Pic Akash Khadka

Working in the hospitality industry can be tough, especially when you’re serving customers into the earlier hours of the morning. Long hours, no sleep, stingy tips and minimum wage.

We’ve all witnessed underpaid and overworked bar staff having to deal with a difficult customer. So after a challenging day at the office, where do Manchester’s thousands of bar staff go to unwind?

Just a stone’s throw from St Peter’s Square on the edge of Chinatown is a modern-day speakeasy with a very exclusive client list. 

By day The Seven Oaks is a popular pub open to the general public, serving cask ales and food and showing sport.

But after midnight it becomes a private members club, where hospitality staff can seek refuge and find solace in like-minded company after a difficult shift serving drunken revellers.

The Seven Oaks keeps its doors open to members as late as 10am each morning, and often gets busy with the city’s hospitality staff who clock off from their own establishments in the early hours.

We sat down with general manager Phil to find out what it’s like to bartend bartenders – and what their members get up to after they clock off from work.

Pic Akash Khadka

Where did the idea for catering to Manchester’s bar staff come from?

I’d just been laid off from another job and was offered some work here. Myself and the owner Phil talked it through and we decided to stop having the general public come in and open it up for bar, restaurant, casino and hotel staff – any kind of late-night hospitality industry. A big part of me pushing it was because I wanted somewhere to have a drink when I finished work. It was a very selfish reason. I never had anywhere to go for a drink and I didn’t want to go to clubs full of people getting drunk. 

We even tried opening up to the forces as well, the ambulance service, fire brigade and NHS staff. They all got barred really quickly. They didn’t use if for what it was meant to be used for – which was a few drinks after your shift, not drinks after a big night out. I phoned more ambulances for NHS staff than I ever have since we barred them.

How do you make sure that only bar staff come into the pub?

You have to provide proof of where you work, so either a payslip or online banking showing the company who’s paid you. We also accept work contracts, or letters from your employer as proof of where you work. Then you need to provide I.D as proof that you are that person because people try all sorts to get in by passing round their payslips. When we first opened it was enough if people turned up in their uniform – but I’ve even caught people on CCTV taking it off and passing it onto the next person to get all of their mates in. Being as strict as we are on the door makes it a much safer place for the customers. Now, each member is allowed one guest each – that’s it.

What happens if a member’s guest causes trouble?

If your guest causes trouble, then it’s your responsibility. If you get rid of them and it’s nice and easy, then it’s no problem at all. If they refuse to leave, and I have to physically remove them, you might lose your guest privileges. Bar staff can be just as bad, if not worse than the public. Last week someone lost their job because they threw a punch at me and they refused to leave the pub. They’d had a few too many to drink and were threatening my bar staff, so I phoned up his work and they let him go.

What are your opening hours and when are you most busy?

Sunday to Thursday we close at 8 o’clock in the morning, and on Fridays and Saturdays we’re open until 10am. During the week, between midnight and 3am is quite quiet. And then at 3am it starts to pick up, and by 4.30/5 that’s when the majority of people have turned up. Between 4.30 and 6.30am are our busiest times. And on a weekend, between 5 and 8 in the morning.

Why are you open so late?

People who are socially excluded should still be able to have a drink. Just because you finish work at 5 o’clock in the morning doesn’t mean you don’t deserve that. Everyone’s had a bad day at work and wants somewhere to unwind and talk about why their boss is an idiot. In 2011 it used to be last orders at 6 and kick out at 7 but more nightclubs and bars have opened in Manchester with later licenses. Some of our members weren’t finishing work until 6 in the morning, and by the time they’d finished it’d be too late.

Some of our members used to text me their drinks orders and I’d get them ready while they were closing up at work and making their way over so that we still had enough time to serve them and they still had time to get a beer in before our licence ended. I’d have their beers lined up on the bar ready for them when they walked in. And then we decided to extend the licence.

What is the atmosphere like inside the pub?

We’re a local. The only way I can describe it is that we’re a local inner-city centre pub and that includes the late-night bar. If you came in at 3 o’clock in the morning by yourself, sat at the end of the bar, someone would talk to you. You would not be left by yourself, unless you want to be on your own. Even then it’s quite hard. Everybody says they only come in here for one drink. If they don’t get out quick enough after that first drink then it turns into two or three hours. Every time you try to leave, someone else turns up that you know.

Do you have any funny stories you can share with us?

In the time that I’ve been here, we’ve had someone fall asleep while stood up at a urinal, which was impressive. The amount of times people have fallen asleep in the ladies toilets is crazy. There was a girl once with a pad stuck to the top of her head when she woke up.

Falling asleep here is always a danger because using permanent markers and drawing all over people’s faces became a regular thing. The truth is, it’s so busy that I probably miss a lot of the truly funny stuff that happens because I’m managing the pub.

We had a snowball fight a 3 o’clock in the morning once. All fully-grown men and women stood outside for two hours. People intermittently coming in, getting a drink and then heading back outside into the snow.

And we have a bloke that comes in wearing a full suit of armour. He started off just coming in wearing the quilted bit. Then he started wearing chainmail on top of it. And now he comes in wearing a full suit of it. And if he’s not wearing armour, he’ll be dressed like Willy Wonka. We’ve got a few unique characters. It’s madness.

Have you had any serious incidents?

I’ve had to ban arm wrestling in this pub – of all the things in the world to ban – but they take it so seriously that it could either lead to a fight or what happened last New Year’s Eve where this lad was arm wrestling and it separated his muscle from his shoulder to his elbow. Now he’s got a scar down his back from where they had to re-attach it.

How do people get a membership card?

For guests to get a membership card, they need to provide proof of where they work and proof of who they are. It costs £5 for a yearly membership.

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