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£2.6m debts bankrupt Korova founder

Founder of a host of flamboyant bars blames banks for withdrawing support

Published on March 15th 2011.

£2.6m debts bankrupt Korova founder

ROB GUTMANN, the man behind some of Liverpool's top nightspots, has been declared personally bankrupt owing around £2.6m.

The 44-year-old created and owned numerous bars and restaurants in the city such as Alma de Cuba, Circo, Blue Bar and Grill, Babycream, Alma de Santiago and Lark Lane's Negresco.

Gutmann, an avid Liverpool FC fan, moved to the city from his native London to study history at the University of Liverpool, graduating in 1988.

His career in the city began with The Lyceum Cafe on Bold Street which he bought with his father's retirement money, a loan and cash made from the property market.

He sold it in 1997 and with the proceeds it was onward and up – or rather down to the Albert Dock - with the creation of footballer hangouts such as the Blue Bar and Grill (1998), Pan Am (2001), Baby Blue and Babycream.

The opening of Alma de Cuba on Seel Street brought about much noise, however the group that Gutmann's string of venues traded under – the Lyceum Company - was put into administration just three months after Alma's opening. Despite £3m being raised from the sale of many of bars, creditors were left out of pocket to the tune of hundreds of thousands of pounds.

A separate company Gutmann was involved with, the Korova Corporation, owned Alma de Cuba and music bar Korova. Then the group turned its attention away from the city centre to the south end of the city.

But Korova's refurbishment and renaming of some well known and well loved pubs was not without criticism.

Changes to Lark Lane's Masonic saw the pub repainted black and renamed Negresco. Up in Woolton, meanwhile, the Elephant and the Coach and Horses were renamed Casa del Cocodrilo and Negresco Deco, respectively, and with lavish decoration became southern American and French Riviera themed restaurant/bars. The Baby Elephant pub became Fargo (wild west themed).

As well as these, Korova took over another landmark pub, the Dovedale Towers on Penny Lane – which became a late night bar called Alma de Santiago, to the fury of many nearby residents.

The Korova group soon found itself with problems, and bars such as these faced an uncertain future and were shut or sold off.

But Gutmann was involved in a new group called Weightco that bought Negresco and Circo, in the Albert Dock, back from administrators. He was then involved in another company called Docklands Bars Ltd, which ran Korova, Raven, Babycream, plus Dinomat and Zeligs in Liverpool One.

Docklands was put into administration in 2009, owing around £920,000. Mr Gutmann at the time said he had severed all ties with Docklands before administrators were called in.

He blamed his bankruptcy on banks being too quick to withdraw funding and said he hoped the day would come when he could once again play a part in Liverpool’s exciting future.

Some high profile Gutmann nightspots….

The Lyceum Cafe - the listed building Bold Street formerly a library, post office and meeting place for debates including people such as William Roscoe. It became the Life Café, turned into a cafe, now closed.

Baby Blue – A private club frequented by footballers, Hollyoaks people and the like. It became one of Liverpool's well known establishments in its time at the Albert Dock. Still trading under different ownership.

Swanky, upmarket bar conversion from a former church was the probably high point of Gutmann’s career in Liverpool aimed at a different audience from the neighbouring bars. Still open, under the ownership of Pax Leisure who also own The Noble House and Portico Cantina (formerly Raven) in Albert Dock.

Alma de Santiago – The Dovedale Towers was replaced by Santiago, and a total refurbishment took place. Made headlines in 2007 when two doormen were shot outside.Geisha – Myrtle Street. A large, but short-lived Japanese themed bar. Now owned by The Baa Bar and renamed accordingly.

Negresco – The historic Masonic on Lark Lane was transformed into an antique and stuffed animal display. The exterior was painted black and gold and the interior was similarly striking. Now back as a pub. Not the Masonic, but The Lodge (geddit).

Alma de Cuba –

Negresco Deco, Casa del Cocodrilo, Fargo – A total change to Woolton village. All the pubs’ new identities and new looks were short lived. Woolton residents were dismayed when the famous elephant's head outside the pub ended up in a skip. The Elephant has now gone back to its previous look and name (the head was rescued and remains in the National Conservation Centre) , while the Coach and Horses tried to return to former glories before shutting again in mid-2010.

Korova - The Fleet Street bar opened in 2005 and hosted numerous live bands to a different audience to the Albert Dock and South Liverpool establishments. A favourite of the Arctic Monkeys and Pete Doherty, it was even the setting for the cover of the Arctic's album 'Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not'. After moving to Hope Street, an early morning fire believed to have started in a solictor's office above severely damaged the bar. The fire made tabloid news and investigators later confirmed that the blaze was an arson attack.

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Eddy Del TackyMarch 15th 2011.


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