Want to run a bar? VivID Lounge

Autumn BBQ

I’ve enjoyed having VivID Lounge right below where I live. It was like having a local pub (I assume) but it was a European styled lounge. However there were problems right from the start and it looks like its the end of the road for this current version of the lounge.

This will be a very difficult blog post to write and I’m going to leave out peoples names and dates because its not really fair. Its also worth noting I’m not really in a position to be talking because I’ve never opened a bar or ever run an physical establishment. So really this is the thoughts from a outsiders view. I’ll probably get peoples backs up but, hey I’m doing it for the right reasons I believe… and I would happily say most of the same stuff to the previous owners of VivID lounge…

VivID lounge was one of those jokes for the longest time. Some of us believed it was a hoax by ISIS to get interest in the space. However it turned out to be real soon after I moved into Islington Wharf, with a paper survey through everyones postbox. Months after, things started happening. First a council application for food and alcoholic drink then one for a late night licence. It was clear it wasn’t a hoax after all. Then finally things started happening in the glass space, including a call for employment.

Due to open in July in time for the Ice Cream Festival, it didn’t quite happen and it was another 3 months before it actually opened, missing most of summer. It also opened with no big fanfare or announcements. The owners said they didn’t want a big opening.

So for months, people have walked past it and seen its open but haven’t gone in. Don’t get me wrong sometimes it was busy but generally its quiet and there 1-5 people sitting reading the news, enjoying a coffee. Why…?

There’s a whole host of reasons I believe… but here’s my thoughts…

  1. Engagement with the residents and residents committee…
    I’m on the committee and also form the social committee and although we had a very successful night for the residents just recently (pics you can see here)… It wasn’t enough. I had planned to do feedback sessions to the residents about whats going on but got busy, and it didn’t happen. Ultimately I would suggest that more work needed to be done to engage residents. Not just sticking flyers through there post boxes, but actually banging on doors and massive discounts just to get people through the door everyday. This seemed to fall between the cracks of the owners and the residents committee, I can only suggest if we had known things were going so badly we would have got involved far earlier
  2. Get Decor
    Yes named after a favorite tune but ultimately the decor of the lounge was very uncomfortable and unfriendly. Plastic white chairs with white tables and only one sofa (next to the toilet). What it really needed was to take a note from places like North Tea Power, NoHo, Apothica, Common, etc. Simple cheap sofas with simple cheap wood tables. It would feel a lot more friendly with all those wood/earthy tones instead of stark white/orange colour scheme. Its a lounge… and the décor just didn’t quite match what you think about when you think European Lounge.
  3. Environmental factors
    VivID always struck me as very light and breezy due to the massive amounts of glass throughout but at night it always had the lights on very high… It was always a mood killer and although they had tea lights, they were over powered by the heavy lights throught-out the space. They really could have done with killing most of the nights and using many more candles (but there might be other reasons for this)
  4. Taking feedback on the chin
    In the early days, it was mentioned many times by many people that it would be great if VivID lounge would do a cooked breakfast on the weekends. VivID would only do healthy/hearty breakfasts containing porridges and muesli… The excuse was sometimes “the kitchens not big enough…” “We don’t want to be a greasy spoon” “If we gave everyone what they wanted… we would be bankrupt.” It was so bad, that people would come to me and moan to me about it! So in the end I ended up telling them again on behalf of others. If I had known things were so bad earlier, I would have been much more forceful at the very start.
  5. Celebrate every moment
    VivID missed its original opening date by a few months, but even when they opened it never did a launch event… This is a crying shame because many people didn’t know it was open for a while and even if they did, there was no real reason to go and check it out. I could mention social objects here but I won’t… People like an excuse to be there, thats why the quiz nights worked. Lastly there was no closing party (from what people tell me). There wasn’t even a “thanks everyone for supporting us type thing” (I wasn’t there on the last Saturday, so I’m going on hear-say), instead there was a message on the facebook group. So much for celebration…
  6. Its not just about us…
    Islington Wharf wasn’t the only flats in the area. Yes it was right underneath but actually there was Chips, Quantum, Millerners Wharf, Piccadilly Basin, etc, etc.. I don’t personally know how much effort went into engaging with those people but theres been a estimation that at least 1200 other people are a short walk from VivID. Even if they could convince 10% to come in regularly that would be great for business. VivID is also on the way to the Manchester City ground and the couple of times they tried selling things to the fans, its been very well received. I guess what I’m saying is, I believe there is enough footfall and someone will make a killing
  7. Whats on the menu?
    The menu was a mess of new and old items. Some of the old ones were no longer sold and the new ones you had to ask for. On top of that, there was only a few choices in certain categories. For example, only one black tea (my own bug bear) but about 4 different types of fruit & a green tea… Many times I wanted a earl grey but couldn’t get one. Near the end I learned they had them but it wasn’t on the menu or board! Seriously… This is systematic of the problems with the menu as a whole. When dim sum was added to the menu I was excited and told people about it, but later when a friend came in for dim sum, they couldn’t see it on the menu, so was disappointed. This is the same case for the fried breakfast… I understand the menu was fluid but they really needed paper menus to reflect this.

Autumn BBQ

There are many more but these are the main ones…
Of course it would be wrong of me to just highlight the negatives… It was a centre piece in the islington wharf community and the amount of people who we met there was great. As I said before I imagine its like a old town pub which all the locals hang out and socialise. In actual fact VivID lounge was the social object. It was the reason why people left there flats and chatted to each other. Its the reason why I spent a ton of money at VivID lounge even though the coffee and tea wasn’t as good as they could have been (North Tea Power can sleep well). The staff were generally friendly (specially some of the women, who were very cute), and the people you found hanging around were always cool and friendly. I’m sure there were many friendships which were formed via Vivid and as it seems will out live VivID.
Once again its a shame and to be fair its a difficult time for all independent coffee shops (Outlet closed down a while ago too) and you’ve got to be prepared to not make any money for at least 2 years it seems. Real businesses are a total different game from what I’m use to and I have total respect for the people involved in making vivID lounge…. I hope there not too hard hit and they will bounce back very soon…
Of course if your interested in taking over VivID lounge, do get in touch… I’ll happily pass your details on to the owners. I’m very confident with the right understanding of the mistakes above, enough money and once the new tram station and marina opens it will be a killer coffee bar

Author: Ianforrester

Senior firestarter at BBC R&D, emergent technology expert and serial social geek event organiser.