A city centre cocktail bar just got even more cool. Georgette McCready looks at the design story behind the Sub 13 expansion
One of Bath’s precious listed Georgian townhouses welcomes thousands of happy, high-spirited revellers through its doors every week. But how could this historic slice of city architecture be both protected and adapted to provide a playground for the 21st century?
This was the challenge facing Alex Miller and Tim Whelehan, owners of popular Sub13 cocktail bar in George Street. The cellar bar and stylish terrace garden were well established as one of the coolest places in town to sup cocktails, whether long, short or strong. But some nights the crush in the cellar was a little overwhelming and the bar tenders wished they’d had more space to mix drinks to meet thirsty customers’ demands.
So when the guys decided that the cellar bar really couldn’t go on any longer without the floor being replaced, they hatched a plan to extend the party up on to the ground floor, taking over two former offices which overlooked the garden at the back and George Street, with enviable views down Milsom Street, to the front. They invited Bath architect Simon Morray-Jones to draw up the conversion plans and subsequently took on Frome based McIntosh DBR, which specialises in design, building and restoration.
James Habershon was project manager for the Sub13 improvements. He was faced with a short timescale of just three weeks in January to sort the battered floor out in the basement and to improve the gents and ladies loos layout (it’s one of life’s great truths that you always find yourself needing another cubicle in a ladies loo).
He says: “The floor downstairs was rotten and we needed something that would take spilt drinks, a waterproof and non slippery hard wearing surface. So we chose a Sika resin flooring which basically goes down like a liquid and then gradually hardens as it dries. A basement, in the middle of winter and chasing a deadline was a technically challenging combination but our flooring team were totally committed and here until 3am one night to make sure.”
But the floor, which flows right up and over the bottom of the skirting board, did dry hard and now offers a completely liquid proof, impervious surface. It’s also designed to be slip-proof, which is handy when stilettos are worn.
The next stage was to move on to the two rooms at street level, which used to be offices. These were to become two bars. Alex, Tim and James invited Stroud based bar designers Cantilever – “the Rolls-Royce of bar designers,” says Tim – to create a pair of stylish looking but eminently practical bars. They also called in the resources of Felix Lighting, in nearby Bartlett Street, to add lighting flourishes that work well when the sun goes down.
A specialist firm of plasterers from Street carried out the traditional lime plastering, which protects the listed building’s walls.
The front bar overlooking the street allows for flexible space, with its moveable stools. Gold honeycomb alcoves over the bar serve as decorative and practical display cases. But it’s not until you ease yourself behind the bar that you see the range of sinks, work surfaces and bottle holders, almost like holsters, giving each bartender their own station in which to mix up the perfect mojito or martini.
Alex explains: “Because cocktail making is pretty labour intensive and we don’t want people to have to wait longer than necessary, this purpose designed bar speeds up the whole process and our bartenders need not rush up and down so much. Everything is pretty much within their reach.”
The back bar, which opens out into the garden, has been fitted with a burnished brass front, designed by Felix Lighting, which can be removed when maintenance is required. Overhead is a scaffolding style frame, designed by Cantilever, which holds the cocktail glasses in place. Behind the bar there is more industrial inspired shelving, including a sturdy rack for the music system.
James is happy that they were able to incorporate the original wooden floor into the bar, staining it black to add to the Prohibition era vibe. Happy party-goers can now access the popular terrace easily and now that Sub 13 has three bars, the volume of drinks traffic more manageable.
Tim said: “We’re very happy with what’s been achieved, in a very short timescale.” James added: “It’s been a great project to work on. Both Tim and Alex had a real, clear vision of what they wanted and we loved the challenge of getting them back open and serving drinks in the shortest of timeframes.”
McIntosh DBR is a family-run business specialising in restoration, extension and new builds. Its commercial clients include iconic Babington House and the historic Talbot Inn in Mells, both of which called for high quality craftsmanship with the minimum of closure. Residential work for private clients ranges from affordable extensions to major restorations and both contemporary and traditional new builds. All projects are underpinned by a friendly, flexible team driven to deliver a high quality finish.