroughfare between the two places and was named after the politician Henry Coventry, secretary of state to Charles II.
The street had been designed for commercial and entertainment purposes, rather than a place of residence. The goldsmiths and jewellers Lamberts were based at Nos. 10–12 Coventry Street in 1803 until the premises were demolished shortly after World War I. For much of the 18th and early 19th century, there were a number of gambling houses along the street, contributing to a shady and downmarket character.  Charles Hirsch, a French bookseller, sold French literature and ran a clandestine trade in expensive pornography from his bookshop "Librairie Parisienne" in Coventry Street between 1890 and 1900.
The street has been a centre for high-volume food outlets. The first (1909) J. Lyons and Co. Corner House was on the west corner with Rupert Street. Scott's Restaurant first operated in Coventry Street. Originally opening as an oyster warehouse in 1872 at No. 18 as part of the London Pavilion Music Hall, it moved to No. 19 in 1891, expanding as a full restaurant. It moved to Mount Street in Mayfair in 1967. In 1887, the Leicester, a public house, opened at the corner of Wardour Street. It closed in 1927 so the neighbouring department store could expand.
In the 1920s, the street became a centre for nightclubs, attracting clientele such as Edward, Prince of Wales, Rudolph Valentino, Noël Coward, Fred Astaire and Charlie Chaplin. The Café De Paris opened in 1924 in the basement of the Rialto Cinema (which had opened in 1913) and became a popular club through the rest of the decade due the owner Martin Poulsen's friendship with the Prince of Wales. On 8 March 1941, the Cafe and much of Coventry Street suffered significant damage from bombing, killing 84 people including Poulsen, though former Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin, visiting the cafe, survived. Owing to a lack of water, a leg wound had to be washed with champagne as it was the only suitable substance to hand. The restaurant was rebuilt after the war and closed in 1991.
The Prince of Wales Theatre is on Coventry Street as is the Trocadero shopping centre. The Swiss Centre, at the far eastern end of the street adjoining Leicester Square was constructed between 1963–66 and designed by David du R. Aberdeen and Partners.
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