The owner of 24 The Downs has blamed Altrincham’s reputation for late-night trouble for the “devastating” closure of his bar after just five months.
Elios Lamsehchi stunned a packed house of revellers on New Year’s Eve by announcing that the night would be the bar’s last, with a Facebook statement the next day confirming that “unfortunately all good things must come to an end”.
He’s now explained to Altrincham Today why he has decided to close the doors on his first bar venture, a decision that will see him lose a £15,000 landlord’s deposit – not to mention the £50,000 he initially invested in the refurbishment of the former Brasserie venue.
“We had an OK Christmas, but after an awful October and November we needed an amazing Christmas,” he said. “I’m not prepared to keep pumping money in.”
A former barman at the Brasserie – it was his first bar job as an 18-year-old – Lamsehchi spent eight years as a manager at the American Bar in Hale and also worked as launch manager at Bloom in Goose Green.
When the American Bar sold its Ashley Road space to Carluccio’s last summer, the 29-year-old spotted an opportunity to go it alone, and with financial backing from his Saudi Arabia-based father, took over the lease for what became 24 The Downs from Myriad, a Moroccan restaurant that had lasted all of six weeks.
“I had a good reputation with lots of the regulars at the American Bar, and with that place going I thought that maybe I could try and entice them to come down here because the whole point was we were going to try and do food at some point. But the sad fact is people in Hale will not come into Altrincham.”
Below: 24 The Downs in busier times
The site had been a hugely popular destination during its heyday in the 1990s and early 2000s, with queues often stretching down the street. But after a string of unsuccessful Brasserie relaunches, the closure of 24 The Downs would suggest once and for all that it is now an unsuitable location for a bar.
The 29-year-old is in no doubt as to the reasons behind the location’s decline. “We’d close at 2, leave by about 3.30, and you’d walk down and it would just be kicking off every night,” he said.
“I’ve not had a single fight in here and not even a problem, but I can see why people don’t want to come round to this area. Altrincham has got such a bad reputation. People will come to the market on a Saturday or Sunday, but they won’t try Altrincham in the evening, mainly because of the stuff that goes on on the high street.
“The daytime trade will be improving because of the market and the likes of the hospital, but the night-time trade? There are a lot of idiots about.”
Lamsehchi said the looming prospect of a first rent payment next month – he’d agreed a six-month rent-free period with his landlord – had convinced him that now was the right time to close. “That was going to kill me,” he said.
Business rates had amounted to £1,200 a month, and Lamsehchi pointed the finger at Trafford Council for not doing more to encourage businesses to fill the town’s empty units.
“Just down here (on The Downs) there are five or six closed units,” he said. “The council needs to drop the rent and drop the rates and get these nice places opening up. That will then attract people back.”
Below: Bar owner Elios Lamsehchi
24 The Downs had space for up to 330 people but while he maintains he had “categorically the best bar team in the whole of Altrincham”, it quickly became clear that there was not the footfall to sustain it.
“We got busy to start with, and I did have regulars who would come in week in, week out, and I’ve had a lot of people saying ‘where else do I go in Altrincham now?’ But I can’t rely on the same people over and over again.
“I’ve been in this game and you quickly start noticing a trend with a place – at the American Bar I could tell you that at 5.15 we would get an influx of people. But in Altrincham, that wouldn’t happen until 11pm at night, and it’s the same for plenty of other bars. I might as well have just had the place closed and then open up at 10pm on a Friday and Saturday.
“I know the quality of everything we did in here was of the quality you’d expect in Manchester or London, but it just wasn’t enough.”
Of the bar’s two full-time staff, one has returned to a design job while the other will be going travelling. Lamsehchi, from Sale originally, said he would be holding a farewell party for friends later this month and then looking to raise money for a new venture through private parties, cocktail training and weddings work (he has a mobile bar).
The venue itself is set for a change of use too – according to Lamsehchi, the landlord is “reluctant” to rent it out to another bar venture and is likely to redevelop it into offices and a retail unit.
Lamsehchi himself will hope to try again in a year’s time – but not in Altrincham town centre. Next time he will probably look at Chorlton or the city centre, although he hasn’t discounted Hale.
“I took an opportunity but unfortunately it’s not paid off for me,” he said. “I will try and come back. It’s a lesson learned, even if it’s an expensive lesson learned.”