Meet the bar owners who are hitting all the right notes
7th July 2019
The Common Rooms on Mount Ephraim celebrates its first birthday in July. Owners Chris Gane and Alex Macnutt tell us how they’ve created one of Tunbridge Wells’ hippest hangouts
So Chris and Alex, how did you come to start working together managing The Common Rooms?
We were neighbours and both working in media. Chris runs a film production company creating TV adverts and digital brand films called VINCE and Alex owns a music consultancy business providing playlists and compilations for major record labels such as the Ministry of Sound, Universal and Sony. Having worked on a couple of music TV commercials together for Northern Soul and Trip Hop albums, we started sharing an office space and then began to discuss new ventures.
How and why did you come up with the idea of running a bar together?
Alex’s business evolved into providing playlists for bars and boutique hotels. Over a couple – OK, more than a couple – of G&Ts in Chapel Place, we realised there might be a gap in the market for a London/Brighton style bar in Tunbridge Wells with music as its core offering. Convinced after several research-based cocktail trips to Shoreditch and other spots, we decided to commit to finding a premises locally.
Did you find it difficult to transfer this initial idea into a reality?
In a word yes! Although we’d both run companies in the past, the hospitality industry was completely new to us. We knew how important it was to find a great location and in reality, after seeing several options, we doggedly stuck to our number one choice. It took around 18 months to secure with all the legalities involved. It was a pretty stressful time but we both have super supportive partners, Clare and Heather, who have helped bring the vision for the bar to life.
What were your key aims starting out?
To create something different, to base the concept around quality music, drinks and service and ultimately to deliver a unique social space for people to hang out in.
Do you think you’ve delivered on them?
From the feedback we receive we believe we have so far, but we are always looking to improve any and all aspects of what we offer, as any successful small business would. It also helps that we’ve managed to get the most fantastic staff on board who genuinely love working at the Common Rooms. This totally comes across 100 per cent to our customers and we really can’t thank the staff enough for being fully committed to the business.
Tell us a bit about the ‘Decks and DJ’ element to The Common Rooms?
Music from vinyl is a central part of our offering. Indeed, the two Technics decks are placed directly in the front window on the bar where they take pride of place alongside the back bar display of premium spirits. Alex is eternally grateful that he didn’t sell off his vinyl collection amassed over 30 years (and his wife is equally delighted that it’s now out of the house!)
Are you the only place to be doing this in TW?
We have been very clear from the start that we needed to create a standalone vibe by using music as a driver. We play disco, funk, soul, Balearic and re-edits, as do all our DJs. But whilst we very much enjoy offering something new and different, we are very much part of the vibrant night-time economy in Tunbridge Wells.
And what about the cool music and media items you have around the place?
There is a lot of ‘us’ in the bar. Various film and music related prints and items are put on the walls featuring artists such as Moby, Paul Weller, Amy Winehouse, Lemon Jelly, a massive print of Blondie and even a picture of Elton John and Rod Stewart in the bath together. People also comment on the limited edition framed retro toys from Star Wars to James Bond which are made by Chris’s friend Simon – dawsonframes, do check him out on Instagram – which are also available to purchase.
What are your plans for the rest of 2019 and beyond?
It’s our first birthday on July 13, which we are celebrating across that weekend with a selection of sets from top vinyl DJs who are all local and play regularly with us. We’ve also just picked up the Best Bar In Kent Muddy Stiletto award after only being open for 10 months and are No 1 on TripAdvisor for the area so It’s been a pretty crazy first year! All in all we are really looking forward to the next year and beyond to build on what we have achieved thus far.
A recipe for success
You’ve created a number of original signature creations, what’s the most popular?
People love the Sofia Royale, Prosecco with St Germain elderflower liqueur and a splash of gin. We created it for International Women’s Day in honour of Sofia Coppola and it’s been so popular we never took it off the menu.
And your best-selling classic cocktail?
It’s a Bramble, which is made from Plymouth Gin, fresh lemon juice and blackcurrant liqueur.
Tell us about your theme nights?
We’ve been doing Seven Inch Sundays where people bring their old singles in (by prior arrangement) and we also have had disco marathons plus Northern Soul pop-ups. We are open ‘til midnight Thursday to Saturday and always have DJs on. Thursdays is our new focus to offer something different to the jazz night on The Pantiles. Please keep checking our social media for more details.
What's your USP for the discerning drinkers of Tunbridge Wells?
We make cool and unpretentious cocktails in a beautiful location with an amazing soundtrack.
How did you settle on the name?
It was the brainwave of Alex’s wife, Clare. Obviously it was perfect with the bar overlooking The Common but also the name strikes a chord harking back to university and college days. It’s also the idea of a social space for like-minded people to come together and relax in.
The Common Rooms experience in three words:
Vinyl. View. Vibe.
Over to you guys for the last word...
We are very grateful to our regular customers who keep coming back – and to anyone that hasn’t been yet, please feel free to try us out. Being from Tunbridge Wells makes us even more proud of what we achieved thus far and it’s great to see all our hard work and long hours paying off!