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Felix Cohen on Opening A Neighbourhood Bar: From Reverie to Reality

Around this time last year I was just wrapping up what would end up being the last full time residency of my pop-up bar brand, Manhattans Project. I'd never intended it to be a proper bar, or even to serve/sell booze in any way, really. 5 years ago, when I registered the domain because I love a good nerd pun, I was planning to the earnestly 2008 thing of blogging about something I loved; cocktails, booze and so on. Very quickly that plan was overtaken by people suggesting I actually sell some cocktails, and Off Broadway on Broadway Market, where I'd been moonlighting, kindly offering me their basement to have a go. 

That snowballed, and, various bland commercial complications aside, kept me busy for a while. I make websites in the day, so for a while I kept up the pretence this was just a bit of side hustle to keep me interested. Eventually, though, I decided I should tighten up the ship to the extent that I could pay myself a minimum wage from it, and started to make some spreadsheets. And more spreadsheets.

Because no matter what you think (and don't pretend you haven't had a reverie about opening a bar), owning a bar isn't a matter of supping XO Cognac and having lock-ins every night with your friends, handsome regulars and a few salty chefs from the local restaurant. Or it isn't just that. It's mostly spreadsheets. Especially working with cocktails, you need to break everything down, and know your costs, your profit margins, how much ice you'll need, how many limes you should buy, how long it takes to juice 700ml of lime (everything, in the end, comes down to 700ml); a never ending lot of minutiae you should never notice as a day walker. But you've crossed the line now, you no longer read other bars cocktail menus to think what to drink, but to see how they structure their menus, what their anchoring price drinks are. Desperately trying to scry what contracts they have in place with booze distributers, and whether they are better than yours. Oh, and normally getting to sit at the bar and enjoy the occasional shot of Fernet Branca. It's not all bad.

Fast forward through a bunch of events, competitions, consultancies, delivery fuck ups and smashed glasses. I've got a bar now, it's called Every Cloud, it's in Hackney Central, and you should be drinking there.

We opened the doors last October, after a gruelling process of applying for licences, planning, researching glass washers, building the actual bar, hunting down exactly the right old school science table for our bar top, sourcing the perfect artisanal yet sustainable light bulbs and so on. And 7 months later...we're doing ok. We won Design My Night's award for best new venue in Hackney, we've had some lovely reviews, some outrageously favourable comparisons to our favourite bars and people are coming back, and drinking our cocktails. People ask about our playlists, my friend Joel Golby has written us a menu that gets stolen at an absurd rate and our beautiful reclaimed bar top is going strong, despite more abuse than we ever expected.

The first 6 months are the worst. It's lucky if you get a 100 hour work week, and you'll go from sorting the wadded ball of receipts in your apron pocket to scrubbing vomit from floors and walls to prepping arcane cocktail ingredients in the space of each hour, but at the end of the nights a strange thing will start to happen. You'll figure out your closing procedure, and cleaning everything will stop feeling quite so Herculean. And one night you'll sit there, with your staff, who've become a tight knit family, with the lights low, and the shutters down, drinking something from the top shelf, and you'll realise that the bar is working.

The next 6 months? I'm not so sure. So far it seems easier. I've got staff I trust and who make the bar what it should be on nights I'm not hosting. I've moved into the upstairs flat, so my separation anxiety is eased, and I've started to spend long days sat at a keyboard writing code again. It's a tough transition back to that, and now we've got brick and mortar, I doubt I'll ever have a week where I don't end up dashing to Tesco for sugar and loo roll, diving behind the bar to polish some glasses or spend a couple of hours carefully tweaking and updating my beloved spreadsheets. We're killing some of our darlings on the menu, because it's never good to get too comfortable, and we're still aiming to be the London bar that sells the most Midori.

It makes me so proud to say; people have met in our bar, people have made out on the bar seats. Couples have fucked in the toilets (please could you not, though). Dates have gone well, and terribly here. The whole bar has sung along to Fleetwood Mac, unbidden. Bottles and bottles and bottles of tequila have been drunk.

We've gone through a catering pack of Yorkshire Tea bags to get here, but we've built what we wanted; a neighbourhood bar for the neighbourhood we live in. It works, and, for me, that's the best result ever.



Every Cloud is open 5ish til lateish, Tuesday to Sunday.