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Into The Fire: Chris Legh

Ben Robinson gets underway a Confidential column examining restaurant and bar proprietors

Written by . Published on November 13th 2012.

Into The Fire: Chris Legh

CHRIS LEGH was behind Spinningfields summer pop-up bar The Yacht Club, now he's got his winter warmers on with après ski style pop-up The Ski Club. The new seasonal venture has taken over an unusual location and hopes to take you back to a cosy alpine lodge to make the cold winter nights more bearable. It's unusual because it's in a 1964 concrete office block, it's dangerous because it's on the floor below the Confidential office in Quay House, Spinningfields. 

Who are you?
I'm Chris Legh, the managing partner of Heart, Soul, Rock and Roll who are the company behind The Ski Club. We also did the Yacht Club this summer so I guess you could say we are a pop-up bar business.

Ski 025Ski Club

Tell us about your bar experience?
This business has been in operation since April but before that I used to operate a company called Peppermint Events who are a festival bars company. I used to oversee all the bars at festivals like Bestival and Rockness and I did that for five or six years. The  difference then was that all hell breaks loose and you have to try and control it for three days. With Ski Club for example, I can concentrate on the details and deliver venues I'm proud of.

Why a ski themed bar?
As a business what we try and do is work on concepts, I think bars and leisure destinations in general are about escapism. Whether that's escapism through drinking 50 pints on a night out, or escapism by going to a place that's nice for a meal, or a place more expensive than you might normally afford, the whole concept of going out is to try to take you away to another place. So the concepts we develop, without theme-ing, try to draw on inspiration from different parts of the world where people might want to travel to.

Ski ClubSki Club

How long will The Ski Club be around?

The run for this one initially is just till the New Year, but with all of our concepts we have an open end on it. If it's a successful concept we'll keep running it and certainly we aim to have The Yacht Club and the Ski Club as on-going brands on a yearly basis. The difference is with The Yacht Club is that the weather only permits you a certain time frame in which to open. But here [The Ski Club] we aim to be around for somewhere between two and five months.

How hard was it to transform this space into an après ski bar?
We turned it round in about two and a half weeks which is fairly quick but our background is in events so we're used to that. We like taking interesting disused spaces, previously this was an empty office block, so we were offered the space and looked at what we could do with it. The main job was to commission a bespoke staircase to lead up to here. I think the quality of our fit-outs is what surprises people, they might come in expecting to find a few bedsheets and a couple of pictures on the wall and they find something that looks pretty much like an authentic late sixties/seventies alpine lodge.

Why Spinningfields?
Spinningfields is an area that we understand, one of the dangers with pop-ups is that you have a short period of time to build your trade. The Yacht Club was such a success for us and we had such a strong following we thought it would be stupid not to capitalise on that over the winter. Being a French themed Riviera pub in the summer it made sense to go to the slopes for the winter. Our big goal was not to turn it into a Disney log cabins venue but try and add authentic atmosphere.

The Yacht ClubThe Yacht Club

The Friday and Saturday nights have increased massively, it's a proper going out destination now. With new openings such as Neighbourhood and round corner Revolucion de Cuba and All Star Bowling Lanes, this part of Manchester is on the march. 

Would you consider opening a permanent venue?
The attraction of doing pop-ups for me is I really enjoy designing them - picking the furniture, choosing the soft furnishings and sorting out the layout. That's the most enjoyable bit so I think if I had to design a bar once and had to sit on it for ten years I'd get bored and probably end up changing it every year anyway.

Favourite drink?
We have our signature cocktail – the Tiffany Coco which is a coconut lined glass with Tiffany Blue coconut and honey bourbon. Then there's the Brandy Blazer which is fired up in front of you while you drink it. Plus we've got mulled wines and ciders down to our own in-house lagers. I'm a bourbon drinker so the Brandy Blazer is a great drink, it's a blazer mix that's set on fire and poured between two metal jugs and into your glass hot and served with a toasted marshmallow. We've also brought back the Bardot which was a massive summer drink for us at The Yacht Club so that's a little nod to where we've come from. 

We do a little bit of bar food in the form of sharing platters and hot cheese fondues with toasted bread and bratwurst on the side. When it comes to party's though we do anything from canapes up to a whole suckling pig which is carved in front of you. 

Have you ever actually been skiing?
I've been skiing once. Every bar we do has to have a narrative which we build around. So the narrative here is if you were a film star in the late sixties you'd go to St Tropez for your summer holiday and somewhere in the Alps like Saint Morritz for your winter holiday so that's the kind of premise we try and build around. Either it's aspirational or tongue-in-cheek ridiculous so you can take it any which way you want but it seems to get peoples' imaginations one way or another. 

Don't worry you can take the stairsDon't worry you can take the stairs

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6 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

Poster BoyNovember 13th 2012.

It's the business case which makes pop-ups such a compelling proposition.

Short term leases, (comparitvely) cheap fit outs, cheap part-time labour, maxed profit, limited write downs, no obsolescence, and the ability to exit. Fast.

Add to the above, the promiscuity of customers of themed pubs/bars wanting to be seen in The Emporer's New Clothes and quickly moving on to the fresh, new big thing and the real winner is the creative operator who originates imaginative concepts and can move quickly.

All of which is bad news for the likes of Living Ventures et al, operating a traditional business model with more inherent risk, who invest millions in the city and its people creating vibrancy, value and wealth over the longer term.

Be careful what you wish for...

1 Response: Reply To This...
pollolocoNovember 14th 2012.

And for that reason...you're out I suppose?

Christopher LeghNovember 15th 2012.

Hi Poster Boy, thank you for your comments.

However, I feel you've overlooked an important aspect of what pop-ups do deliver for an area such as Spinningfields.

Interesting and succesfull pop-up concepts are excellent at stimulating PR, creating footfall and they actually support existing long term tenants. In Spinningfields they have contributed to the area becoming a true leisure destination, this has done no harm to the current tenants, quite the reverse. It also makes the location much more attractive to future tenants, as a vibrant and high profile location.

This is something that has clearly happened in Spinningfields and why pop-ups are very attractive to developers looking to generate positive PR and drive additional footfall. The long term result of this is more footfall, more sales, more units let, more jobs.

1 Response: Reply To This...
Poster BoyNovember 15th 2012.

...in the same way Shopping Centre Managers use the calendar operators in the run up to Christmas.

We are not in disagreement, but pop-ups have no fixed overheads, benefit from leakage of leisure spend and by nature are 'here today, gone tomorrow'. Unlike tenants on long leases.

Poster BoyNovember 15th 2012.

...in the same way Shopping Centre Managers use the calendar operators in the run up to Christmas.

We are not in disagreement, but pop-ups have no fixed overheads, benefit from leakage of leisure spend and by nature are 'here today, gone tomorrow'. Unlike tenants on long leases.

1 Response: Reply To This...
Poster BoyNovember 15th 2012.

oops...this site takes so long to load sometimes.

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