City bar endures by going its own way

By Gillian McKenzie

Change is a word that featured often when SLTN caught up with Glasgow operator Neil Connolly.
It’s hardly surprising, given that his late night bar Moskito has just celebrated its 15th birthday.
Since it opened in 2000, the venue has endured a number of major changes – from the smoking ban to the recession and, most recently, the impact of the lower drink drive limit.

Moskito was launched by Neil Connolly in 2000; it was given a refurb ahead of its 15th birthday.
Moskito was launched by Neil Connolly in 2000; it was given a refurb ahead of its 15th birthday.

Amid the shifting trade landscape, and as outlets have come and gone, Moskito has been a constant on Bath Street for the past decade and a half.
It’s an achievement Neil is rightly proud of, even though he admits he finds it difficult to comprehend the basement bar’s age.
“It honestly doesn’t feel like 15 years,” Neil told SLTN following the two-day celebration to mark the milestone.
“We had a lot of old faces in over the [birthday] weekend – customers who have been with us since day one and former staff – and I suppose that made it seem like it has been a while.
“But in other ways, it’s eight years since we did the extension and I still refer to it as the ‘new bit’. I suppose the first seven years was a bit of a blur. I remember the opening night and the first birthday and that seems like a lifetime ago.”
Opening the bar was a natural step for Neil, whose trade career includes spells working for Big Beat and Budda bar founder Derek Ogilvie.
He got a call about the former Tex Mex outlet at the tail end of 1999, did the deal the following March (a week before he was due to get married) and named the basement venue after a diving school in Thailand which he saw while on honeymoon.
The concept was clear: Moskito was to be a “really nice pub” which would attract a broad customer base.
Surrounded as it was then by a number of offices, lunch trade was a key focus initially.
“Friday and Saturday nights were different 15 years ago,” said Neil.
“I had run Budda and I knew the area and the crowd. I knew that with a DJ, Friday and Saturday nights would pretty much take care of themselves.

Neil Connolly
Neil Connolly

“We focused on lunch trade for the first few months; we put two people on each corner to hand out fliers.
“The fliers worked and lunch trade was great. It went on like that for a long time and then the crash in 2008 changed all that. We were surrounded by a lot of the property guys, big law firms and so on, and they would use us every day. Suddenly that was gone.
“But the thing about Moskito has always been that it attracts a really varied clientele; we get a whole mix of suits, students, clubbers.
“It’s relaxed and comfortable. We can have a table of students next to a table of corporate property guys and it’s not an issue for either.
“The year before the crash we had broadened it further when we did the extension and got an entertainment licence. We were still doing a steady trade through the day but it became a bit more of a late night bar.
“The business altered.”
The business model isn’t the only thing to have changed over the years.
There has been a significant shift in drinks trends and, therefore, the products stocked.
From a base of around 30 spirits bottles, Moskito’s gantry has swelled to some 200, including about 15 tequilas and a raft of Scottish gins.
The venue’s beer offer has also undergone a seismic shift.
Alongside a draught offer which includes Tennent’s, Estrella Damm, Caledonia Best, Innis & Gunn and Heverlee, the beer range features a broad selection of world beers and a raft of Scottish craft products from brewers including Williams Brothers, Harviestoun, Arran and Cromarty, as well as guest brews from Glasgow-based Hippo Beers.
It’s very different to Moskito’s range in the early days.
“When we first opened Budweiser and Miller Genuine Draft were our two biggest sellers and we had Miller on draught,” said Neil.
“Now about half of our list is Scottish beers. There’s been a huge shift towards craft beer. I think it’s fantastic and can only keep going.
“I think it’s a reflection of the trade and how discerning customers are. They ask for specific brands or garnishes or mixers and I think that’s a good thing.”
Other changes have been less than positive, however.
The smoking ban, which came into force in March 2006, and the welter of legislation have hampered the Scottish trade, according to Neil.
However, he reckons the lower drink drive limit, which came into force last December, could have the biggest effect.
“I’m shocked at the impact the drink drive limit has had on the trade,” said Neil.
“We’ve been through the smoking ban, the crash, the recession and we’ve survived all that.
“For me the drink drive limit has had an impact on a part of the business that many of us probably took for granted – the glass of wine at lunch time or the pint after work.
“The fact rates won’t be reviewed for another two years and we’re sitting on 2007/2008 values – I think there’s a danger that those that won’t survive are the independents.
“The last few years have seen lots of changes. I’m not being down on the trade but there is so much regulation now; it feels like they are coming at us from all angles.”
As for the key to Moskito’s longevity – Neil said the staff and remaining true to the bar’s original ethos have been crucial.
“From the word go we set out what we were going to do and we’ve stuck to that,” he said.
“We never got involved in cheap pricing or anything like that. We offer quality and value for money.
“Moskito is all about the people who work in it, though.
“I don’t think you can gauge a pub’s success on the spend on the fixtures and fittings. Some people talk about investment; for me the biggest investment is in the staff.
“Some amazing people have worked in Moskito over the years and I’ve made friends for life.
“The highlight for me was definitely when my daughter worked here for a couple of years. When I opened this she was only five so to see her come and work here when she was 18 was a real highlight. I never thought that would happen because I never thought we’d be here all these years later.”