Now I am someone who does like a glass of wine at home but tend to stay away from "wine bars" in London for some reason. One chain who I always thought could have potential, mainly due to their good locations and good wine choice was Balls Brothers. Although for me they were a bit oldy woldy, perhaps a place I'd love in twenty years! However, I got an email recently from one of their venues reporting big changes in the world of Balls Brothers...so intrigued I decided to investigate further (and get some wine down my neck!).
Over the last 4 weeks, the Balls Brothers team (now under new ownership) have been implementing some major developments at Lime Street by the Lloyds building, Brook St in Mayfair (now called the Mayfair Exchange) and Minster Pavement on Mincing Lane. So off I went to find out more!
I am sure existing Balls Brothers customers will be delighted to know the managers I spoke to all told me they will still pride themsleves on providing great office and corporate lunches, albeit with a "few exciting additions to the food menu" including homemade Daily Specials, a Crustacea section with Colchester Oysters and whole dressed Cornish crab. Unawares to me, these bars get pretty busy and seem to have a hardcore lunch following, so I'd advise booking or getting there before 1pm to guarantee a table.
However, the key difference comes post-4pm, with the introduction of a premium London happy hour with 50% off a choice off 30 different wines, £10 off all champagnes, a 62-strong cocktail list with prices from £4.50 and a vastly improved choice of beers. Now that is a happy hour, none of this buy 3 and get one free but 50% off, no strings! Brilliant, and transforms these bars into drinkonomical venues for the happy hour period. Also, they have introduced regular Thursday and Friday nights with live music and, of course, the grand transformation of the venues after their major refurbishments. I think they have a more female-friendly take on Balls Brother, creating more of a fresh, vivid and aspirational concept that customers will feel comfortable in from day through to night. I also hear on the Balls Brothers grapevine that Bishopsgate by Liverpool St will also be refurbished by the end of October so that's 4 venues in one month and one of the bar managers let slip that over £1million has been spent!
Another angle that Balls Brothers has seemingly neglected was large group bookings or private hires. As the venues are scatetred around London in some great locations and with the new look, they are perfect for going out with a group of mates for a non-hectic night out or indeed hiring out the venues for private parties. To encourage this there are some great offers for pre-booked parties of 6 or over and we at designmynight already took advantage of the free Magnum for booking our party of over 15!
I managed to get to get myself to two of the launch parties (why not!) and I know there are invites available for the launch of Bishopsgate Exchange so get yourself on the list and enjoy some free champers, food and have a look at what the new owners are doing.
So after never stepping foot in a a Balls Brothers for a long time, I'd actually say I'm now a convert. The English heritage trust may not approve but it's good to see the bars have escaped the time warp and moved into the 21st Century to become a competitive bar chain on the London nightlife scene. Great wine? Tick. Great Happy Hour? Tick. Lovely new designs? Tick. Good for parties? Tick. So that's a lot of ticks in my mind! My final word on the new Balls Brothers must go to the staff... I'm not sure if it's just me but in many of the bars I visit, a lot of the bar staff really look like ordering a drink from them is a chore rather than a delight but the new Balls Brothers team seemed to have found some happy pills and it's great to be served by someone who actually seems pleased to see you! Let's hope this lasts after the excitement of the new launches!