Dark rooms, jazz, electric atmosphere and cocktails could be found easily during the prohibition-era, if you knew where to look. Now, the charm of the American speakeasy can be found in Kent at new bar, The Vault. Hannah Patterson sits down for a cocktail with Mark Nicholson to discover the new hidden gem in town…
Tell us a bit about the Bedford and your history with it…
I took over as landlord three and a half years ago in March 2013. Before that I was hired as the general manager, which I worked as for about 18 months. When the previous owner left, Greene King offered me the position of Landlord.
Did you implement any changes when you took over?
We worked really hard to turn the reputation around. It was a typical station pub – underage drinking and fights. It was very ‘rough and ready’. I personally never felt comfortable coming in. Greene King completely stripped it. There was a new décor, new furnishings and all the undesirables were asked to leave. That’s pretty much how we spent the first six months.
And now you’re opening The Vault…
Yes! It’s all very exciting. Greene King paid for the conversion of the basement area, but I covered the cost of the furnishings.
It looks great! It feels like a secret bar during the prohibition era…
Thank you, I’m very happy with it. We wanted to get the feel of an American speakeasy. The furnishings are all very industrial and I believe the final product has a really fantastic atmosphere.
What’s the plan for opening night?
We had a soft launch last week with a few friends, families and colleagues – a test drive if you will! The official opening is Thursday 29th September. We’re planning on having a reservation only policy. The weekends in October are already packed. We can seat 30, plus 50 standing so having reservations will be useful for number control. We also have a few Christmas parties booked already and the bar isn’t even open yet. I’ve been pushing for this for two years so I’m hoping for a huge success.
Why did you decide to open The Vault?
I had a vision for extending the service area from upstairs and the space down here was unused. They are two separate venues in my eyes. Kentish pub upstairs, American speakeasy downstairs. The only thing they will share are the management and bathroom facilities. The Vault has a completely separate entrance which we’ve lit up.
To start with, The Vault will be open from Thursday to Saturday, 5pm to midnight. We will consider opening during the day, if the demand is there.
Will you be serving food at all?
No meals, but there will be cheese boards on offer supplied by Fromage & French.
So, it’s all about the drinks…
Absolutely. Lauren will be the new Bar Manager and she comes from a London bar background, has plenty of cocktail experience and I will be completing a master class very soon. The menu consists of 12 classic cocktails and, in keeping with the American theme, they are being made with quality, American spirits.
The Secret Cellar on London Road have come up with a superb wine list, with quality bottles ranging from £25 to £95. We also have some excellent bottles sourced from Bibendum.
This is a bar that will suit those who have an appreciation for excellent drink in a relaxed atmosphere.
There will also be 12 American beers and four Belgium beers on offer. I prefer the Belgium beers and I wanted a couple of beers that I enjoy.
You have three Cask Marque awards, you must know your ales!
We have been given Cask Marque status for the past three years in a row. The West Kent CAMRA branch also awarded us runner-up ‘Pub of the Year’ in 2012, 2013 and 2014. I don’t like the term ‘real ale’ anymore, it’s just ale to me. Competition in the area is quite tough as ales have really taken off. Maybe five or six years ago there were around 1,200 micro- breweries nationwide, now there’s somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000. It’s exploded! We deal with 50 breweries and rotate what we have on tap every four to six weeks – it all depends on customer feedback and what the favourite is. It’s actually a very exciting industry to be in at the moment with everything that’s going on – artisan brewers, keg ales, craft beers, gin distillers…
Has anything of the old Bedford survived the renovation and re-branding?
It will essentially stay the same, although it has all been decorated with a fresh coat of paint. I don’t want to change our pub upstairs or dilute our current customer base, I want an additional venue that will appeal to a new ones. The music nights will become more structured and move to Saturday nights. But, it’s still the same traditional pub selling quality craft ales and serving some excellent, hearty grub.
Describe The Vault in five words
Industrial. Atmospheric. Classic. American. Speakeasy.
2 High Street