At your service

Since opening at the end of April this year, Charlotte’s In The Pantiles has been a runaway success. Eileen Leahy spoke to its talented team about why it’s proving so popular with the discerning drinkers and diners in Tunbridge Wells – and beyond…


For a project that has been a very long time in the planning – over two years to be exact – the impressive success of Charlotte’s cocktail bar and restaurant in The Pantiles has been achieved at lightning speed.

Having only opened its polished monogrammed glass doors at the end of April it is, in the words of its Operations Director Adam Peters-Ennis, ‘totally smashing’ its targets on a weekly basis and as a result swiftly established itself as one of the places to see and be seen in Tunbridge Wells…

“On opening we really did hit the ground running, so it will be nice to eventually take a breath and regroup,” smiles Adam as we sit down to chat at one of Charlotte’s smart al fresco tables. Given it’s a post-summer Monday morning in September the place is buzzing with guests sipping their lattes and flat whites – sourced from the nearby Tunbridge Wells Coffee Roastery – and enjoying the establishment’s all-round excellent service.

Later in the day Charlotte’s switches up its morning offering to serve guests an impressive range of drinks, with a focus on quality cocktails – more of which later. The establishment’s food menu boasts a selection of on-trend tapas-style seasonal sharing plates which are regularly changed to reflect the season.

“I think in essence we have created a high-end hospitality offering,” says Adam, who has worked in the drinks industry for over 20 years. His career CV is hugely impressive as he’s helped launch some of the capital’s best-known bars including Hakkasan, Isola, Nobu Berkeley St and The Connaught.

Adam trained under the legendary late Dick Bradsell, who was responsible for creating some of the most famous modern-day cocktail classics including the Espresso Martini, the Russian Spring Punch and the Bramble.

Musing on the success of Charlotte’s so far he adds: “I guess we’ve had a perfect storm of opening just before the summer, which this year had lots of sunny Bank Holidays, enjoying a mini-heatwave in September and the fact we’re offering something just that little bit different to everyone else.”

It’s no wonder that Charlotte’s founder and Creative Director Emma Wright, was able to turn the vision she had of creating an upmarket cocktail bar here in Tunbridge Wells into a reality courtesy of Adam’s expert knowledge. But she also credits the overall team and also a slew of excellent local suppliers and a little sprinkling of serendipity for turning an idea into a bricks-and-mortar business.

“We had the idea for Charlotte’s during lockdown, which might seem crazy to most!” she tells me.

“We (the founders) collectively had this vision to create a unique city-style cocktail bar and eatery which we just couldn’t let rest.”

“So when the perfect location became available, offering us the chance to own a historic building which includes the famous Pantiles Clock, we couldn’t resist making it a reality.”

Adam confirms that lockdown was indeed the perfect time to think about doing something like this given people were commuting less and wanting to support local businesses.

“Before the pandemic struck, Tunbridge Wells was very much a commuter town with many people going out in the capital instead of here. So when residents couldn’t do that as often it made sense to create something on the doorstep that would fill that void.”

“Creating has always been something I’ve been passionate about,” continues Emma. “I think this particular industry encapsulates everything that creation is about: the spaces, the experiences, the memories made there. It gives an incredible sense of achievement to create a destination where people go to have fun, socialise and experience first-class service in a relaxed, friendly atmosphere. This is something which in lockdown we were passionate about reviving.”

Emma adds that finding the location for Charlotte’s, which is located right in the heart of The Pantiles was ‘a moment of fate’.

“We’d been keeping an eye on what was available and when this period building turned up we all knew it was the one. We were set on The Pantiles as a location as it provides everything we were looking for in terms of combining a wonderful community spirit with a rich history.

“In fact, our logo pays homage to the branding of a business called ‘Cadena Café’, which was located in our building in 1902 and formed part of a larger chain of coffee houses in the south of England. The original entwined C’s logo of Cadena Café from the 1900s can be found on The Pantiles Clock, on the exterior of the building and in an original mosaic on the London Road entry to Charlotte’s,” adds Emma.

And in terms of how they came up with the name Charlotte’s, Emma explains that it’s her middle name. It’s an inspired choice, paying homage to the history of The Pantiles by featuring the original double-Cs logo from the Cadena Café and using it in the branding for Charlotte’s.

Once Emma had found her dream building she instructed local builders Charles Mills Construction to do the renovation work with the plan to launch Charlotte’s at the end of 2022.

But due to various supply issues courtesy of Covid hangovers, as well as some tricky regulations due to the age of the building, Charlotte’s ended up opening a lot later than first expected.

But, as Adam points out, that simply gave him the time to recruit the right people for the job. These include Eddie Lewis, General Manager, Connie Towers, Supervisor and Dan Armitage who is the Head Bartender.

“We’ve been so very lucky with the people we’ve got on board at Charlotte’s. Everyone is so passionate about what they do,” says Adam.

Another key member of the team is Adam’s wife Vanessa, who is now the establishment’s Front and Back of House Manager and is also a qualified interior designer.

“At the time of Emma approaching my then boss Sophie Stevens at SGS Design for the interiors at Charlotte’s, she was introduced to Adam. Sophie knew him through me and would always commission him to create a unique cocktail for SGS clients on completion of a project,” Vanessa explains.

On meeting, Emma told Adam that she wanted to create a city-style bar. She took his counsel very seriously, given the prolific career he’d enjoyed working in the capital’s hippest bars throughout the 1990s and 2000s – and more recently – for some of the world’s biggest drinks brands.

Having worked solely as a freelance consultant on the project until January this year, Adam was then brought on board full-time and appointed Operations Director at Charlotte’s.

“I was so lucky as Emma gave me carte blanche to do whatever I thought would work best – which included appointing the right members of staff. Getting Eddie on board as our General Manager was a deal-breaker as he’s so passionate about what he does and we work really well together.

“When I first saw the plans for Charlotte’s, I noted the kitchen was going to be at the front of the building with the bar area at the back. So I suggested putting the bar at the front in order to make a feature of it. When we designed it, we ensured it had all the right kit and shelf space we needed to have a great selection of spirits and was a great space to socialise. I always say sitting at the bar is like being at the chef’s table. It’s a very intimate experience.”

The beautiful, curved, marble-topped counter which greets guests as they walk in is definitely Charlotte’s chief aesthetic focal point and is everything you’d want from a bar, with its mirrored shelves that boast row-upon-row of amazing bottles of unique spirits, gilded glass holders, and ambient lighting – sourced from local supplier lumière. It’s no wonder the chic velvet bar stools are constantly occupied by discerning drinkers keen to try out the smorgasbord of drinks that make up the cocktail list.

“We have complete say over what brands we stock, which is great,” continues Adam. “Having that chance to fill a gap in the market, to create a unique offering that was really needed here in Tunbridge Wells has been really wonderful.”

Adam adds that there are around 35 cocktails on Charlotte’s menu and that they make up around 40 per cent of the venue’s takings. Prices average around £12 per cocktail and there are also some non-alcoholic choices for £8.

“We’ll always have a mix of classics, some twists on classics and our own creations on our menu. Obviously, classics are there for a reason, but with twists and house creations, we can offer something else – like a Run The Jewelz which is a riff on the classic Last Word and uses Cascahuin Blanco Tequila as its base. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a better house tequila!

“We also serve a Pink Mojito instead of the traditional variety and create limited edition cocktails such as this summer’s Fight Milk which was inspired by the TV series It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. It wasn’t for everyone but it was certainly a talking point!”

“We spend hours tweaking and refining our cocktails,” adds Eddie. “And although we’ll have some well-known brands on offer, most will be spirits that you won’t find in supermarkets, offering our guests something different. All prep is done on the day, ensuring all juices and garnishes are fresh to create the best-quality cocktails.”

Emma tells me that it’s thanks to Adam and his team’s expertise and guidance, they now have a ‘wonderful’ front-of-house team in place.

“That has been so rewarding and I feel really confident in their ability to achieve our vision. It also makes me feel incredibly proud to see ideas which were once concepts, turn into reality, whether that be through the drinks, the food menu, seeing Charlotte’s in action on a bustling Saturday night, or the incredible décor.”

Oh yes, the décor! Now that really is a talking point as SGS Design have done a really stellar job on the interiors.

Think 1930s-style plush banquettes, monochrome tiling, glimmering brass accents and sleek marbling. Has it turned out the way Emma had envisaged it?

“Interiors have always been a passion of mine and I knew I wanted to create something truly unique and special for Charlotte’s. Working with Sophie and her team at SGS Design was an amazing experience. We’ve known Sophie for over 20 years now and there was no one else we would have turned to; she was an invaluable support in making our vision of the space come to life.”

Emma adds that her ideas about what she wanted in terms of a really decent food offering have also come to fruition courtesy of expert advice from Lumiere Consultancy, and also thanks to Head Chef Cadius, who was brought on board due to another moment of serendipity courtesy of one of Adam’s contacts.

“I bumped into a friend of mine who said ‘If you’re looking for a Head Chef then you should definitely meet Cadius. We arranged a chat and immediately clicked.”

Cadius, whose culinary CV includes the Hotel Du Vin and The Beacon as well as at Malmaison in Brighton, is equally as enthused about his role at Charlotte’s and says he has loved enhancing the menu.

“I’d describe it as a tapas-style mix of both Mediterranean and British foods, and we try to source as many ingredients as locally as possible. We use Fuller’s and TH Brown & Son as our main suppliers, and will also create some seasonal specials. During the summer, for example, we did an enormous amount of fish tacos.

“We also offer plenty of gluten-free and vegetarian options, and our kitchen is completely nut-free, too. Adam has been given freedom of the bar and so have I in the kitchen, so we can switch up and adapt the menu very regularly.”

Cadius reveals that he’s currently looking at creating unique plates to celebrate Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

“It’s about tapping into all those opportunities,” continues Adam. “It’s funny because a lot of bars and kitchens don’t connect but here we do – we’ll go in and pot wash if we have to. It’s totally a joint effort and you don’t always get that.”

Vanessa believes that being a relatively small and very close team allows Charlotte’s to be very nimble.

“We can quickly adapt and make changes if we need to, and one thing that Adam has ensured with all his staff training is that everyone can take on another role. I think having that flexibility while ensuring our quality levels are met – no matter how busy we get – has led us to having so many regular and loyal guests in just a matter of months. The feedback so far has been phenomenal.”

“We’ve always said from day one you can serve the best food and the finest drink, but if the service isn’t there it counts for nothing.

“You can teach people how to carry a tray properly and to serve drinks but you can’t teach nice,” states Adam.

“Luckily we have really been so fortunate with all our team. They have all taken on our core values and they just get it. They want to be here doing a good job.

“But it is hard work and so I’ve always said if you want an easier life there are easier jobs out there – the level of service here is really high. But our team actually want to be here. They are really on the ball.”

Vanessa adds: “And it’s not just our members of staff who want to be here. Most of our guests do, too! We have so many who come here for a coffee and then end up staying for lunch,” laughs Vanessa.

She goes on to explain that Charlotte’s is a walk-in venue with bookings available for parties of six and above, and that they can also accommodate larger groups.

“We’ll always want to find you a table – especially for our regulars. But there is the possibility to reserve for groups of 6-12 in their larger, more private seating areas which include the intimate Eden table and Indigo room, which is on our second floor and great for small gatherings.

“We recently hosted a wedding party here and that was really special.”

Having experienced Charlotte’s first-hand as a regular customer, most recently dining at the chic Eden table with a group of friends, I can well imagine how perfect the Indigo space with its sumptuous seating, sultry lighting and intimate character would lend itself to special nocturnal celebrations.

But then, enjoying one of their signature Pink Mojitos on one of the tables outside with a plate of padron peppers is equally as good chez Charlotte’s in my opinion!

“Well that’s what we want actually. We want people to sit here and enjoy it for as long as they desire and not to be rushed off a table,” adds Vanessa.

So it would appear that a cocktail bar of this calibre is exactly what the discerning drinkers of Tunbridge Wells have been crying out for.

“Well, yes I think that’s right,” says Adam who reveals that it’s always been a long-held dream for him and Vanessa to run a quality cocktail establishment, serving up show-stopping drinks featuring some of the world’s finest spirits.

“Having worked in the drinks industry for decades it’s now such an honour to have this opportunity,” smiles Adam.

Emma adds: “At the end of the day, we want to run Charlotte’s with style, dedication and passion.”

And not even six months in, they have certainly achieved that goal…

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