Top Cats of Clubland

Ten years ago, late night operators like Colin Barr, Donald Macleod, Billy Lowe, Rab Orr and James Mortimer set the bar high enough so that the standards in their venues stood the test of time and influenced many that followed. All of these guys are still around, along with their legacies. Now there’s a new generation benefitting from what they did. This month, DRAM profiles some of the new wave of late night operators and managers – most of whom seem to be concentrated in Glasgow and Aberdeen. Edinburgh unfortunately doesn’t get a look-in, as there seems to be a death of new late night venues in the capital right now.

Mark Loney, Operations Manager, Cirque, Hyde Leisure, Glasgow

The day I phoned Mark Loney, of Cirque, one of Glasgow’s newest clubs situated on Queen Street, he had just taken his mum for a birthday lunch. This is also the man who appeared on BBC Three’s Don’t Tell the Bride last year. He says, “I’ve had my 50 minutes of fame – that’s how much of the 81 hours of footage they used, you really are at the mercy of the edit, and I got ribbed for it.” When he’s not appearing on TV, he’s playing a round of golf or amateur football for Drumchapel FC which he loves.

Mark is just as upbeat about the business. He explains, “We opened Cirque in January this year, and we are at capacity every Saturday. Our 23 VIP booths are always booked out and we have two new nights about to begin, including an urban night called Elevator on Fridays. We’ve also booked in Trevor Nelson for the May Bank Holiday, along with the usual round of fan dancers, fire eaters and stilt walkers.”

Hyde Leisure also owns the bar next door ‘Independent’ is in the middle of getting a refurbishment. It is getting new signage, furniture and wallcoverings. Mark also has his eye on a new Cirque site. “We are looking to take the Cirque concept to other cities but it’s all under wraps at the moment,” he says.

Paul Hislop and, Brendan Hegarty, Co-owners, Sugar Cube, Glasgow

Paul and Brendan are the co-owners of Sugar Cube on Queen Street in Glasgow. Their business partnership began when they both worked together at Boho where Paul worked for Brendan. Now, as joint owner/operators, they’re both very much hands-on and visible in the premises, and not only are they focusing heavily on the operational side of the business, but they’re also forward thinking social media strategists. In fact, they picked up the The Drum Best Use of Social Media Award at last year’s DRAM awards for exceptional standards shown in marketing via the likes of Facebook and Twitter. Sugar Cube has benefitted from both men’s focus and is just as popular today as it was two years ago. It is still a major player on the city’s late night venue scene.

Gary Macculloch and Chris Lessani, Co-owners, The Sanctuary, Glasgow

Gary and business partner Chris Lessani opened The Sanctuary (formerly Boho) four weeks ago. Gary cut his teeth at The Ship Inn, Irvine, where he worked for eight years under the guidance of Iain Murray, and he says, “Iain was such an inspiration to me, which is why I stayed running The Ship for such a long time.” These days, his nights may be longer, as a late night operator, but he’s full of beans about what he’s bringing to Glasgow’s West End. He said, “This part of the city deserves a decent club, and we have invested heavily in the sound and lighting. We are also the first club outside London to have a Ciroc vodka-sponsored VIP area, that’s about to open, and we’re just putting the finishing touches to it.” When Gary’s away from the job, he likes to take the odd week off in the sun with wife Karen. The couple also enjoy walking their dog, Simba. Business partner Chris comes from a family with a long trade history. His father Alan has owned and operated bars and restaurants for some 40 years, including Drop Bar on Glasgow’s Waterloo Street. Chris also opened Black Rabbit on Great Western Road in Glasgow last year with  his other business partner, David Fleming. Gary and Chris relax away from the job by playing the odd round of golf.

Barry Livingstone, GM, 2One2, Glasgow

Barry is GM at Lynnet Leisure’s 2One2 in Glasgow’s Royal Exchange Square, which opened in September 2012. The 32-year-old has worked in the trade since he was 17, and during the course of those years, one of Barry’s biggest inspirations has been Carlo Citti. He says, “I worked my way up in Campus for nine years with Carlo, and he opened my eyes to what this industry can offer, and showed me where determination can get you.” Trading-wise, 2One2 is doing well, but Barry is seeing a swing back towards the music taking precedence over everything else. He explains, “I think that the days of booking any old celebrity for a Personal Appearence is now over. People are wanting clubs to get back to basics and this is the policy we’re following. Our next live act is Tape Rai (featuring David Guetta), for example.” And as well as all the social media activity the club naturally engages in, Barry is still a fan of the personal touch. “It sounds basic you can’t beat the buzz that old school PR flyering creates.” Away from the job his passions are golf and football.

Calum Mackinnon, Co-director, Amicus Ventures, Nox, Aberdeen

School friends Calum Mackinnon and Garreth Wood met up again a few years ago and formed Amicus Ventures together with co-director Martin Brown. The company owns and operates Nox in Aberdeen as well as both Amicus Apple in Edinburgh and Aberdeen. But Calum is very much the ‘face’ of Nox. He says, “Garreth and I are both from Aberdeen and we both went to Robert Gordon school, so we understand the city and this has influenced what we have done with Nox. I did make mistakes along the way when the venue was Bad Apple for example. This didn’t work as I got the formula wrong.

“But six months into Nox, and our recipe of quality, luxurious clubbing with table service has been a hit, and we are trading incredibly well. We are continually innovating, like our dry ice serve that we’ll be introducing shortly which chills the bottles so they’re smoking by the time they reach the tables.” And next on the company’s agenda is a half a million pound refurbishment of Amicus Apple Edinburgh that is scheduled for next month.

Sean McGettigan, GM, Campus and, The Garage, Aberdeen

Glaswegian Sean upped sticks and moved to the Granite City last August to take up the role of GM at Campus and The Garage Aberdeen – the joint venture between Donald Macleod and Carlo Citti. “There’s only one other late night bar concept in the city, but we’re doing it on a much larger scale with a combined capacity of 970,” he says. “Trading has been fantastic since opening and a lot busier than we anticipated. In fact, over a seven-day period, we’re the busiest in the city, with comparable customer numbers as our rivals on certain individual nights obviously.”

In terms of personal influences he cites both long-time mentor Donald as well as Carlo. He says, “Donald’s straight-talking approach and ‘getting the job done’ attitude rather than discussing it endlessly is great. Carlo’s hands-on way of working and getting in amongst it all is complimentary to this, so my style is a combination of the two.”

His pedigree includes an eight-year stint working for Donald at the Garage in Glasgow, where he started as bar staff and worked his way up to GM. Sean likes to get back to Glasgow when he has time off, to see live music gigs.