Now celebrating its 10th year, the Scandinavian-inspired Après chain continues to thrive by evolving and refreshing its design and offering. Operated by Town & Country Inns, it has expanded this year with a new venue in Sutton Coldfield in the West Midlands followed by the refurbishment of an existing Après in Solihull, also in the West Midlands. Both have been designed by Matt Rawlinson of Raw Design, a specialist in bars, clubs and restaurants, who has taken the brand forward with a more modern twist.
For the site in the Mere Green area of Sutton Coldfield, Town & Country Inns completely transformed the dilapidated site of a former Mitchells & Butlers pub, Flints. The dark, heavy Victorian-style frontage was removed and a new lighter aluminium sliding system was installed, bringing in more natural light and making full use of the outside space which has been given a dramatic facelift with decking and lightweight glass balustrading.
The interior has been stripped back to the bare walls, becoming a canvas for Après bars’ new look, described as a contemporary version of classic northern European modernism. A key feature is a ply latticework ceiling that conceals a myriad of RGB LED strips that change colour from pale golds and aquas in the daytime to the concept’s signature reds during the evening. The ply lattice runs down one wall, forming a backdrop to the simple bench seating, and ends on the booths on the other side of the room where flat-screen TVs have been installed behind two-way mirror glass.
The tactile flooring is made up of strip wood-effect tiles and printed carpets from Danish design company Ege. LED downlights and pendant Foscarini ribbon light fittings complete the geometric-inspired interior. Furniture from previous Après sites has been recycled and refurbished, re-staining tables and reupholstering seating which, Matt explains, was about trying “to retain some elements of the existing rhetoric yet giving it a new aesthetic”.
Matt’s new concept has now been rolled out to Après in Solihull, which reopened in August after a refurbishment. This project saw the addition of a new exterior bar with built-in barbecue, TVs and white sofas. Matt adds: “The brand has historically always been uncompromisingly design led and it is important to keep this progression and design quality. Après Mere Green achieves this: it still has the essence of Après as a brand but is now a totally modern version taking Après forward for the next generation.”
Also new for the company is table service which was introduced at Mere Green. Customers can also buy spirits by the bottle for the first time, from Russian Standard and Grey Goose vodkas to Patrón XO Café tequila and Jägermeister, priced from £90 to £130 plus a magnum of Belvedere for £250. The food menu is also slightly different from the other five Après bars, described as “providing a twist to the original offerings”, such as serving food in wooden boxes. Alongside wraps, ribs and salads, there is an extensive choice of pizzas, burgers and sausage batons.
As well as beers and wines, cocktails are available in pitchers, with plenty of party favourites such as a Woo Woo, a Tequila Sunrise and a Long Island Iced Tea as well as a Midori Melon Spritz or a Co Co Cooler, made with Malibu, cranberry juice and pineapple juice. “Pitchers are extremely popular at all Après venues, both for beer and cocktails, as they are consumer-friendly and affordable,” says Fiona Williams, creative director at Town & Country Inns.
Fiona adds that changes seen at Mere Green will be carried through to other sites which are in Birmingham, Lichfield in Staffordshire and Cheltenham in Gloucestershire. The Sutton Coldfield opening was a return to the Midlands town for the brand after Town & Country Inns sold a nearby Après site to JD Wetherspoon last year. “Mere Green has always been an excellent area for us and has a very loyal following,” Fiona says.
She adds that, after the Solihull refurbishment, Town & Country Inns’ will be focusing investment on rolling out its new concept, Fleet Street Kitchen, which debuts in Birmingham later this year. But, with its new design and modern twists, Après bars are in good shape for the future.
1-5 Highgate Centre, Belwell Lane, Mere Green, Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands B74 4AB Tel: 0121 323 2565 www.apresbars.com
Originally published in the September 2012 edition of Bar magazine.