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Inception Group to open new Mr Fogg’s bar

London bar operator Inception Group will open its first Mr Fogg’s site in Soho next month, called Mr Fogg’s Pawnbrokers.

The new Mr Fogg’s venue has been fitted-out to resemble a Victorian-era pawnbrokers

Speaking to The Spirits Business, Inception Group co-founder Charlie Gilkes explained the concept behind the new site: “This venue imagines Phileas Fogg’s illegitimate brother, Frank, who is selling the family wares and setting up a pawn shop, which is our playful way of bringing ‘porn’ back to Soho.”

The 140-cover venue will be located at 50 Dean Street, and will be separated into three areas: The Pawnbroker’s Desk, The Strong Room, and The Textiles Store.

Gilkes confirmed that the new site won’t “obviously be a Mr Fogg’s venue from the outside”, but the attention to detail that is synonymous with the concept will feature throughout.

“We’re recreating a pawn shop,” he said. “In the main space we’ll have more than 60 different hanging lights; everything will appear for sale. There’ll be a miniature menu with a jewellery loop, so guests can read it through the magnifying lens – we’re going to have a lot of fun.”

The exterior will also feature authentic pawn shop insignia and a large bay window, showcasing wares for sale, which will change seasonally.

On entry, guests are met with The Pawnbroker’s Desk, the first of two bars, surrounded by high stools, poseur tables and banquette seating that looks out onto the streets of Soho.

Cocktails are served in vessels such as Ming-style vases

Decorated with keepsakes, curious Victorian erotica and paraphernalia, every item on display will be priced for effect.

The second space in the venue, The Strong Room, has been inspired by the vaults and deposits that used to sit behind the counters of pawnbrokers, with jewels, gold and antique busts shown in glass-fronted display cabinets.

The Textiles Store, which includes another bar at the back of the venue made of vintage carpets and rugs, will boast walls lined with Flemish tapestries and a vaulted ceiling draped in materials from across the globe — a nod to the travels of the bar’s namesake.

In addition, the bar will be doing some authentic pawning of its own. “We’re looking for carriage clocks, so we’re going to have customers bring in an old clock and exchange it for a drink,” said Gilkes.

The menu, which has been designed by group bars manager Simone Spagnoli, will also pay tribute to Victorian pawnbrokers, with cocktails served in vessels ranging from Fabergé eggs to antique Victorian punch bowls and jewellery boxes.

Cocktails will include The Scales of Justice, made with Dewar’s 8-year-old Ilegal Smooth Scotch whisky, Noilly Prat Dry vermouth, Drambuie Scotch whisky liqueur, Montenegro Amaro, crème de cacao brown liqueur, saffron and chocolate bitters, which will be presented on an antique scale; and the Priceless Heirloom, a cocktail served in a Ming-style vase, made with Bombay Sapphire gin, Essentiae lemon verbena liqueur, raspberry shrub, lime juice, topped with Franklin & Sons rose lemonade.

The Scales of Justice is available as a sharing cocktail

Research and development

The Mr Fogg’s collection is currently composed of seven individually-themed bars located across London, with inspiration drawn from the books of Jules Verne.

The research and development process for each bar takes between six to nine months, Gilkes confirmed.

“We did a lot of research, and obviously pawn shops were a massive thing in the Victorian times, so everything from the sign outside to the bar counter, which has jewellery ‘for sale’ under an acrylic top so everything will look like a sort of shopfront, is authentic.

“We have a lot of fun reading up and researching and trying to be true to what actually happened back then.”

Charlie Gilkes co-founded the Inception Group in 2009

He continued: “We’ve always got to make sure we stay on the right side of the line, otherwise, this becomes Disney.

“Our first bar was Phileas Fogg’s Residence in Mayfair, which sounds like some something that’s better suited to Alton Towers. But, I think the fact that we were so careful in how we put it together with everything from the right period, from the prime ministers of the day on the wall, to the glassware being used and uniforms, demonstrates that we do think through every detail and try and stay on the right side of that line, which I think is really key, otherwise I think you become funny.

“If you don’t believe in it, then it’s hard to get customers to believe in it,” he said.

Experiential bars

In November, data presented by IWSR Drinks Market Analysis showed that consumers were looking to the on-premise to provide experience-led drinking occasions in the face of economic uncertainty.

While the current economic climate has caused bar groups such as Nightcap to pump the breaks on expansion plans, Gilkes confirmed that Inception Group was looking at “considered choices” when it comes to opening new venues, such as Mr Fogg’s Pawnbrokers.

With the increase of people working from home, Gilkes noted that offices are starting to look for more time-worthy experiences to bring teams together.

He explained: “There are some offices that will now do more regular socials — they do less, but better; they won’t go out so much, but when they do, they’ll do something more than just going to a standard boozer, they’ll go and do competitive socialising, or they might come to something a bit more experiential, like one of our places, so I think we’ve seen a benefit of that.”

Gilkes said Inception Group had emerged in a strong position from the Covid-19 pandemic, despite, like many, coming “painfully close to the brink”.

He also noted that the company’s choice of location to open new sites allowed it to circumvent some of the risks associated with opening a bar during a recession: “I think when you’re looking at central London venues, you’re not putting all your eggs in the UK economy basket — everything we’re doing is trying to be considered.

“Yes, we’re not going to grow at an uncomfortable rate, but also, fortune favours the brave, and these sorts of times are when you get much better deals and much better opportunities.”

Mr Fogg’s Pawnbrokers will open on 22 February.

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