By Gillian McKenzie
GLASGOW bar operator Mark Lappin was in something of a reflective mood when SLTN caught up with him at the tail end of last year following a busy 12 months.
Catching his breath after what he described as “a hell of a year, but a great year”, Lappin said he could never have predicted the ways in which his business was to change during the course of 2016.
It’s hardly surprising.
Within the second half of the year alone he had relinquished the lease for Maggie May’s – the Glasgow late night live music bar he launched back in December 2006 and which he credits as being the catalyst for his business, which now numbers four outlets and employs some 110 staff.
I’ve got loads of ideas but I’m not doing things for the sake of it.
He also added two new bars to One Leisure Group’s portfolio: Bag O’Nails in the former Partick Tavern, which he acquired the freehold of last summer; and Strip Joint on Argyle Street – so-called after its location on the Finnieston ‘strip’ – which he launched in the former Bannisters pub on November 5 after taking on the lease with Star Pubs & Bars.
Joining forces with a pubco represented new territory for his company, which owns the freehold of its Bath Street music bar The Howlin’ Wolf (winner of the SLTN Late Night Bar of the Year 2016), which opened in February 2013, and leases the unit occupied by fellow Bath Street bar Slouch, which launched in September 2010, from a private landlord.
But Lappin had a concept in mind and the Bannisters site – just a stone’s throw from the SSE Hydro – ticked all the boxes.
Having signed the lease with Star Pubs & Bars, work on the joint £500,000 refurbishment got underway, with the pubco beginning the strip-out of the traditional pub in June, leaving Lappin and his team with a blank canvas by October.
When it came to the design, he again turned to his friend Paul Martin, who has worked on the refurbishment of One Leisure’s other venues, to help bring his pizzeria and music bar concept to life.
“Paul’s a joiner to trade but he’s also a brilliant designer,” said Lappin.
“If I come up with something I think can’t be done he does it; he’s a genius.
“And I change my mind about things all the time.”
The design of Strip Joint did indeed evolve, but it didn’t stray too far from the original plan.
The result is a 130-capacity venue which manages to look both industrial and warm at the same time, and which marries bright natural light from the newly-enlarged windows with bold pops of colour on the walls and banquette seating.
The outlet’s wooden floor is former school gym hall flooring, relaid in a way that its original yellow and white ‘court’ markings create an entirely new design, while the long fixed tables and stools were made by Martin using scaffolding poles and former school science lab benches, complete with holes where the Bunsen burners once were.
Other design features include exposed brick work, industrial-style light fittings and back-bar shelving made from metal caging which sits either side of the large Krušovice beer tanks (see story on page 4).
“Everything in here was reclaimed,” said Lappin.
“I don’t know if it’s cheaper for us but I think it’s pretty cool to reclaim.
“When we launched Maggies, we took that outlet (which previously traded as Bluu) and scruffed it up a bit; that’s what we’ve done with all of our places. Heineken (Star Pubs & Bars) were happy for me to get on with the design, they let me run with it.”
Lappin was equally clear about his plans when it came to the food and drink offer at Strip Joint.
Light pizzas, made using dough that has been proved for 48 hours and cooked in the new stone-baked pizza oven, underpin the food offer, which also includes burgers and steaks.
I change my mind about things in a refurb all the time.
When it comes to drinks, the bar is tied on beer under the Star Pubs & Bars leasehold agreement and so is home to a host of Heineken brands, with two 500-litre Krušovice tanks taking centre stage behind the bar (pictured above). Suppliers including Inverarity Morton, Hotsauce Drinks, Dunns Food & Drinks and New Wave Distribution are used to source a range of wines, premium spirits and craft beers.
The final piece of the jigsaw is live music, which is expected to get underway in April.
For Lappin, whose trade career began with a job as a waiter when he left school and has included stints working as a chef in France and a bartender in Australia before returning to Glasgow and working in outlets including Gordon Ramsay’s Amaryllis restaurant at One Devonshire Gardens and Rogano and for G1 Group where he was ultimately an area manager overseeing 12 venues, launching a bar in Finnieston was a long time coming.
“Six years ago, Slouch was nearly in two or three other places – in fact it was nearly in Finnieston,” said Lappin.
“I was kicking myself we didn’t get the site but you can’t get all the sites all the time.
“It’s great we’re here now.
“I think everyone that operates here in Finnieston is good and I think our team belongs here.
“It’s good to be part of it.”
And although Lappin said refurbishing and launching two bars within the space of a few months was “full on”, he is eyeing further expansion.
“Me, Paul [Bright] and Gerry [Tartaglia], we’ve got the team and they are ready to do it and step up,” said Lappin.
“I’ve got the best team of managers I’ve ever worked with and I’ve got ideas bursting out of my head but I’ve got to be careful I don’t do things for the sake of it. I’m hungry but I’m not greedy.
“We usually nurture a new place for about two years and we’ve not done that with Bag O’Nails because we were doing this [Strip Joint] too so I’ve no intentions of doing anything else straight away.
“2016 was a big year. I never knew any of this would happen – coming out of Maggies or opening two new places.
“It was a hell of a year but it was a great year.”