As some of you know, the town where I live doesn’t have tons going on – there’s only a small number of independent shops which we try to support as often as possible. If we’re looking to go out for food or drinks we usually find ourselves in Bath.
However…one thing my little town has got going for it is a bar…a cool place where there’s a cocktail menu with 125 different choices, as well as a great selection of wines, vodkas, gins, whiskeys and bourbons. The Old Bankhouse will celebrate its 2nd birthday in September 2017. I met with Francesa, one of the owners for a quick chat to find out a little bit more…
How did you come to be the owner of The Old Bankhouse?
I’d been working at Stonegate (who own Yates, Slug & Lettuce) for quite a few years as the sales and marketing manager which I enjoyed but it involved a LOT of travel. Although I was based in Portsmouth I felt like my life was spent on trains!! I realised I couldn’t do this job forever and decided to take a career break.
In 2013, my Mum moved to Calne and immediately fell in love with the town. When I left Stonegate, I took some time out joining her in Calne. Mum (Katie) and I were chatting about if we ever had the opportunity to open a shop or retail outlet in Calne, what would it might be… Jokingly she said ‘why don’t you open your own bar?’ of course, she thought nothing more of the somewhat flippant comment; however I had a lightbulb moment and ran with it! I got straight onto the internet and saw the building for let. After a couple of calls, I’d managed to get a viewing for a few days later. We both instantly fell in love with the building, it’s so magnificent and in terms of logistics – it worked. The story began!
What’s been the hardest thing to overcome?
Getting the planning permission!! I applied straight away to the council planning department and because it’s a listed building there were lots of hurdles to overcome. We didn’t get permission until August 2015 and I wanted to open as soon as possible.
With the help of local trades, we somehow managed to open within 6 weeks of receiving the planning permission meaning we opened on 25 September 2015. I’m still not sure how! The renovation needed was huge, and it was a lot of work!
The key was… although my vision was modern (turning an old bank, literally, in to a bar) we didn’t want to deter from any of the building’s magnificent, original features.
High ceilings, beautiful arched windows and, what was then, a hidden fireplace! Having seen old photos of the building, we knew there was a fireplace hidden somewhere under the plasterboard (and with thanks to the architect who managed to work out which chimney it was led to) – we were desperate to restore it and open it up again!
When the plasterboard was uncovered there were intricately decorated tiles… However some of these were damaged or missing and needed to be replaced. I had a LOT of quotes for over £5,000 and was starting to think we’d had to hide the fireplace under plasterboard again. Luckily we found a local person who said he could hand draw the pattern for me for a quarter of the price. It’s now fully restored and is a great feature. The fact the person that could help with the fireplace was local, was just a bonus!
One of the plans with starting this business was to focus on ‘everything local’. We wanted to hire local staff and work with local trades, and we did.
I came to opening night…it was SO busy!!
Yes, I was completely overwhelmed by the popularity – we are able to accommodate 100 people but after opening night I realised this was an unrealistic number. People couldn’t get to the bar easily and it was a real squeeze. We now allow 70 people but have the ability to let a few more in should a group arrive.
We opened with just 35 cocktails on the menu that night – I can’t believe we’ve now got 125…and I’ve got LOTS more ideas up my sleeve!
What makes the Old Bankhouse different to anything else?
There’s nothing like this in Calne and it’s just what the town needed (not just in my opinion but, I’m frequently told so by customers, even almost two years after opening). I didn’t want to compete with the other pubs in the town, I wanted to compliment what the Town already had to offer. Another goal of ours, pre-opening, was to create a space where women felt safe to come in after work and have a glass of wine on their own without feeling intimidated, and that’s happened many a time. Not only is it lovely that people feel welcome enough to do so, but, it means we did what we set out to do – another great feeling!
I ensure that we use top end products in all our drinks. Our 2 for £10 cocktail offer includes lots of our most popular cocktails. I’m very particular on how the cocktails are made – if I see something come up to the bar ready to send out to a customer and I’m not happy with the way it looks, then I want it remade…not matter how busy it is!
If a customer doesn’t like their drink, I’m happy to replace it for them… Is there anything worse than paying for a drink, discovering you don’t like it and then having to sit and try and drink it!?
Equally, the fact we kept the safe and turned it into a VIP area is pretty unusual! I can’t think of anywhere around here that can offer a fully functioning safe as a seating area!
What’s in the future of the Old Bankhouse?
We want to continue supporting the community and will have another bike in our safe for the Bike Meet (Saturday 29th July). We will continue to hold our monthly gin tasting events – we’ve now got 2 gins that are from local micro-distillery. We’ll also be doing a charity event for Care for Combat although what that event is going to be is still secret!
I also want to start looking at the cocktail menu again – I’ve got a few thoughts up my sleeve to change things up a little.
Our biggest aim for the future is to continue offering products of a high quality, with great customer service and to continue to bring something different to the area… Be it the products we stock, the events we host or our drinks promotions/offers.