Views from the bar

It’s been seven weeks since Katie Mather and husband Tom opened their beer, wine and tapas bar, Corto, in Clitheroe; the culmination of a long-standing dream. Here are the seven top lessons they have learned during those seven weeks.

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Self-reliance is essential.

One of the first things I learned as the brand new owner of a bar is that nobody else can do that thing you can’t be bothered to finish. Leaving any job for tomorrow just means having to do a worse job in 14 hours time. I’m not usually in the habit of leaving stuff for other people to do, but coming in to open one day and seeing glasswash filters in the sink from the night before really brought it home. This is on me. All of it.

People can be really lovely.

When Darryl, our decorator, painted the front of the bar in fresh turquoise a few days early as a surprise, I think that was the moment things got real. A lifelong Wainright fan, we’d been introducing him to different beers over the weeks he spent sorting out the interior of our bar. In return he gave us a morning of total joyous satisfaction in the form of a bright turquoise front door that greeted us from the top of the road one morning. An apparition.

Local support is everything.

Something we didn’t expect to happen so soon and so intensely was the local support that rallied around us. During the lockdowns, before we could open, we were a tiny shop and delivery service. The positivity from folk was what motivated us. They promised they’d visit, and they did. Within two weeks of opening our doors as a neighbourhood craft beer, natural wine and real cider bar we had regulars, bringing games and dogs, children and books. We’ve become the beginnings of a community space I desperately wanted to create, and when a kid wants me to do a quiz with them out of The Phoenix (a comic I get especially for them, it’s awesome) I feel proud to run a place where they feel as welcome and chilled as their parents do. We’re starting to run events, and our first has sold out in four days. We get genuinely excitable messages every week about our bread, our beers, our cider, our wine. We could not do any of this without the total support of our local community.


We could not do any of this without the total support of our local community

Representation and inclusion matters.

It’s no surprise that building a business from the ground up to include accessibility, inclusion and diversity within the fabric of its being makes a difference. We’ve been shouting about this for years. Actually seeing this in action has been incredibly powerful. Infuriating, sometimes. How great it is to hear that somebody felt welcome and safe in our bar. How sad that they don’t feel quite the same elsewhere. We worked hard to put our zero tolerance policies in place against sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism and ageism, and from the very start we’ve done everything we can to make Corto a safe, welcoming, accessible space for all. We’re helping others draw up their own policies and plans to implement. Are we known as the “woke” bar by some? Sure! But only because we started it.

People still love cask.

We don’t know what you’ve heard elsewhere, but people still love cask beer. We’ve got a tiny bar and that means we‘ve only got space for one cask line, but boy do people love it. So far we’ve had brilliant beers by Red Willow, Neptune and Strata and we plan to carry on bringing one exceptional guest ale into Corto every week. Some of our customers come in especially for it. I love it.


We’re helping others draw up their own policies and plans to implement

Running a bar is one million jobs rolled into one.

Before we opened Corto we spent years redrafting our business plan. I knew that marketing and promoting it would be a demanding role for me on top of writing, and I factored it into my schedules. What I didn’t account for was the millions of tiny jobs that pile up every week. The invoices — oh! The endless invoices! The ordering! The emails and bookings! Answering Facebook messages, Instagram messages, Twitter DMs, texts, phone calls from delivery people, phone calls from energy suppliers, phone calls from epos system suppliers… Cleaning, dusting, disinfecting, scrubbing. Day dotting. Dealing with minor emergencies. Sorting the cardboard. Restocking. Making posters, newsletters and social media posts, then monitoring their progress. Stopping customers from climbing over stacked chairs in the doorway in the dark to ask if we’re open yet.

Branding works.

Hate to say it, but having a cohesive brand really works if you’re trying to get a business off the ground during a time when nobody can actually visit it. Sometimes I’m not sure if I run a bar or a streetwear brand (which reminds me — must design and order more merch) but it all helps. Every sale keeps us open and keeps our amazing first employee Leanne paid, whether it’s a pint, a glass of cider or a t-shirt. Support your local bar! Buy a tote bag!

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