Streets in Soho, central London, were packed last night with drinkers desperate to enjoy their first pints in bars in more than 100 days due to lockdown.
Clips posted online show joyful people celebrating and engaging closely with those around them.
However the Government had advised Brits continue to keep one metre apart from others despite allowing bars and restaurants to reopen on Saturday July 4.
One man, who passed through the busy roads, told Mirror Online: "Walking down old Compton Street felt like wading through a Petri dish.
"And that was at about 4:30pm. Not much chance to socially distance even just walking down the street."
Another video shared online shows a man twerking against a car trying to navigate through the crowds. The twerker is moved on but the car struggles to get through Soho as other drinkers move into the road.
In each video, police officers are seen but significantly outnumbered by the drinkers.
But police had warned Saturday night would be as busy as New Year's Eve for forces across England.
Nevertheless, the ugly scenes sparked a furious backlash on social media.
One shocked woman wrote on Twitter : "Just seen scenes if Soho pubs... my heart goes out to those health care workers and their families who died of Covid to save the rest of us... disgusting lack of respect."
And one man shared video of groups gathered in the streets, writing: "Soho lockdown is over."
Another fumed: "Just seen the scenes in Soho. It's as if the health care workers who risked their lives trying to deal with the pandemic were just wasting their time."
And Borough Market, also in the capital, was heaving with drinkers pictured sipping foamy pints. They too were bunched together on the street.
Experts predicted pub-goers would sink a staggering 15 million pints at 23,000 establishments across England on Saturday alone. Some opened their doors at 6am to accommodate the demand.
But prices for beer, wine, cider and spirits were hiked as pubs, including Wetherspoons, desperately tried to make up for lost business.
Nevertheless, people were queuing to get in some pubs across England. There was a wait of around an hour just to get inside The Regal, a Wetherspoon in Cambridge.
Meanwhile A&E departments prepared for a surge in booze-fuelled patients by setting up tents outside hospitals to keep people socially distanced as they waited.
Police in Devon and Cornwall said they received more than 1,000 reports, most of which were "drink-related", while police in West Yorkshire were called to a "safety concern" at a village pub near Bradford.
As drink flowed and tempers flared, four people were arrested in Brentwood High Street, Essex. following a "disturbance". In Nottinghamshire, some pub owners took the decision to close up after incidents of anti-social behaviour.
However, in Leicester, where a local lockdown has been enforced due to a spike in coronavirus cases, police say there were "more officers on duty than on New Year's Eve" - to prevent people attempting to sneak out of the city in order to reach the pubs outside the lockdown zone.