The Brains Behind London’s Most Eccentric Venues – An Interview with Charlie Gilkes
If you live in London, or frequent the capital regularly to enjoy it’s mix of restaurants, bars and clubs, chances are you have heard of the venues of Inception Group. Operating some of the most eclectic, mysterious and fun venues across the city, such as Bunga Bunga, Barts, Cahoots and Mr Fogg’s, Inception Group was founded in 2009 and continues to grow with each new opening, bucking the current market trend which has seen many notable bars and restaurants close their doors for good. The Sybarite sat down with co-founder Charlie Gilkes to chat about how and why Inception Group has found its success.
“The great US restaurateur, Danny Meyer, says creating a concept is like writing music – the notes are predetermined but the order you put them in creates something unique” explains Charlie Gilkes when asked about the inspiration behind the iconic venues of Inception Group. Gilkes and co-founder Duncan Stirling were just 24 and 27 when the company was founded, meaning that they knew exactly what young people in the city were looking for. Their first venue in 2009 was Barts, a secret speakeasy in Chelsea, tucked away within an apartment block. “Barts was London’s first true speakeasy and we were determined to create a series of unique selling points and do things differently.” explains Gilkes. Although opened at the height of the recession and with no street presence, Barts was a hit and developed a regular following thanks to its one-of-a-kind atmosphere. This surprising success was followed by the opening of Maggie’s, a 1980’s themed club, and Bunga Bunga, a fast-paced and lively restaurant space in Battersea. “We loved the hospitality industry from our exposure to it as event organisers, and being 24 and 27 years old, felt most bars and pubs in London were very similar and we wanted to create something completely unique.”
This past year has seen huge expansion for Inception Group, as they have doubled the size of their Around the World in 80 Days-inspired Mr Fogg’s Collection. Each of these three new venues has its own unique concept; Mr Fogg’s House of Botanicals, a light and airy greenhouse serving botanically inspired drinks, Mr Fogg’s Society of Exploration, a cosy venue stuffed with eccentric exploration artifacts, and Mrs Fogg’s Maritime Club and Distillery, paying homage to India with lavish furnishings fit for thirsty sailors. So what inspired Gilkes and his co-founder to run with these unique and memorable venues? “We have found inspiration from our own imaginations and also from extensive travel, reading and watching films to create conceptual brands with a strong theme. Our mission statement has always been ‘to provide unique and memorable experiences’ and true to this, we have developed themed venues that really stand out and offer immersive experiences from the moment you walk in the door to the moment you leave.This might be a doorman in costume greeting you in traditional Victorian phrases, to immersive and engaging live entertainment and sing-alongs, to having to say a secret password to get into our ‘secret speakeasy’ Barts.”
Now operating eleven of London’s most popular venues and earning industry-wide recognition including being names in the Sunday Times Virgin Fast Track 100 and winning London Lifestyle Awards several years in a row, it’s clear that the experiences these venues provide are a hit. As tastes shift and millennials put more value in experiential products and services, we are seeing a huge rise in popularity for venues that allow visitors to immerse themselves in something out of the ordinary.
The beauty of having a number of utterly memorable themed venues lies in the fact that there is an Inception Group experience for all occasions and moods. “Mr Fogg’s Tavern and Mr Fogg’s Society of Exploration are both fantastic for a pre- or post-theatre cocktail with my wife whereas there is nowhere better than a dinner at Bunga Bunga for a big group celebration.”
So what’s the secret to creating a highly successful and unique venue in 2018? “Our advice would be to carve out your own niche and do less better. One thing which we credit to our customers’ positive experiences is that we pay such close attention to detail and don’t do anything half-way. This can be seen from the carefully selected décor in each venue to the added touch of having the narration of ‘Around the World in 80 Days’, the novel which inspired our Mr Fogg’s venues, being played in the toilets. It all adds up to one memorable visit for our guests. We’ve also seen first-hand that happy staff leads to happy customers, so it is crucial to value and nurture your teams.”
“Reflecting on the past 10 years, and especially the exciting past year we have had, with three new Mr Fogg’s opening, it makes us even more excited for what is to come. We have plans to keep building our collection of Mr Fogg’s venues in London and perhaps beyond. Each one will have a unique twist and identity, of course just as our current venues Mr Fogg’s Gin Parlour, Mr Fogg’s Tavern, Mr Fogg’s Residence, Mr Fogg’s House of Botanicals, Mr Fogg’s Society of Exploration, and Mrs Fogg’s Maritime Club & Distillery each have different stories to tell. We also have big plans for the Cahoots and Bunga Bunga brands.”
Watch this space for exciting plans for both Cahoots and Bunga Bunga. To discover more about the Inception Group brands, visit https://inception-group.com/