A Montrose bar owner’s pandemic recovery plan is in tatters after Angus licensing councillors rejected a 2am opening bid for the town centre premises.
Scott Learmonth of Rug Bug Bennys in Hume Street hoped to follow pubs in Kirriemuir and Forfar which previously secured the policy-busting extension for Friday and Saturday nights.
He dropped a plan to also open the 1920s-themed show bar late on Thursday nights after the landlord couple of 17 apartments above the premises objected to tenants being subjected to noise and anti-social behaviour during the working week.
But Mr Learmonth had been confident of the weekend extension for a business he re-invented last year in a coronavirus fightback.
The family-run operation has a team of more than 20 staff.
The 33-year-old said: “During the first lockdown we made the decision to re-open as a 1920s themed show bar and restaurant.
“We decided we no longer wanted the hassle of djs, karaoke, dance floors and fighting for the 18-21 trade.
“Instead we decided to target the 30+ trade who enjoy cabaret-style entertainment, seated table service 100% of the time, nice food and classically-prepared drinks.”
He added: “I originally submitted this application back in February but it was lost by the council.
“But all the way along we have tried to work with them and I was willing to compromise on anything that would help us.
“This was my pandemic recovery position, entertainment and acts were booked and we were confident we would at least get it for a trial period.
“There was an objection from the landlords about the Thursday and I immediately said I was willing to drop that day.”
Residential landlords Paul and Gemma Bertolotto said tenants in 17 apartments above the bar in the listed building are regularly subjected to anti-social behaviour, vomit in doorways and marijuana being smoked in the street.
They told the board there are two establishments with late licences, a taxi rank and takeaway in the street.
Mr Bertolotto said: “We lose tenants on a regular basis because there is noise and anti-social behaviour.
“At times I’ve had tenants phone me and I can’t hear them because of the noise in the background.
“A lot of our tenants have a real difficult situation, they struggle with their mental health and wellbeing. It’s making their lives extremely difficult.”
Mr Learmonth, whose business handed out more than 1,300 meals to Angus children during the Covid-19 crisis, responded: “Most of the issues are from the taxi rank and nine times out of ten they are dealt with by my door staff before police arrive.
“But there was no objection from the police, so for our application to be rejected without explanation is so frustrating.
“It was a kick in the teeth. I didn’t feel they were interested in anything I had said in my submission.
“I tried to ask the board for guidance with where I had gone wrong but they just didn’t give me anything. They were just brutal.
“It is what it is and we are going to have to re-evaluate things, but at this point it is very hard to take.”
Arbroath bar bid also blocked
A second bid for 2am opening by Bar 1320 in Arbroath’s Millgate was also rejected by the board.
Licensing solicitor Ken Glass told councillors: “The premises are well run, have undergone substantial refurbishment both in and out and there are no objections from neighbouring owners.
“They have been closed for 18 months and are only now moving back to some sort of normality.
“Lost ground needs to be made up. My client believes this will work and he doesn’t approach this lightly.”
However, councillors voted 6-3 to reject the 2am application.
What is the Angus Council policy and how have things moved on?
Angus licensing policy requires pubs to shut their doors on Friday and Saturday nights by 1am at the latest.
Applications can be made to vary premises licences under section 29 of the Licensing (Scotland) Act 2005.
Board members can agree changes to conditions including opening hours or children being in licensed premises.
Its owners cited the neighbour Ogilvy Bar as having the extended opening, which the board learned was a ‘grandfather’s rights’ situation after the one-time hotel closed a nightclub which was part of the premises.
Backers said the move was aimed at helping a licensed trade decimated by the pandemic.
Arbroath councillor Alex King has been an arch-critic of the policy-breaching applications granted so far.
Speaking about the Rug Bug Bennys application, he said: “Considering these are premises in a busy town centre it’s reasonable to expect some noise which would affect the flats.
“But it’s not reasonable for it to go in into the wee small hours.
“I still think the extra hour on Friday and Saturday is an hour too much.
“We’re beginning to see the trends with later and later drinking and later and later problems involving more and more work for the police.
“We’ve a policy for a reason, let’s stick to it and apply it.”