With nightlife and bars under pressure with lockdown measures and much of Blackpool’s entertainment industry in a critical condition due to lockdown, Abby caught up with Jake at Dirty Blondes to chat about their forthcoming Tiki Bar and their belief in Blackpool as a place for alternative hospitality options.
Abby: I don’t imagine many bars are choosing to expand on the back of lockdown: What’s made you decide to open a new bar?
Jake: We’ve had upstairs in the pipeline since we opened. The plan was to wait a few months and then open, but with lockdown looming, I didn’t really want to go in straight away, take more staff on and risk losing them. But we had such a good first quarter when we were open, so we were able to look at it a bit sooner. When restrictions lifted, it was either going to go one way or the other; we were either going to have no one in because people were so worried about going out, or we were going to be full. And it’s turned out we’ve been full. On weeknights we’re full, and then weekends we’re often booked up in advance. So, whilst, yes, it would be sensible to exercise a little caution, also it kind of makes more sense to be a bit bullish about it. Now’s the perfect time, everyone’s going out and we are getting more and more different people. It’s not just the familiar faces.
Abby: Well, being smaller and a bit off the main strip, are you still predominantly a local’s bar or are you getting tourists as well?
Jake: We are getting tourists, and I’ve made a point of getting staff to find out how did they hear about us. For example, one night recently the bar was full of Brummies, and it was just recommendations from other venues. We’ve become a centre for industry people; a lot of people who work in other bars come in here. So, they are recommending us, and we are getting the tourists, but not the big groups of stag and hens, it’s people who are going into places, getting on with the staff and being sent our way. But a massive amount of customer base is locals. When we first opened in December it was busy, then January was even busier because we were full of locals. We don’t rely on that seasonal trade. It’s been a bit of a strange first year with the season extending but that’s the way I see it going.
Abby: Most recently some venues have shut down which has maybe made more space for a local’s bar?
Jake: It has, but we’re not seeing the effect of that yet. In order to maintain social distancing, as soon as you get to 10pm, it starts to slip. Once the restrictions have lifted completely, we can look at it again, and that’s why getting the new bar upstairs sorted, we’re going to have two venues that are completely different. Upstairs is going to be a tiki bar. It’s still going to have a dive bar vibe. It’s going to be thatching, bamboo, lit with fairy lights, lots of artwork, psychedelic colours: just something very, very different for Blackpool.
Abby: I have seen on social media, have you had someone in spray painting the walls?
Jake: Yes, Seca One, Chris Fenn, he is insane. The things that he does; he’s painted all around the world. He did the wall outside, and all of our toilet art.
Abby: So, have you found that you’ve been busy as ever since reopening?
Jake: Yeah, we’re busier than we were. So, Saturday night, whilst we don’t have 140 people down here, we just constantly have six sittings of 40 odd people, and throughout the week on Monday, we’ll be full for four hours.
Abby: That’s great! Is it booking only?
Jake: We accept walk-ins, but it gets to the point where is almost booking only because we don’t have space. We’re assuming when upstairs opens it will be the same and restrictions will still be in place. We’re hoping upstairs will be a little different and we will have run masterclasses and a range of tacos.
Abby: Is that what food you’ll be serving?
Jake: Yeah purely tacos and we make all of the tortillas from scratch with an emphasis on the quality of the food and drink.
Abby: Are you going with a theme for example will there be a lot of rum-based drinks?
Jake: Yeah, it is a lot of rum-based drinks. Tiki is all about the weird and wonderfully wacky. So, what I’ve done is taken classic tiki drinks- things like the Pina Colada and Mai Thai and Zombie, and you see the big garnishes and the fire and the tiki cups. So, we’re taking that but putting a modern twist on it. So, we’re not just pigeon-holing ourselves as tiki, it’s just a bit of everything. There are some drinks on there that are going to be quite challenging to get across to people. One drink, in particular, is a clarified milk punch so when you read it, you’ve got gin, Blue Sky grapefruit tea, lemon juice, milk, honey and a few other things. We’re using the milk as a clarifying agent, so you’ve got a perfectly crystal-clear drink.
It’s just changing perceptions of flavours and we’re trying to bring real, top-end, city cocktails to Blackpool in an approachable way. We’re planning to ship in banana leaves from Thailand to wrap the glasses in so it’s a bit more of a passion project than a money-making exercise. We’re just trying to be the first people to introduce something like that.
Abby: What are you hoping for the future then? Open somewhere else or just focus on this place?
Jake: Depending on the investment, I’d like to open another one or two places in Blackpool and expand. I think whichever way you look at it, in Blackpool there are opportunities. People seem to forget that there are people in Blackpool who want that stuff, and I think people have been scared to try and bring new things. I think you have to understand where you are; we focused on the locals and we’ve given people something to relate and to engage with, as opposed to come in and just try and be a big brand- a soulless brand- and I think Blackpool appreciates the humility from businesses.
Abby: I think it’s a good location as well being a bit out of the way from the main strip.
Jake: You just forget where you are. I think when you come in here you have great people, good music and good drinks. We’ve got to make everyone feels comfortable because we are doing everything we can here, to make sure we are COVID safe. We want to eventually be in a position to have groups of people having a rum masterclass. And we want to position ourselves as a place where knowledge and creativity are at the heart of what we do. Upstairs is also going to be available to hire in the week.
Abby: Is the capacity the same as Dirty Blondes?
Jake: The capacity technically will be the same, but in order to keep the vibe, we’ll reduce it. It’s going to be more laidback.
Abby: What about music?
Jake: Normally we have live music on a couple of nights. Upstairs is going to be a bit of a blend of music: a bit of Caribbean, R&B, Latino, brass band- just an eclectic mix of feel-good music with mixes from Demloxx our resident DJ and the occasional live music as well.
Paradise Coast opens this Friday 9th October! Book at https://dirtyblondebars.co.uk/pages/paradise-coast
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