Novus enters exclusive talks for Balls Bros

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Balls Brothers, the wine bar chain long favoured by London bankers, is in exclusive takeover talks with Novus Leisure, the owner of the Tiger Tiger and Zoo bar brands.

Balls Brothers is rumoured to have sparked the interest of more than 100 potential suitors when it went into administration in November with debts estimated at £7m.

Novus Leisure already owns 37 venues, the majority of them in London, and is keen to add Balls Brothers' 19 bars across the City and the West End to its portfolio.

Novus refused to comment on the potential price of the deal yesterday, but it is expected to pay only a small premium over the target's debts.

Balls Brothers' problems stemmed in part from its £14m takeover of the Lewis & Clarke bar chain in 2007. The enlarged group's revenues dropped when the financial crisis depressed spending among City workers, and it struggled to integrate the more casual Lewis & Clarke bars into its traditional portfolio.

In its last accounts, for the year to January 2009, Balls Brothers posted losses of £224,000. Corporate advisers from Zolfo Cooper were called in just before Christmas to sell the business as a going concern.

The chain generated a high level of interest, with D&D London and Kornicis Group – which owns Jamie's Wine Bars and Henry J Beans – both tipped as possible buyers.