There’s a uniqueness to the independent bars in Harrogate that never ceases to amaze, and the District Bar in that similarly singular neighbourhood of Cold Bath Road has joined the club. For the bar – with its functional wood and tile interior and uncluttered offering of wine, beer and coffee – has a jaw-dropping heritage that includes glitzy nightclubs in London and shiny opulent hotels in the Gulf.
Step forward co-owner Dan Simpson, who spent many back-breaking hours building District’s seating, tiling walls and sanding its floors. He started in the business as a teenager mixing cocktails for movie stars in Covent Garden and Piccadilly clubs.
It gets even more glamorous. He went to Dubai and worked on hotel openings, including the fabulously luxurious Burj Al Arab, and later designed bars and restaurants including one establishment where the walls changed colour as diners ate. In the end, he stayed there for more than 20 years, moving into finance before coming back to the UK and to Harrogate so his family could settle down. But old habits die hard and Dan soon started developing his idea of opening a local bar. Together with fellow owner Andy Burrows, he decided to create a place that was “personal” to him and a place where he knew he could get things right.
He explains: “I’ve been in the trade for so long I’ve got a degree of education about what’s the right way and the wrong way. I’d go into pubs and think if only the service was quicker, the lighting better, the staff more organised. There was always some niggles.”
Hence District Bar; his answer to all those challenges that can have a negative impact on the customer experience. “We keep it small, small enough to control and manage,” he says tellingly.
Dan believes it’s about presenting a quality product and having a broad reach, so the bar has 15 beers including Blanche de Bruxelles and Erdinger on tap as well as five white wines, five reds, two rosés, three champagnes and two proseccos. Interestingly, he regards the bar as a place for the local residents to come and socialise, a sentiment which gives rise to the name.
Equally interestingly, he believes that establishments geared to the neighbourhood in which they are located, have a good chance of success.
“My personal credo is that there is more credibility and longevity in residential bars, supported by residents. We’re not a town centre destination that aims to smash it,” he observes graphically, adding: “It’s for people directly around us.”
So where better to be than Cold Bath Road where unique – yes, that word again – bars, eateries and all manner of independent shops combine with the more prosaic primary school, convenience store and chippy to create a buzzing neighbourhood, which, according to Dan, is definitely “in town” and not “out-of-town”.
“I love it,” he exclaims. “The people are brilliant and I couldn’t wish for a better crowd. They know what they like, they know what we are.”
He has had some thoughts about taking the “local” idea of the bar and using it somewhere else where the neighbourhood is also distinctive. But for Dan it’s not a template that is easily transferable.
He says firmly: “You are not going to see 20 District Bars. It was the premises that prompted this place, it is perfect in terms of size, layout and storage and it has to be personal (in terms of) the space and the building.” He adds: “We could do more bars but it depends on the environment.”
So, for the time being, there’s just the one District Bar where Dan has “his heart” and of which he is “super proud”. And who knows maybe Tom Cruise will come in and have a drink, just like he did back in those cocktail days in Covent Garden.
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