When John Black took over the reins of The Fort Hotel in Broughty Ferry from his father, it was a very popular traditional pub with rooms. Today, The Fort has evolved, and although John has brought it bang up to date, he hasn’t alienated his more traditional customers.
A few years ago he totally renovated the public bar and last month he opened a new Italian restaurant called Borgotaro, the newly revamped lounge bar come late-night venue, as well as the completing the refurbishment of 18 of his 22 bedrooms.
Says John, “We wanted to make the bar and lounge area more versatile. Although it was still busy it really had had it’s day and it wasn’t particularly female friendly. My brief to Gordon Walker of Walker Interiors was to create a modern looking venue but not something that was OTT.”
He continues, “During the day we have pensioners in eating, while we also get business people, and of course come night time the venue is a late night bar and entertainment venue.”
What now exists is the perfect multi-functional space. There are two bars – one as you come in the door of the bar and another bar further round which acts as the main bar when the room is functioning as a late-night venue. Splitting the two areas is a bespoke dance floor – octogonal in shape and with an LED border. Says John, “We decided to put in a dance floor which during the day doesn’t look out of place. At night it comes into its own and becomes a focal point with LED lighting surrounding the perimeter. In the late-night area there is also club lighting. John explains, “We’ve put in mirrored disco balls, there’s also a designated area for the DJ. We’ve got new technology in which in some cases first time technology. We are still learning to work it all.”
Both of the bar areas have a dark grey slate feature wall, with a slightly recessed mirrored back bar. Stylish lighting sets it off and both bars have a LED front bar with a marble effect. Says John, “Certainly the bar area was by far the biggest expense. “The lights were expensive, in fact one was stolen recently, luckily we got it back. The bar at the door also has some stylish looking stools. John explains, ‘Our furniture supplier Dove Tail sourced these from a company that makes furniture for yachts. But they do set the bar off. They too were expensive, but worth it.”
The versatility of the bar area is such that at night tables and chairs are removed. As a result the tables that are moved had to be lighter than the granite-topped tables that remain in situ. These round, marble-topped tables, also have a steel band round them. John explains, “This helps protect the edges.”
What is evident in the design is the attention to the detail. From the recessed speakers to the textured wall paper and there’s a cleverly disguised radiator that is a seat. The attention to detail is also apparent in the new restaurant, which is adjacent to the late-night area, and which doubles as a VIP room for the venue after 10pm.
The new Italian restaurant is called Borgotaro, after the place in Italy where John’s great grandfather and grandfather grew up (Borgo Val di Taro). Originally John had thought about putting in a steak house. He says,“That was my original plan. But we are a suburb not a city centre and I thought the mark up we would have to put on would have made the restaurant too expensive for my customers. So I decided on Italian, but we still have steaks on the menu.”
The chef for Borgotaro is Norrie Preedy. John comments, “We now have two head chefs, and our original cook is still here. As a result our menu has improved substantially. We still offer our traditional dishes but we have full Italian menu too, complimented by a fine wine range.”
Borgotaro has its own door into the restaurant from the street, and the small, but elegant, 22-cover restaurant has its own servery area, which also includes a dumb waiter which brings the food from the kitchen. Along one wall there is charcoal fixed seating, and this main wall also boasts a huge photograph of the Roman Collosseum. John explains, “I bought the photo from a Russian photographer. I bought the rights and then got a local photographer to break it down to a negative format. I didn’t want too bright a colour, the great thing is with the lighting technology I have put in I can use LED’s to change the colour of the picture from day to night.”
Black upholstered chairs, which are the very same chairs that appear in the Shanghai bar that featured in the last James Bond movie, and black and copper quartz table tops also add glamour to the restaurant.
There is also a wooden structure which guides you into the restaurant, and the same slatted effect is used on the doors which take you from the restaurant into the bar area. John says, “The doors are soundproofed and the private glass allows you to see out from the restaurant, but not in. This means that we can hire the restaurant area out as a private dining room, or as a VIP room. Guests can even pour their own drinks. We offer a Birra Moretti self-standing dispense unit which means that customers can order a small keg for their party and dispense it themselves.” He adds, “We also have an ipod plug in so they can play their own music.”
The new bars are also stocking premium champagnes such as Cristal and Armand de Brignac, colloquially known as “Ace of Spades”. Says John, “We are offering brands now which are a real talking point. We may not sell a lot of them, but do sell some. I think they add to the occasion and set off the back bar.”
The hotel foyer and 18 bedrooms have also been refurbished to a high standard. With very classy and luxurious, chocolate and cream interiors, and ultra-modern bathroom suites. Says John, ‘It was my wife that persuaded me to get the bedrooms done, and it has paid off. We are now taking a lot of corporate bookings.”
While John is not yet looking relaxed…he is starting to smile again. He admits, “It’s been very stressful because we have funded it ourselves. However I am glad to say we’ve been trading well, definitely on a par with what we did last year, and with Wetherspoons now open in Broughty Ferry, that is an achievement itself. We hope to see good growth this year or at the very least sustain what we are doing now. I am delighted that we are already seeing a return.”
I am not surprised. I am not sure John’s dad would recognise The Fort today, but I am sure he would be very proud of how far it has come.