Saturday, 1 June 2013

How not to do a bar launch party

Thursday night was the greatly anticipated launch of the revived 'Barca' in Castlefields, Manchester. I have learnt that the bar was originally called Barca when it was opened by Mick Hucknall. It did well under his ownership but was sold a few years ago and has since failed to attract a loyal following or become a favourite hide-out for indeed anyone. The current website does a wonderful job at demonstrating why - poorly designed, cheap and tacky, with no thought given to its target audience - being young city professionals with a high disposable income (poncy blokes that work in sales and media, with girls all following the latest fashion trends - literally everyone on Thursday night was wearing a leather biker jacket, including me!).

If I had known which bar it was beforehand then I might have thought more carefully about accepting the party invitation. I first visited the bar when it was called Bohemia two or three years ago, as I had purchased a meal voucher from Groupon in order that my then partner and I could take his brother and brother's girlfriend out for a nice meal. This deal came up offering us a special discount on "British fare" at what looked like a well-located bar and grill overlooking the Castlefield canal - perfect. When we got there, I remember the whole place was pretty much deserted perhaps bar one other couple. Great, this will mean especially good service, you would think. Now, this was quite a while back so you will have to forgive my hazy memory on the details, but I know that the brother's girlfriend was vegetarian and ordered French onion soup for her starter, which, when it arrived, looked like a pile of sloppy, over-cooked onions sitting in a bowl of yellowy water. It was horrendous. I'm not a big fan of French onion soup, but this was diabolical. When the waiter, who was actually quite nice, asked (as you do) if we had all been happy with our starters, my other half's brother's girlfriend replied "Not really, I'm afraid. My soup was like a pile of onions in water", he was quite apologetic and we were offered a free drink! Wow. Having given our orders for main course at the start of the meal, we sat for what felt like an age waiting for our next course. It must have been at least half an hour, so when the food did finally come we weren't in the best of spirits anymore and didn't have much hope of enjoying it. The quality of the cuisine was very average for a restaurant located so close to the likes of Albert's Shed and Dukes 92, and I certainly wouldn't have paid full price for it. After eating, nobody came to take our dirty plates away. In fact we got so fed up with the lack of care or attention afforded to us by the staff that we got up and left without paying for the last round of drinks - something I had never done before nor have I done since. But when, as a customer, you are treated with such disrespect then I think it is warranted. Come to think of it, we didn't just walk out. We walked up to the bar manager (a tall, skinny woman who looked down her nose at us) and told her what a disappointing lunch we had just had. Needless to say, she couldn't care less and didn't even offer us an apology. Now, any other eatery in Manchester I should hope would offer 20% off our next meal, or perhaps a couple of free drinks with our next visit. Not Bohemia.

So that was my experience of the bar - but perhaps this revival of their Barca roots was to signal a turn-around in their attitude and service? Well for a start I believe this was third time lucky with the launch party. They were originally going to relaunch is as Sugar Buddha, the name they had most recently been using for the bar, but cancelled that and organised the Barca come-back party. That date was then cancelled again and rescheduled for last Thursday - way to make a first impression!

On arrival at the bar last Thursday evening, I was looked up and down at two bouncers at the door who were clearly looking forward to taking delight in telling people that it was a guest list only function and I was therefore not welcome. I merrily strode past them in my leather biker jacket (I'm so on-trend) and gleefully gave my name to the blonde who was holding the guest list. The bar was pretty busy, despite the evening only having started 15 minutes prior. Lots of fake-tanned legs on show and men trying to look swanky! At the door I was greeted by a tall, skinny lady - the flash-back was instant, I just hope she didn't recognise me! She handed me a voucher for a champagne cocktail - no not even the "champagne and cocktails" the flyer promised, but one measly bucks fizz. Also advertised on the flyer was a free BBQ and canapes. Having arrived fashionably late at about 7pm, I was expecting the barbecue to be in full swing, especially with it being such a warm and sunny evening. When I asked one of the bar men (with his big shirt purposefully hanging lazily out of his trousers, like all of his colleagues) half an hour later where the food was, he shrugged at me disinterested and said he didn't know what was happening food-wise. "But you advertised a free barbecue on the flyer!" I exclaimed. "I don't know anything about a barbecue", he replied. What a helpful chap - just what you'd expect from staff at a bar launch. It was becoming increasingly obvious at this point that nothing about this bar was new apart from the outdoor seating. The staff were just as untrained and rude as they had been for the past few years. At 8pm I asked one of the girls on the door where the food was, as the group of people I had come with were, like me, getting increasingly ravenous and didn't want to have to try to cheekily ask for more free drinks vouchers to keep them occupied. I was then told that they weren't doing a barbecue because they thought it might rain (although the weather forecast would have told them otherwise) and so would be bringing paella to people's tables at 9pm. Well, needless to say I wasn't going to wait another hour to get more free stuff. A launch party should be an all-singing all-dancing showcase of the bar and grill's culinary and cocktail-making skills.

I suppose I should be grateful that the weather allowed us the pleasure of sitting outside away from the blaring noise of the intermittent indie bands that were performing inside. I always prefer to hear the other person I'm talking to when having a conversation. So that was that really - paella is NOT a good enough substitute for a summer barbecue and canapes, nor is one free bucks fizz equal to "free champagne and cocktails". Bar launches should be about free stuff and ensuring your guests have a good time and want to come back. If you would like to read an alternative, amusingly positive review then do click here - it's written by the event organisers so could be a tad biased.

My other half and I departed at 8.15pm and found the gorgeous Banyan Tree restaurant by the big roundabout in Castlefield, where we enjoyed some beautiful food and 2 for 1 cocktails. So my story has a happy ending. I leave you with pictures of my tuna steak and cocktails - beats paella any day!

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