Brighton pub owner grills potential business rivals at licensing hearing

The owners of a proposed new bar were asked why they had chosen a venue without a late-night licence as made their case to open in a former restaurant.

Michael Brkic and Jamie Roberts want to open the Toy Shop, which they described as a “party venue”, in the former Jamie’s Italian restaurant in Black Lion Street, Brighton.

They said that they were aiming to attract a different clientele to West Street and had sought a venue to reflect that.

But at a Brighton and Hove City Council licensing panel hearing, the Toy Shop’s directors faced opposition from Sussex Police, the council’s licensing department and the Golden Lion Group, which owns the Cricketers pub.

Black Lion Street is in a part of Brighton known as the “cumulative impact zone” where the council’s policy is to refuse licences for new pubs, clubs and bars.

At the licensing panel hearing yesterday (Wednesday 8 January) Dave Day, managing director of the Golden Lion Group, asked why the former restaurant had been chosen by Nemabil Ltd, owner of the Toy Shop.

He said that the company could have taken an easier route as empty premises with alcohol-led licences were available in the centre of Brighton.

Mr Day said that 10 years ago an alcohol-led business was refused permission in Black Lion Street and he said that the location was “totally wrong” for another drinking venue.

Mr Brkic said that his business wanted a venue away from the big clubs in West Street because they wanted to attract a different client group and they wanted a location that would “reflect that”.

Mr Brkic said: “The reason we chose that site (was because) we looked at the likes of West Street and the clientele and wanted to have a degree of separation within our brand positioning and perception but also physically to aid that operation.

“There are opportunities there. We want to ensure the different product we offer and the clientele we are looking for is not conflated with those big clubs in West Street.”

Mr Brkic said that it would have water freely available on tables, as it does in its Putney bar. Popcorn is also available free to “help soak up the alcohol”.

He described the customer base as 73 per cent female and over 24. He said that the company had a policy of no hen or stag parties and limits on single sex groups.

Mr Brkic said: “We want discerning older people having 30th and 40th birthday parties.

“We’re not looking for groups of ladies going out to get smashed. That’s not our business.”

He said that the business was more like a Gordon Ramsey restaurant than a chicken shop, offering an element of theatre.

Green councillor Lizzie Deane, who chaired the panel, asked if Nemabil would consider taking the venue on as a restaurant but she was told that it was “not their product”.

The two directors had spent three weekends in Brighton and described it as “quite full on”. They questioned whether the right customers were in the city.

Conservative councillor Dee Simson said : “What you’ve seen over the last couple of weeks is very different to the summer season.

“We don’t like to get planning and licensing mixed up. If we gave you this licence and you didn’t get planning permission, what would you do?

“This licence would fly in the face of all our policy.”

She was told “that would be it”.

Nemabil director Jamie Roberts said that he was a regular visitor to the city and had seen evidence of changing nightlife.

He said: “The whole bar and perception of Brighton is going up.

“People from other parts of Kent and Sussex and London are wanting to come down.

“A lot of people are encouraged by what is developing here. It is an amazing city.”

Sussex Police licensing officer Mark Thorogood told the licensing panel that officers had been called to more than 1,600 incidents in the year to last November 19.

Of these, he said, all the robberies in a small area around Black Lion Street had been linked to drink or drugs – as had 80 per cent of violence crime and theft and 76 per cent of sexual offences.

Mr Thorogood said: “This is in the 24-7 period, so not all night-time economy related, but it shows alcohol plays a big part.

“We find a high number of persons who have become victims as it makes a person vulnerable due to their intoxication levels.”

The panel was told that the site was in Regency ward which had the highest number of alcohol-related ambulance call-outs and the second highest number for alcohol-related police-recorded crime.

The panel, which sat at Hove Town Hall, retired to make its decision which should be made public within five working days of the hearing.

  1. Christopher Hawtree Reply

    Who would want to go to a pub whose owner speaks of “brand positioning” and “our product”?

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