The West Port dynamos

April 5th, 2016 | Posted in:

When Andrew McMahon and Jakub Zakrzewski teamed up five years ago to run the function suite at Perth Airport, anyone familiar with the ambitious pair would have known it was likely to be the start of something big. Today they have three bars – all on the same Dundee street – and are set to open their fourth one this month.
Andrew (36) – known as Macky – went into the licensed trade at 17; starting out with a job behind the bar before working his way up to a series of management and consultancy posts. He was inspired to go into the trade by his father Tom (85) who once owned a string of bars in the city, including The Hawthorn, The Pullman and The Mirage. Macky says, “Dad retired when I was 12 but I was always looking up and seeing him mingling with customers and staff, and the music and the buzz – it was great and I loved it. He’s 85 now but he comes into The West House every morning for a coffee, and keeps us on our toes. He pulls no punches so if he sees something wrong he will definitely tell us.”
Jakub (31) was born in Koszalin, Poland, on the Baltic Sea coast. He started studying in his home town but transferred to Dundee University for a change of scenery. He finished up with a degree in international finance and business, took a break and then did a postgrad in IT. But like Macky, his heart lay in the licensed trade and his first job when he arrived in Dundee was working behind the bar in the Students’ Union. He says, “I used to work in the licensed trade back home. I thought it was a fun industry, and it was a great way of making money as a student.”

P1110961_opt
The two men first met ten years ago when they worked at The Underground nightclub, where Macky was general manager and Jakub was supervisor. Their paths criss-crossed again as time went by – they worked together at The Playwright, and helped open several bars. Both say that Dundee is such a small place – particularly in terms of the licensed trade – that it’s easy to keep tabs on what your friends are up to and so they never really lost touch.
When Macky was approached by Morris Leslie to carry out a critical appraisal of several businesses at Perth Airport, he asked Jakub to join him and soon afterwards, in January 2011, their business was born. Macky explains, “I needed a colleague to help with my assessment, so Jakub came with me. Basically the management team at the function suite were not doing a great job and the landlord was going to close it down, so we volunteered to run it for him. That’s when we formed our company, and that’s why it’s called Perth Hospitality – which is something everybody always asks us about given that we’re actually in Dundee.”
The suite, called The Hangar, was great for weddings and ceilidhs but those are predominantly weekend events and the pair knew they needed something else. They started to look for places in Dundee and came across The Ascot Bar in the city’s Westport area. Macky says, “We got it in November, but the problem was we didn’t have any money and it was in a real mess. We didn’t want to close over Christmas and do a make-shift refurbishment, but didn’t want to trade as it was either – so we decided to do a pop-up.
“We painted everything white, put up Christmas trees and loads of tacky decorations and called it The Snow Bar. Then we went round offices, friends and family and got them in for their Christmas parties. Needless to say, on opening night it was wet walls, wet floor – the paint wasn’t dry. We put loads of polystyrene balls down as fake snow – it was great fun.
“We traded until the end of January and used the money that we’d made to do a better refurbishment.”
The work, which cost around £85,000, was carried out in February and March, before they re-opened as The West House in April 2012. Jakub says, “We took out everything basically – down to the bare floorboards. We took every single wall inside down, re-wired, re-plumbed and re-glazed the building – it was a massive job.”
Macky admits, “We knew it was going to be tough because most of the area’s pubs were either closed, or only open in the evenings and at weekends, but we believed it would work because we were on the University campus, close enough to the city centre and in what was historically the cultural quarter of Dundee.”
Another challenge the pair faced included planning restrictions on any extraction outside the listed building, which meant they couldn’t fry. Instead they decided on a pizza and pasta menu, and cocktails, appealing to the female market. Jakub adds, “We also decided not to put a telly in. What was coming to the West port at that time was a bit the scallywag element, so we hoped our offering would deter them and attract a different crowd.”
Three months later, another pub on the same street came onto the market and they jumped at the chance to take it on. Macky says, “The idea was that it would be a proper pub – a gastro pub with good food, TV on, much more casual than our first place. Of course, after such a big spend on The West House, we didn’t have any money and it was coming up to Christmas time – so Snow Bar Two was born. Out came the white paint again.” Jakub laughs, “I remember wishing we’d kept all the decorations from the first time. We got the keys in November and it was a six-day turnaround.”
But their plans for the gastro pub were scuppered when a great chef came along – so they changed the theme and decided to open as a restaurant, The D’Arcy Thompson, instead. Just as they had done with The West House, which has an old printing press and chemistry benches from the university, as well as etching plates and metal stamps once used on the jute sacks the city is famous for, Macky and Jakub turned to history for inspiration. Jakub explains, “We were keen to keep the tie in with local heritage and we thought it would be a great way to celebrate D’Arcy Thompson, who was a pioneer of mathematical biology. It turned out he was also a bit of a rascal and liked to have a good time in the pub with a few glasses of whisky, so he seemed a good person to name the place after.”

P1110967_opt
They opened in March 2013 and the venue has proved a hit locally. It also won Scottish Gastro Pub of the Year 2015 last year. But Macky and Jakub still felt the area was missing a quality burgers and gourmet pies venue for the students – and that they were still missing a pub. So when the place next door to the D’Arcy Thompson came up, they went for it and embarked on a seven-week refurbishment, which cost around £90,000, before opening The Tinsmith in June 2013.
Jakub says, “That was our biggest project so far in terms of the work. We moved walls and we moved the toilets to let more light in because the pub was very dark inside. We wanted it to feel light and airy.” The venue, which has a chunkier, more industrial feel, is named after Tommy Smith, a tinsmith from Dundee who noticed that the light cast off his candle flame was greatly enhanced by a piece of battered tin. His discovery took him to Aberdeen for the first lighthouse and he went on to design the first gas street light network in Edinburgh. Jakub and Macky worked closely with Andy Rice at Not Just Design on the project and found his help invaluable. The steel work was done by Lawrie Fabrication – run by Macky’s brother-in-law – and they also worked with West End Cladding and Joinery.
Their latest venture – The Westport Gallery – had been around for 22 years and was something of an institution. So when they heard the owners were moving to Spain, they decided to act. Macky jokes, “We thought it had been a while since we’d opened anywhere, but because of the council’s policy on over provision we knew that getting a licence was going to be very difficult. We got letters of support from people like Dundee University, V&A Dundee and Creative Dundee – the heavyweights. Janet Hood Consulting also played an instrumental role in helping us to get the license. Jakub says, “It was the first time we had gone to the Licensing Board knowing that we had a bit of clout.”
The tapas restaurant and gallery opens on April 13th, after a £50,000 refurbishment, and will feature work by artists from across the city. But these two never do things by halves and are geared up – through their second firm, West House Events – for a busy summer of outside events with their marquee, bar and catering business. They seem to have no shortage of energy or ideas, and boundless enthusiasm for what they do – as well as for their city. It surely won’t be long before they are on to their next venture. Snow Bar Three perhaps?

The following two tabs change content below.

DRAM News Team

Editor at DRAM Magazine
DRAM magazine is Scotland’s leading monthly licensed trade magazine. It has been dedicated exclusively to the on-trade in Scotland for the past 23 years. It is independently owned, edited and published in Scotland. The DRAM is innovative, creative and original. First with the news, and the people in the news. Covering all the latest information on pubs, bars, clubs, restaurants and hotels in Scotland.

Latest posts by DRAM News Team (see all)


Alcohol Stats Receive Mixed Response

Thu 22nd June 2017

Scottish drinkers are learning lessons but are not there yet according to NHS Health Scotland’s latest report. Although it revealed th... Read more.

Greene by Name, Greene by Nature

Wed 21st June 2017

Belhaven owners, Greene King, is aiming to send zero waste to landfill by 2020. This ambitious target follows a partnership last year with w... Read more.

Star Pubs & Bars Invest in Dundee

Sat 10th June 2017

Heineken’s Star Pubs & Bars has earmarked £500K to invest in Dundee’s Mercantile Pub as well as The Gunners Bar in Broughty Ferry. ... Read more.

Round up – June 2017

Sat 10th June 2017

Round up DRAM June The Scottish Licensed Trade Benevolent Society, The BEN, raising £4,500 at its ‘Fashion and Fizz’ event held last mo... Read more.

Dembele Officially Opens Harry’s Bar

Fri 9th June 2017

Celtic legend Harry Hoods family business, The Lisini Pub Co, have opened a new Uddingston bar and named it after Harry as a surprise. The b... Read more.

£250K Refurb for the Long House in Kilmarnock

Wed 7th June 2017

 The Long House in Kilmarnock, owned by Buzzworks Holdings, has just revealed the results of a £250K revamp. During the refurbishment the ... Read more.

Blueberry & Lime Lands in the On-trade

Wed 7th June 2017

Kopparberg has expanded its fruit cider family with the arrival of Blueberry & Lime. It is the latest introduction to the signature rang... Read more.

Licensed Trade News – June 2017

Tue 6th June 2017

 John Bryden Perth licensee John Bryden and daughter Georgia were thrilled to meet Jools Holland after sponsoring his Perth Concert Hall s... Read more.

Double Gold for the Glasgow Distillery at the World Spirit Awards

Tue 6th June 2017

Glasgow Distillery is the first gin and single malt distillery since 1902 received two golds at The World Spirit Awards. It received a doubl... Read more.

Douglas Laing see Profits Increase

Mon 5th June 2017

Family owned Scotch Whisky specialist Douglas Laing has revealed that profits increased 17% to £1.6m in 2016. Double digit growth three yea... Read more.

Design Focus: Taphouse Bar & Kitchen

Mon 5th June 2017

Stroll down Argyle Street into the heart of Finnieston nowadays and you’re met with an almost bewildering choice of venues. From the trend... Read more.

Profits fall for Tennent’s Owner C&C

Sun 4th June 2017

Tennent’s owners C&C Group, in their results to the 28th February 2017, have revealed that net revenues decreased 6.9% to €559.5m, m... Read more.

Design Focus: Ardnamurchan

Sun 4th June 2017

A new Scottish restaurant Ardnamurchan has opened opposite the Theatre Royal at the northern end of Hope Street in Glasgow. Its predecessor... Read more.

Sue Says – June 2017

Sat 3rd June 2017

There’s definitely sea change happening when it comes to people moving on… Ken, Kenny, Kenneth McGown of Star Pubs & Bars, after... Read more.

Magners Campaign to Seize the Summer

Sat 3rd June 2017

Cider brand Magners is drawing our attention to the fact that summer will be two days shorter this year! The brand, as a result, is campaign... Read more.

Design Focus: Cocktails & Steaks

Sat 3rd June 2017

Ferocious, cleaver-wielding gang boss Bill “The Butcher” Cutting, played by Daniel Day-Lewis in Hollywood blockbuster Gangs of New York,... Read more.

Glenmorangie Reintroduces Native Oysters to the Dornoch Firth

Fri 2nd June 2017

A ground-breaking environmental project pioneered by Glenmorangie has seen Native European oysters reintroduced to coastal waters around it... Read more.

Summer Drinks

Thu 1st June 2017

Have a wee read of some fun facts about summer and some recommendations for summer drinks. The phrase “dog days of summer”, often used t... Read more.

Design Focus: Maggie Mays

Thu 1st June 2017

Glasgow rock n’ roll institution Maggie Mays has turned up the volume with a £400k makeover commissioned by Oli Norman and Stephen White,... Read more.

Greene King raises £3m for Macmillan Cancer Support

Thu 25th May 2017

Greene King pubs throughout the UK have helped raise £3 million for its charity partner, Macmillan Cancer Support over the past five year... Read more.