A bar between two joints

Is it a pub? Is it a club? Hester Lacey on an innovation
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Indy Lifestyle Online
It's 11pm (or 11.20, pushing it) and the pubs are just shutting. Time to join the crowd that's heading, lemming-like, for the nearest club, join a queue that stretches round the block in the freezing cold, and wait for as long as it takes to be let in. Unless you happen to start your evening in one of a new breed of bar: the pre-club bar.

The niche between pub closing and clubbing is one that has remained something of a void, particularly outside London. Now, Bar Coast, a newly established chain which opens its thirteenth branch in Sheffield next month, is plugging the gap.

Bar Coast's philosophy is already proving successful in cities such as Manchester and Chester. The idea is to provide an atmosphere that is sufficiently club-like to blend seamlessly with an evening that goes on till the early hours. With a late licence till 2am and the services of established club DJs, such as Judge Jules, Boy George, John Kelly, Lisa Unique and the Dream Team during the evening, Bar Coast seems to have identified a genuine new audience - although it has avoided any form of advertising or promotion, and has let the concept sell itself.

"The people we are aiming at don't want to hang out in local pubs with juke boxes and older people. Traditional pubs and wine bars aren't funky or happening enough. We wanted to fill that gap," says Bar Coast's Tamsin Saunders. "A lot of people see Bar Coast as an alternative to a club, and there is also a big pre-club crowd.

"There is a positive, vibey feel - a happy, ravey atmosphere, rather than the raucous feel of a traditional boozer." At the same time, it's a kind of "club lite" in itself. "It's not too sweaty or intimidating. People go to clubs to pull, but find it's just too loud. We think we've found a happy medium."

All this is aimed at a 20- and thirtysomething market with money to spend. Michelle Cartwright, 28, manageress of the Manchester branch, believes this is a key to Bar Coast's success. "There are more people around with money to spend. They used to go to clubs to get drugs, but now they are spending on alcohol, which is much more expensive."

The Manchester Bar Coast is typically decorated: all terracotta orange and fuchsia pink, with a glass-fronted bar and plain wood floors, it boasts a Warhol-style mural of Bet Lynch as Marilyn Monroe. "It's far more stylish than anywhere else," says Cartwright. "People queue to get in; it's the place to be. Mash and Air was like that when it opened, but it's lost a lot of its original hype. When we first opened, people would come here and go on to the clubs, but now they stay with us all night."

In Chester, just before Christmas, they had their first Cream night, with K-Class. Michael Ashcroft, 29, is a sales assistant in a designer clothes store in the city. "I go in probably twice a week over the Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and drop in for something to eat during the week. There is nothing else like it round here - before it opened I'd go all the way to Liverpool for the Saturday night.

"The DJs are very good, they know their stuff. The atmosphere is great, and there aren't any drunken kids knocking round the place."