In the space of one year, three men have done more than most to liven up East London’s bar scene. Meet The Umbrella Project…
In amongst the groceries and fast food joints of Bethnal Green Road, The Sun Tavern shines bright and, in all honesty, is a surprise considering it’s at the opposite end to hip Shoreditch and its ever-busy nightlife scene. ‘We saw the space and it had personality. We have refused sites because they have no character. We never do new builds because the character is really important to us. That’s how we want people to know it’s us, since we’ll veer towards quirkier things.’
Stephen Thompson sits back and takes a sip of his coffee. Next to him is Andy Kerr, who – along with Alastair Tatton – make up The Umbrella Project, who have the inention to veer away from drinking tedium and create something fresh and exciting in London’s bar scene. The group now have two of the City’s quirkiest watering-holes under their brand, The Discount Suit Company (opened early last year close to Spitalfields Market) and The Sun Tavern, which opened a few months ago and where we are meeting today. Despite the rather short gap between two openings, the group are looking to spread their trademark eccentricity even further.
‘Our first venue was like a tester,’ Andy reveals about the Discount Suit Company. The basement bar is both appealingly hard to locate and a worthwhile find. With a Victorian speakeasy feel about it and amazingly innovative cocktails that are sure to get you happy drunk, The Discount Suit Company has garnered a major fan base since its opening, with an accompanying soundtrack of Motown music and Northern Soul.
Its success led to the search for venue number two, with a quirky site on Bethnal Green Road catching the three amigos’ attention. In retrospect, The Sun Tavern’s location has helped enhance its neighbourly feel, since the enormous range of craft beers on tap are sourced from breweries located within a five mile radius.
Taking a walk around the venue, it’s easy to forget that you aren’t in pub from yesteryear. According to the guys, that’s what they were going for. ‘This place used to be The Sun Inn, which opened in 1851 by a guy called W. Wicks,’ Stephen reveals. ‘His great-great-great-granddaughter contacted us, who had it till about the 70s or 80s when it was bought by someone else.’ A greying framed photograph at the back of the bar is proudly displayed for customers to take a look at, and features the inn owner and his family standing proudly in front of the premises back in the day. The exterior is surprisingly unchanged, but inside the team brought back the old wallpaper left behind the bar and pushed up the ceiling to create more space. What’s more, the group wants customers to appreciate the heritage of the location. ‘It’s good how people have gotten into it. We didn’t design it really, we kind of let the space develop organically,’ says Andy. ‘We wanted it to be exclusive and elusive, but most importantly we wanted to have quality drinks and service.’ Amongst other things, The Sun Tavern features the largest selection of whiskies in the UK.
There is a collective ‘why not’ sentiment shared amongst the group, which keeps them churning out original ideas. So what does the future hold? Letting some exciting news out of the bag, Andy says: ‘We’re focusing on developing The Umbrella Project as a brand and we’re planning on doing more bars, but our next project is setting up an alternative-style brewery.’ Producing more than just beer, the guys want to continue their unconventionality. New menus will be introduced in both bars, along with whisky tastings. ‘We’re planning on doing a little in-house miniseries with Poitin,’ says Stephen. ‘It will enlighten people about what we do.’
As their plans come to fruition, head on over to their surprising successes to get your drink fix. When asked to pick their personal favourite choice of poison, the three agree that The Wake, a potent drink comprising of 90% Poitin, is a must try. However when asked to pick between the two bars, they were far less assertive. ‘It’s like having two children,’ Andy jokes. ‘How could you love one more?’
Words: Maryam Rasheed
The Sun Tavern, 441 Bethnal Green Road E2 0AN; 020 7739 4097; thesuntavern.co.uk