Month Notes #1. Opening The Doors

There’s a watch repair shop called Variety Time on Ridley Road. The little old man in there has repaired a few of my watches in the last 7 weeks; ranging from battery swaps and strap alterations to much more involved things to do with stripped threads and sticky balance wheels. Every time I see him in there, he’s keeping the queue entertained, explaining the problem with a watch to the person he’s serving, quietly espousing a very chill Islam rhetoric, and generally being amazing.

The first hard watch problem I bought to him he explained that he’d have to take it home to look at it, and that he’d probably text me around 3am as that was when he did his best work, and to warn my wife (kindly old men get a special dispensation in the relationship assumption stakes). He did exactly that, texting me the next morning so I could come and collect the watch. A £15 repair that Nixon, the manufacturers of the watch, had told me was impossible, and that I would need to buy a new movement and case to effect. Fuck you, Nixon.

He goes out of his way to tell you his repairs have a 3 month warranty. He tells you that if you’ve had a strap altered by him, you can get it realtered again for free. He tells you to keep the links of the strap he’s removed with your passport, so you don’t lose them.

He is, in essence, amazing at what he does and how he goes about doing it. He has become my inspiration.

The last 7 weeks have been among the hardest of my life. Opening a bar is DIFFICULT. Opening a bar in a 500 person capacity venue when all you’ve done before is run a cheeky little pop-up and some residencies is almost insurmountable. In the first three weeks of doing it, I screamed at a homeless person, then sobbed in the street, came closer to panic attacks than I ever have, ate not a single vegetable, and almost broke my relationship with my girlfriend. All of these are still ongoing situations; this is, without doubt, the toughest challenge I’ve ever set myself. And so, when I cycle past Variety Time in the morning, I take a moment to think about the old gent who runs it. He is giving exemplary service, absolutely smashing the execution of what he’s doing, and seems to be coping…very well. There’s clearly difficult times, and he’ll happily regale you with the issues he has with the council, his family, the market in general and so on. But he doesn’t sweat the work.

Prior to this, the hardest physical work I’d done was teaching kids at PGL; up at 6am, in bed at 2am, and constantly on the move in-between. But it wasn’t intellectually difficult, at least once you knew what you were doing, and the support network was great (by which I mean they heavily subsidised the staff bar). The hardest I ever worked my brain was probably in consultancy, being billed out to 2 or three clients each day, for a day. Stretching from 9am to 10pm, staring at a screen and context switching constantly, as people demanded attention, sites slowed down or broke, or requirements changed. With both of those jobs, I slept easy. I knew I had some semblance of control, but now I’m not sure I do. I’ve strapped myself to a rocket and I’m really not sure where it goes.

This is not to say I’m not enjoying it. It’s hard. Harder than anything I remember doing. But the challenge is great, and walking past people outside remarking on how nice the space is, seeing someone’s face as they taste a drink for the first time across the bar and slowly accruing new regulars is utterly joyful. So is managing my staff and them telling me they are enjoying being managed by me, or my suppliers coming in because they enjoy working with me and want to support me. There’s been some moments where I’ve, unequivocally, fucked up. And some nights (and days) where all I’ve wished was that I was still an itinerant software developer with a unusual hobby. But it’s ok; the good times seem to outweigh the bad, and it’s…working. Which, if I’d realised the scale of the undertaking at first, would be the biggest surprise in many ways.

I still want more customers. I still want to have more Party Fridays, and Date Mondays, and I hope that never stops, but I also remember the lesson of Muhammed at Variety Time. I’m doing this because I love what I’m making, and I love how it makes people feel, and scaling that is joyous. It’s hard, but it’s oh, so worthwhile.

Which is to say, come for a drink sometime. I hope we can put a smile on your face and soothe your long day/prepare you for a long night/be a great date spot/facilitate your general hanging out (delete as appropriate). This has been my first report from the flip side of opening a bar. TL;DR…it’s HARD but great and your should definitely come drink our American Gothic.