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Top tips from the Troubadour - the classiest bar in town

We talk to Susie Thornhill, owner of the famous Troubadour in Chelsea

Upon pushing open the heavy, intricately hand carved door, you realise that visiting the Troubadour is about more than grabbing a quick drink.

The atmosphere in this bar come restaurant come cult music venue (come wine shop and gallery!) is steeped in history and culture.

The cafe area is intimate and infused with artistic energy: rusty keys stuck to a headboard near the espresso machine hit a playful note, while farming equipment hangs on the wall and retro tin advertisments sit beneath the bar top. 

At the back, lanterns hang from vines framing its ‘secret garden’, with a winding staircase in the corner leading to a darkly lit den (or club) complete with ‘vaults’ where an impressive role call of musicians have performed clandestine gigs.

A side corridor takes you to the crimson lair of the wine bar. There’s even a west wing, with jewels in the form of wine bottles in the wine shop, and a B&B hidden away at the top next to a sweepingly large gallery.  

The Troubadour’s doors were first opened in 1954 by Michael and Sheila van Bloemen, who hosted the likes of Bob Dylan before he appeared anywhere else in London. Bruce Rogerson took on the Troubadour in 1970 and made an effort to keep the bar’s unique spirit and in 1998, current owners Simon and Susie Thornhill bought the business.

'I think we took on 5 employees,' current owner Susie Thornhill says, 'and now there are 48.'

The Troubadour may once have just been a bar and club, but its current owners have developed it into a hybrid business without losing its charm.

So, how do you build and run a multifaceted business so successfully?  

 'It’s jolly hard work,' Susie tells us with a wry smile. 'We’re open 9am til midnight, seven days a week.'

We sit at a round wooden table, a pink rose peeking out of a beer bottle stem in between us. The Troubadour’s quirkiness is both endearing and natural, most likely due to the bohemian style retained by the various owners during the past sixty years.

Over time, the Troubadour has secured a cult status as an intimate venue, where upcoming (and some very famous) artists perform in its underground club.

'Location is incredibly important,' she tells us. 'If you get something that’s cheap on a side street, the reason that it’s cheap is because it’s on a side street. Don’t go for it.'

Making sure you have enough initial finance is also key: 'Bring in more money than you think you need because you’re going to need it.'

As is pricing: 'Be fierce about pricing. It’s incredibly difficult to put up your prices because you don’t think your customers are going to be able to cope. Most of them will, some of them won’t – you have to look after the 20% of people who give you 80% of your income.'

And a strong partnership: 'If you’re doing it with your husband or wife make sure you have a strong marriage before you start. That was a bit of information I was given before we took over here.'

Susie Thornhill’s favourite moment of running the Troubadour?

'Ronnie Wood performing downstairs with Mick Taylor in an intimate family-friendly environment where he performed brilliantly…' she reminisces.

Yet Susie says the real test is being adaptable when original plans are skewered. She describes one such moment: 

'Pete Doherty deciding his guitar is broken so he's not going to finish playing the song and leaving the gig after half a song...I mean, on that one Simon (Thornhill) says, 'Right, I was given musicians' cards by two people this morning. Want to play here? Here's your chance, my friend.''

'I think we had to refund two tickets and we had a night of live music.' 

 

 

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