The Kelso, Loughborough

Kelso loughboroughThe Orange Tree Group has unveiled its second late-night bar in Leicestershire

The spirit of 1920s American speakeasies has come to the East Midlands town of Loughborough. Independent operator the Orange Tree Group has created The Kelso, a stylish late-night bar specialising in cocktails. “We’ve worked hard to create a late-night venue which brings something completely different to the social scene of Loughborough, something that we believe was strongly missing,” explains managing director Gareth Smith, who founded the six-strong Orange Tree Group with Ben Hings in 1997.

The 240-capacity venue has been developed out of the premises of the former Newshouse in Ward’s End and features a ground-floor bar and dance floor, the more intimate first-floor Blue Bar and a rooftop terrace garden at the back. It has been designed inside and out by Kristy Ramage, an independent designer who also worked on the group’s first late-night venue, The Basement, which opened in Leicester in 2011.

She has created an interior featuring quirky furniture and décor, with a style reminiscent of the speakeasy bars of the US in the 1920s. The hard surfaces and clinical décor of The Newshouse have been replaced with a softer, warmer and more cosy look, Kristy says. “We clad the front half of the downstairs bar with reclaimed ceiling boards which changed it immensely, giving it warmth and character.”

The dark panelled bar opens onto a series of smaller spaces, like the corners of a country house or gentleman’s club, furnished with period standard lamps, button-back golden velvet armchairs and Turkish rugs. Comfortable seating, covered in soft red velvet cushions, has been created in the bay windows. The back terrace has been landscaped, including a canopy made out of corrugated iron standing on reclaimed cast-iron columns. It is accessed through two reclaimed Victorian school doors.

Reclamation was key for Gareth and Kristy who spent nine months sourcing tables, chairs, sofas, mirrors and other furnishings from reclamation yards, auctions and antique fairs. “We spent a long time looking for materials and pieces that could be reclaimed so that they look like they’ve always belonged there,” Kristy says. As part of the refurbishment, original features such as fireplaces, panelling and oak beams have been reinstated and restored. “We tried to give it back a bit of architectural detail.”

General manager Andrew Darch and the bar team have created a cocktail menu featuring plenty of classics, including a range of Mojitos, and Martini-style drinks. Twisted classics include a Blue Velvet Margarita made with El Jimador Blanco tequila shaken with Cointreau, lime and a touch of Giffard Blue Curaçao. A list of sweeter cocktails features the Cham 69, which combines Absolut vodka, Disaronno Amaretto, Giffard Muroise berry liqueur, fresh lime and sugar syrup, topped up with lemonade. The long Weissen Sour is a combination of Jack Daniel’s whiskey shaken with marmalade, fresh lemon and Angostura Bitters, topped with Belgian-style white beer Blue Moon.

The selection of draught beers includes Blue Moon as well as Budvar, Estrella Damm, Leffe and Beck’s Vier, alongside Aspall’s Cyder, while Vedett Extra Blond, Brooklyn Lager, Peroni Nastro Azzurro, Sol and Amigos are available in bottles along with Bulmers Original and Rekorderlig ciders.

With a dancefloor and DJ booth on the ground floor, The Kelso is open to 2am Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday, till 3am on Thursday and to 4am on Fridays and Saturdays, playing vintage-style music such as funk, soul, indie, ska, rock and disco. Because if its success, opening time was brought forward from 9pm to 5pm.

“We are aiming to appeal to a wide range of people who enjoy good music and want to indulge themselves in a brand new hedonistic experience for Loughborough,” Gareth says. The name of the bar has nothing to do with the Scottish town and racecourse or characters in US sitcoms Scrubs and That 70s Show. “The name was chosen because it sounded right and it sounds abstract enough to allow people to overlay their own interpretation.”

The Kelso, 8-9 Ward’s End, Loughborough, Leicestershire LE11 3HA
Tel: 01509 237892

Kelso interior

Who did it
Design: Kristy Ramage
Lighting: Historic Lighting
Furniture/fittings: Gallops Architectural
Contractor: Wedgwood

Originally published in the April 2013 issue of Bar magazine.

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