‘People no longer neck 10 pints of Stella’ - City’s nightlife changing as we swap shots for experience

James Wingfield and Ella Williams at Frank's Bar in Norwich. Photo: Bill Smith

James Wingfield and Ella Williams at Frank's Bar in Norwich. Photo: Bill Smith - Credit: Archant © 2013

Norwich's nightlife is evolving because it must, bar and club owners say. As part of our focus on the future of Norwich, Sabrina Johnson reports.

Night clubbing

Night clubbing - Credit: Archant

The city no longer boasts countless nightclubs or large capacity venues where on a Friday or Saturday several hundred people danced into the night, fuelled by alcohol and music.

Venues have closed, others have changed hands and even more are diversifying offering, more than just cheap shots and strobe lights.

But what does the future hold for Norwich's nightlife? What will a night out on the city's cobbled streets look like in years to come?

Steve King, who has worked in the night time economy since 1989 and owned Stadia in Upper King Street since 2014, said the last few years had been tough for Norwich's nightclubs.

He said: 'If the future is anything like current trend it will probably be a minimal experience.'

Putting the decline in the number of clubs down to a 'perfect storm' of factors including changing licensing laws, the smoking ban, increased overheads and rising technology, which has affected everything from music charts to dating, he said: 'Norwich used to have two super clubs that would be full to capacity on a Saturday night, now they have now disappeared and all the venues are struggling.

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'The culture is changing, you don't have to work all week and only see your friends at the weekend.

'It's like a perfect storm for the industry. I'm hopeful that the pendulum will swing back, but the industry has declined.

Steve King, who has owned Stadia since 2014. Picture: Stadia

Steve King, who has owned Stadia since 2014. Picture: Stadia - Credit: Archant

'At the moment it's a challenging time and I can't see any improvements in the near future but we are all optimistic that it will come full circle.'

Along with his brother Max, Mike Baxter owns Bermuda Bob's Rum Shack and Gonzo's Tea Room and last year also took over the Owl Sanctuary, saving the live music venue from closure.

He said he believed the future of Norwich's nightlife lay in the experience.

He said: 'Norwich's nightlife is currently evolving and it has to.

Franks Bar. Photo: Nick Butcher

Franks Bar. Photo: Nick Butcher - Credit: Archant © 2010

'There's a large part of it clinging to an older model of cheap shots and throwing people out into the night. But we see over and over again how that doesn't work anymore or at least only in the short term.

'What you see people wanting now is experiences.

'People want quality, they want Instagram-able moments and over the next 10 years I think more bars will be offering a lot more than drinks, and not just food.'

The brothers' venues aim to provide more than an alcohol-fuelled night out, offering food, live music and curated drinks menus.

Gonzos Tea Room. Photo: Gemma Seager.

Gonzos Tea Room. Photo: Gemma Seager. - Credit: Archant

Mr Baxter said: 'Even students are looking for content in their experiences, we find them wanting more and getting bored with the same old nights.'

As more young people go teetotal or choose to drink less, he said: 'Drinking less shouldn't be the death of our industry, it should just be a new challenge. It's not drinking less, it's drinking better, so we just have to keep improving.

'We've seen it in everything from the craft beer explosion to gin over the last few years, people want a better experience and are willing to pay for what's truly tasty and unique.

'I don't think people no longer necking 10 pints of Stella is a bad thing.'

James Wingfield, whose Frank's Bar last year celebrated its 10th birthday, echoed Mr Baxter's view that the future of Norwich's nightlife lay with venues that were more than just watering holes.

He said: 'I think there is less of an interest in the clubbing scene and there is a definite interest in going somewhere where you can have some olives, some cocktails or maybe even some tea.'

He said while he believes there is still a place for clubbing in Norwich, the city's large number of independent, smaller venues were now part of its charm.

He said: 'When we first opened there wasn't the huge wealth of independent cafés there is now, it makes Norwich a destination.

'You have to make a destination welcoming, people don't like it if places become pretentious.'

And it's not just smaller independents which are following the trend for experience-based nights out.

The Deltic Group, a national chain which operates Bar and Beyond in Prince of Wales Road, along with numerous clubs across the country, also believes in diversifying.

A spokesperson for the group said: 'Creating a healthy late night economy, with a strong mix of food, drink and leisure venues, is essential if we want to give people a compelling reason to go out in Norwich.

'There's no doubt that people still value the 'big night out' experience… Bars, clubs and restaurants can offer just that.

'Obviously our offer needs to evolve as we welcome a new generation of customers, but the basic principles of great atmosphere, experience and music will always remain.'

In September 2017, Norwich was granted Purple Flag status, an accolade given to cities offering entertaining, diverse and safe nights out.

The Norwich Business Improvement District (BID) worked with Norwich City Council, the police, pubs and clubs to improve the quality of entertainment and tackle anti-social behaviour.

There has also been a wider range of entertainment introduced, such as the 10-week Head Out, Not Home summer push.

Businesses in clubland areas such as Prince of Wales Road have also formed a Late Night Norwich scheme to ensure organisations work together to stamp out problems.

Organisers behind the award scheme said the initiatives had 'resulted in a significant impact on safety and wellbeing in the city'.

The accolades are handed out by the Association of Town and City Management (ACTM).

• The Norwich Society and Evening News are holding a public debate about the future of the city at the Forum on Tuesday, February 19 at 6pm. Admission is free, but booking here is recommended.

• Our Future of Norwich takeover week is brought to you in association with Norwich City Council and Norwich Business Improvement District (BID).

• We'd love to know your thoughts on the future of Norwich - leave your comments below.