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Lime Bar closes: the Restaurant, Bar and Pub cemetery expands

Jonathan Schofield asks failing and expanding businesses what on earth is going on

Written by . Published on March 17th 2010.

Lime Bar closes: the Restaurant, Bar and Pub cemetery expands

It's like a graveyard out there.

Walk around the city from Confidential's offices and you pass numbers of closed bars, pubs and restaurants. There's Squares, Chicago Rock, Shimla Pinks, Ithaca, Lime Bar and many others.

Lime Bar is merely the latest casualty in a bitter fight for survival for our food and drink establishments.

The advice is you're mad to open a bar: it's not as glamorous as it seems, and you won't make the money you think you will. You have to spend a lot to make anything. Owner-operated ones are doing better than managed ones by keeping it smaller and keeping the overheads down.

David Vanderhook, who owned Lime on Booth Street (and owns the still trading Lime at The Quays) puts it down to rents and recession, with maybe a twist of Manchesterness thrown in.

“Last year we struggled with the rents. This was the first year we'd struggled since we'd moved in eight years earlier. Friday night disappeared in terms of a big night out, staff from the businesses in the area came in less, average spend per head was down too. New offices were being built but they were usually unlet and other offices relocated to places such as Spinningfields.

“We talked this through with the banks and the owners, Marstons, but they wouldn't shift until right at the end when a rent reduction came from the owners, but this was too late for us. My house has been on the line, staff have lost their jobs. We'd like to thank all our loyal customers for their support but in the end closure was inevitable.”

Vanderhook partly blames himself for not reacting quickly enough: “We saw a problem and didn't address it. We should have tried to reduce the capital repayment. Negotiated earlier. Although the lack of flexibility in the banks and with owners might have made this meaningless. Of course there is a free market out there so you live or die by what you do.”

So what would he advise those who want to run a bar?

“The advice is you're mad to open a bar,” says Vanderhook wryly. “It's not as glamorous as it seems, and you won't make the money you think you will. You have to spend a lot to make any profit. If you are going to get involved keep them small, keep the overheads down. Certainly owner-operated ones are doing better than managed ones.”

Nicky Rybka-Goldsmith, a partner behind Northern Quarter businesses, The Bay Horse, Soup Kitchen and Cord, is feeling more expansive. He's launching his Thomas restaurant and bar on Thomas Street right now, and is just the sort of owner-occupier Vanderhook is referring to.

“You have to be more savvy in difficult economic conditions,” he says. “The punters are not convinced by chains, bland places with no character that get ugly on the weekends, the sort of places you could find on any street anywhere. They want a point of difference, places that maybe fit with the areas they occupy.

“I talk to people everyday and they tell me what's lacking in the area,” he continues. “You filter that information and see if there's anything you can do.”

So does he think the recession in some ways helps his business in emphasising the quality places.

“I'm not sure the recession helps anybody,” he says. “What it does do though is encourage creativity, encourages people to think on their feet a little more and react to the market. It does cut away some of the the dross. People have to be sensible as well when they come into this game. Those who think they are going to open a bar and be a rock star are probably the ones closing, it involves lots of determination and lots of clear thinking about your business.”

William Lees-Jones, the Managing Director of his family business, JW Lees, the brewery which owns more than 180 pubs, bars and restaurants, is looking at other factors affecting the food and drink trade.

“Pubs and bars are under pressure from all sides. Take beer duty,” he says, “you can almost guarantee that next week the Chancellor will stick another 10p on a pint of beer. At a stroke for little national gain he'll put ex-number of pubs out of business. It's getting so brewers such as ourselves are making less than 1p a pint.”

“In some respects we're fortunate of course, we've been going a long time, we have reserves, we can hold beer prices down in the tough times. Also for the basic pub or bar, or even restaurant, a real problem is that there are less people going out and when they do people want higher and higher standards. That's fine, we have a programme of improvements, but it puts all those who don't improve in jeopardy.”

“As far as management of a business is concerned,” says Lees-Jones echoing Rybka-Goldsmith, “you have to know what you're going for. Remember Yates Wine Lodges, they were all Victoriana and tacky, but you knew what you were getting. Then they modernised, looked like everywhere else, and it all went wrong. If you could take the fascias of most of the high street chain bars jumble them up and then put them back on different bars nobody would notice. And nobody notices when they close. You have to know what your market is.”

Lee Le Clercq, the Regional Secretary of the British Beer and Pub Association also points to the general pressures: “The recession has been terrible, there's the legacy of the smoking ban, there's government duties, supermarkets are almost giving wine and beer away, home entertainment has increased exponentially. Businesses have to make sure they provide a more attractive option, or a more exciting one to staying in.”

It seems that for food and drink businesses the same rules apply everywhere – not just in Manchester. To survive you have to be distinctive, know your market and choose your location with care.

What's pretty certain is that there will be more heartache for people such as David Vanderhook and his staff, and more heartache for creditors of businesses that fail.

As for the general trading conditions Vanderhook is sceptical about short-term improvement: “I think the Chancellor is having a pre-election laugh. I can't see evidence of the recovery coming at all.”

Given his personal circumstances maybe he would say that. At least there's a glimmer of light in the pub trade. Le Clercq tempers the pessimism with: “Pub closures were running at almost fifty a week, this has slowed to around 39. I think there are signs that the economy is turning.”

Maybe when those closures have slowed to zero we'll know things have really changed. In the meantime it's all enough to drive a person to drink.

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

AgricolaMarch 18th 2010.

Can't say I will miss Squares or Chicago Rock. The guy from Bay Horse is right, you have to be interesting to survive.

Craig JillMarch 18th 2010.

I think we should celebrate the fact that Squares has closed. Dance on its horrible grave. The recession will get rid of a lot of shit.

Leigh ScottMarch 18th 2010.

Unless Lime Bar was behind on it's rent, I fail to see why the landlord would pull the plug. Clearly they feel they can get a better- more secure option from another tenant. I'm not sure they will and this leads me to believe that yet another landlord is out of touch with the local economy. Silly,Silly people, they really are.

Matt CzyzykMarch 18th 2010.

The best places are the places with character and as far as I can see they remain busy. The Temple, Lass o Gowrie, one or two places in the Northern Quarter, as people are still prepared to pay circa £3.50 a pint to drink in them. However, your Peter St. 'party venues' - full of idiots and nothing but Stella and Strongbow on the taps just don't do enough of interest to keep people there, drinking during the week as well as at weekends.

Peter19919March 18th 2010.

"At a stroke for little national gain he'll put ex-number of pubs out of business."

So what is an "ex-number"? No such thing!

X-number, as in x =

Anyway, a minor quibble. Good riddance to most of the bars on Peter St. Although we'll all be complaining if the stag/hen stella-bow crew start creeping into the NQ!

Jane EvunaMarch 18th 2010.

Whether you like or dislike certain bars and restaurants in the city, Jonathans' article highlights a serious issue for Manchester. Our restaurant is facing an outrageous 46% increase in rent. As more people loose their jobs/businesses in the bar and restaurant trade it can only have a negative effect on the cities economy as a whole.

Lets hope that huge landlords like X-leisure take note of articles of this nature and wake up and smell the coffee !

Spencer BirchMarch 18th 2010.

I quaff Stella (when available) and drink in all the places mentioned in Peter19919's post, does this mean I'm a Peter St 'Idiot'. What ever happened to live and let live ?

MarkMMarch 18th 2010.

A happy note about Altrincham bars. One of my favourite little spots, La Trappiste, which closed last month has re-opened. Now called 'The Belgian Bar' (http://www.belgianbaraltrincham.co.uk ) it is now cleaned up and open Wed-Sat. I know the new owner and he is a seasoned pro! Knows his stuff so get down to Alti folks. Is right next to the market.

DescartesMarch 18th 2010.

As much as I don't like Peter Street, it was one of the first places I went out way back in the day and it's really sad to see our city dying on it's arse like this, but do you think that perhaps it might be down to the price of beer these days too? I paid £3.50 for a pint of Staropramen the other day, £3.50!, That was the first and last time I'll ever go into that bar.

Neil McCabeMarch 18th 2010.

I hate this idea that there’s a ‘good type of bar’ for a ‘good type of people’. I’m just as happy in the Northern Quarter with the hipsters, in a Joey Holts place with the old blokes or on Peter Street with the divorcees. Lime was always a decent enough place and it’s a shame that the increase in rates together with the decrease of people visiting means that staff are now out of a job and suppliers will probably be waiting for their cash. It’s a shame as it’s a great location and a fantastic space. Whatever happened to the flats above that were supposedly some of the best in town? I’ve always thought that that building could be a good hotel with the bar area doubling as a reception, bar and breakfast area.

Dave SpannerMarch 18th 2010.

Jane Evuna, that sounds like a wild raise in rent indeed, but may I be so bold as to ask how long you've had your current level of rent for? I know of several N4 venues that had ridiculously low rents for years, but then moved venue when they were increased to something more appropriate for the area.

Leigh ScottMarch 18th 2010.

NQ is the place to be according to the property agents this is why the rents are going crazy.Once again, silly landlords greed is killing off the very subjects that give them the opportunities to build successful and profitable partnerships in the first place.

Ryan O'hanlonMarch 18th 2010.

You have to be more savvy in difficult economic conditions... going off the bars that this guy owns that means expecting punters to pay £3+ a pint to sit in dingy shit holes... Cord, the toilets... ffs, how do they get away with that??? Still I'll be in there on Friday, swaggering around like a bastard, drinking Stella in my skinny jeans.

Jane EvunaMarch 18th 2010.

Dave Spanner - 5 years. And we are Deansgate rent and always have been. X-leisure just dont care about their tenants ! You only have to look at the amount of empty units in the Great Northern Building, its like a ghost town along here !

CASMarch 18th 2010.

Unfortunately the work you've done to make Evuna a success gives the unit a higher value. Doesn't seem overly fair really does it. What about that unit that was supposed to an indian at the top of Liverpool Road? They seem to have ceased all work on it some time ago, I presume for financial reasons. Might be worth looking into.

AnonMarch 18th 2010.

Manchester Confidential is obsessed with restaurants, pubs and bars. Here's some news for you: a lot of us don't care and are not interested in them LOL

The article assume it's a good thing to have all these bars in Manchester city centre. It isn't. The city is a binge-drinking hell-hole at night. The more bars that close the better and just maybe Manchester can start to become a more civilised place, the way some of us remember it pre-1995.

The closures so far are just the beginning. Wait until after the election when we have cuts in public sector jobs and service industries and fewer students. The whole superficial underclass party culture and cheapo city centre apartment frenzy has been sustained on easy credit and property equity which has now disappeared. Get ready for the city centre to implode over the next decade. According to experts there may even be another banking crisis or a double dip recession. It may take 5-10 years for things to begin to recover and never to what we saw before.

AnonymousMarch 18th 2010.

Maybe just top yourself now then?

AnonMarch 19th 2010.

I hope people don't go as far as topping themselves. But many under-30's have no idea how it's going to be and it will come as a gigantic shock to them. The last 15 years have been the unusual blip and won't ever return. I'd guess many are still deluding themselves and living beyond their means with several nights out a week, their £3.50 pints, restaurant meals and takeaways. But that level of consumption is about to fall off a cliff.

Leigh ScottMarch 19th 2010.

Manchester confidential is obsessed with restaurants ,clubs and bars?! tool.and you deserve to be "topped" when you bring 'LOL' in to a converstaion.

AnonymousMarch 19th 2010.

I think this is a case of someone probably mid thirties, early forties, who has had enough of the upstarts. Pre 95 the centre was a dump, a dead dump at that. The revolution in the centre has brought some great bars and restaurants and turned Manchester into an international city to be proud of. This brings in money, whatever the economic climate. The fact remains, that although some will be affected by the recession, a big proportion of the city centre dwellers are cash rich and have a big disposable income. The average salary of a Manchester job had rocketed. This increases as Manchester attracts more business due to the massive improvements in the area, take Media City for one. Propoerty prices after hitting a high are now pretty secure as you just can't get a similar rental return elsewhere, this keeps all the prices higher. The rental market won't collapse as there is more incoming of 'upstarts' than outgoing. For example each year a big percentage of Uni leavers choose to remain in the area. Not to mention Media City again. The future aint so bad. The best restaurants and bars will survive and thrive.

EftiMarch 19th 2010.

Not that surprised about Lime; three of us dressed perfectly suitably were faced with uneccsary attitude from rude doorstaff. When there are a number of these establishments available there is no resaon why anybody would take their business elsewhere. Also the bar food during the day went steadily down hill. These are fundamental elements to maintain a going concern. As for the capital finance well, only the proprietor would know about that?

user46875March 19th 2010.

wow you have to be dressed pretty unsuitably to be honest if you have a problem getting in Lime. They'd let people in wearing almost anything. What on Eart were you wearing??

Spencer BirchMarch 19th 2010.

Anon, you a total fuckin wand.

AnonymousMarch 19th 2010.

David states that a contributing factor which caused Lime to close was because “staff from the businesses in the area came in less”. I work in the offices opposite Lime and we stopped going to Lime full stop and took our business elsewhere.

Everyday day we’d watch the kitchen staff standing at the back of the kitchen door SMOKING, eating and leaning against the dirty wall in their full kitten whites (hat, apron, teas towels tucked in trousers etc).

This is really off putting and raises hygiene issues. For this reason we decided to avoid Lime and took our business elsewhere.

AnonymousMarch 19th 2010.

Actually the City Centre wasn't a lump until 1995 but it was different perhaps smaller more creative too, and the residents were just moving in. Those of us who are long term are older now, have our 45" TVs BlueRays and drinks cabinets (we are cash rich remember) and can send out for some good food and the music has moved on. The fly by night rentals are not cash rich perhaps go out less..and less etc. Most of the City Centre trade is weekend when 100.000 come into the City the £75-£200 in their wallet. They don't eat much but drink.. hence the prices. They are 14-25 and want a good time. Many are students (Man Uni caters for the the richer). Some of them have moved on to Didsbury and other places and don't come in any more. Of course the size of this trade puts the older more up market clientel off on the reputation of the City Centre alone. Living there I know its 'exciting' but not VERY dangerous except perhaps on the tram.
There is yet another threat to the more down market places, the gradual tightening of control on bars.
Incidentally I tried to have lunch at Rosso on Tuesday. It was shut. I sure it was nothing serious!

Dave SpannerMarch 19th 2010.

Jane Evuna, surely you'd expect a rise in rent costs if you've been on the same level for 5 years!? A lot has changed in the city centre in that time. I don't mean to make less of your plight/problem, but you can't have imagined the rent would always stay at that level?

ANONMarch 19th 2010.

Interesting to see SpencerSpurch and Scotee becoming personally abusive. Obviously that kind of culture on Friday and Saturday nights is a large part of the problem.

Manchester city centre is nothing to be proud of. Visit it on a weekend evening. Try to take a step back if you're involved in that binge drinking culture and imagine how it looks to visitors.

David CardenMarch 22nd 2010.

Peter Street is/was full of bars I wouldn't go near. Hopefully this well placed street can reinvent itself from "Townie Heaven" to somewhere that has more going for it than a pint and a fight.

Smyth HarperMarch 22nd 2010.

God almighty, Manchester isn't that bad! Lighten up folks. When I go out in town I generally have a good time, whether eating out, going to cinema or theatre or even, gasp, getting leathered. I love Manchester. If I didn't, I'd live in bloody nantwich! Have some fond memories of Lime, it will be missed.

Smyth HarperMarch 22nd 2010.

Also, when anon above says "Manchester Confidential is obsessed with restaurants, pubs and bars" is he taking the piss? A lot of us come on here because of the excellent food and booze reviews! I went to Papa G's the other week on the back of one of Schofield's reviews. And it was absolutely fantastic.

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