The couple behind a new ‘speakeasy’-style venue in Altrincham believe the combination of their passion and a winning concept will prove a success.
Del Lowe and Emma Rostaing are partners in life and now business, with their 1920s vintage American bar, Riddles, set to launch on October 24th.
It aims to replicate the look and feel of a ‘speakeasy’, the type of illicit establishment that originated during Prohibition-era America, when the sale of alcoholic drinks was banned. Think oak panelling, sharp tailoring, live jazz, bourbon and rye whiskey.
Lowe and Rostaing say they’ve had a “passion and drive” for the idea for some time – before the opening of similar bars in Manchester like Cain and Grain and The Fitzgerald.
“We’ve got a lot of passion and a lot of experience,” says Lowe, 30. “I’ve been in this trade for 13 years and have managed bars, restaurants and pubs. Emma has a lot of marketing experience, so combined we’re quite a good force.”
Lowe and Rostaing, who met in a north Manchester bar, have harboured an ambition to own their own bar for some time. The opportunity arose when the owners of The Tempest, the short-lived previous occupiers of the Greenwood Street site, approached them with an offer to hand over the tenancy.
They’ve kept the bar open since acquiring the keys last month, but it’s since become apparent that very few people know of its existence. “It’s just that little bit further away from the market and maybe you don’t spot it if you’ve not got a big sign outside,” says Rostaing, who is intent on using her marketing nous to change that very quickly.
Work is underway to transform the decor to the “timeless and classy” look they see as synonymous with 1920s America, but not in a gimmicky way. “It won’t be like a 1920s themed costume party,” assures Rostaing, 31.
Below: Del Lowe and Emma Rostaing inside their bar, Riddles
With the project entirely funded by themselves and a friend – 10 banks turned them down for funding – they are having to fit the venue out on a shoestring. Everything is going to be reclaimed or made by them, and there’s “lots of eBay auctioning going on”. They’re also pulling in “hundreds of favours” from friends.
It hasn’t been easy. Lowe gave up his job at House in Goose Green in January in order to dedicate himself fully to finding a premises, while Rostaing only works part-time as a marketing consultant. “Doing all this without any income coming in has been very hard,” admits Lowe.
Neither hails from Altrincham – Lowe is from Bury, Rostaing from Bolton – but they are clearly enamoured of their new home town, where they now live together. Enthusiastic advocates of the regenerated market just across the road, they see the 25-plus, young professional crowd that now gravitates towards Market House as very much their ideal customer.
They buy their ingredients at the market and hope to source their coffee from Manchester. They’ll be making their own infused spirits and a range of 13 bitters – “the spice rack of bars”, explains Lowe – but will be bringing in other ingredients, such as the “beautiful thick hot chocolate” they’ll be importing from Poland.
Central to the idea of Riddles becoming a successful business is its versatility: “coffee by day, cocktails by night”. “The coffee shop is a front for the debauchery that goes on at the back,” explains Rostaing, “because a speakeasy would always be a book shop or laundrette or something at the front.
“We are going to section off the front bit so that you can’t see the bar at the back. It will be like a little vintage cafe in the day, but everyone will know what’s at the back. That’s the whole drama, we’re trying to make it so that it is like going back to the 1920s.”
And she’s not put off by the experience a few doors down of the Beatnik Shop, the coffee-cum-record shop which closed last month. “The Beatnik place was really cool but it was also very niche,” she says. “I genuinely believe that we’re going to be the best cocktail bar in Altrincham. There’ll be no bars with as clear an identity or such a level of drink preparation. Everywhere is either attached to a restaurant or a live music venue, but we’ll be a specific cocktail bar and I don’t think that’s offered anywhere else.”
After a guest list-only opening night on October 24th – with a 150-strong capacity crowd already signed up – Riddles will be open to all on Saturday 25th. The coffee shop will open the following week.
If passion and bravery were a guide to success, Riddles will go down a storm. Rostaing certainly hopes so: “I think the fact we’ll just be here every day running it ourselves makes a massive difference, because we’ll push it harder and put more into it. Hopefully people will recognise the effort we’re putting in and our personalities will shine through.”