Ben Lovett, Omeara & Apres London3rd September 2018
What’s it really like to start a business in hospitality? We started an interview series to find out.
This week, we talked with Ben Lovett, Founder of Omeara & Apres London – and star of Mumford & Sons – about music venues, after parties, where to go in Joberg and Havana and why he’s anything but a megastar.
You’re better known as a musician than an operator. Why did you get into bars, restaurants and music venues?
I find the concept of what ‘people get known for’ funny.
I’m certainly proud to be known to some as a musician but in truth, my life has had many different colours and twists and turns all the way back to when was a teenager. One thing that has been a constant thread in my life has been the nature of ‘hosting.’
I love to host people and do whatever I can to bring people together to provide them with the ultimate version of whatever the purpose was. So if I’m cooking Sunday Lunch, I don’t scrimp on the sides and I spend time thinking about the wine.
If I’m playing a show I like to think about the entire experience; from buying a ticket; through to walking into the venue; to how the sound is to what people are feeling when they go home. I started organising parties when I was 14 so I’ve been doing versions of bars, restaurants and music venues more than half my life.
We’ve lost some brilliant music venues all across London. Where do you miss the most?
My real nostalgia is for the Astoria and Astoria 2 in Tottenham Court Road, which are now a part of the cross rail development. I saw some of my favourite gigs in Astoria from the age of 13. And then, a few years later, I spent my weekends downstairs in Astoria 2 at club nights like FROG, which used to be the spiritual home to indie kids in London.
We are starting to wake up to the role of music and sound in venues. What is – for want of better words – the music strategy at Omeara, and for Low Line as a whole?
It might seem obvious but to many, it isn’t: Music has to be front and centre. That doesn’t just mean putting on gigs – that’s not enough to be different. We sweat over the details of the entire experience of the music and sound. The room was literally built – walls and all – to a specific acoustic model that optimised the sound.
We take care of our equipment and make sure everything goes back to exactly how it was the day that we opened, if not improved.
To play a show at Omeara there’s a process that is stringent and yet non-exclusive.
We deliberate over – and believe in maintaining – a diverse, very high-quality calendar. So, if one week we notice we have too many shows of one particular style, we will strive to balance that out to maintain our motto: All Walks, All Hours.
You travel the world with Mumford & Sons (we’re only a bit jealous). What’s the best drinking & dining city out there? And where surprised you?
New York is pretty untouchable for going out. It’s expensive if you don’t live there, and even if you do, it’s not cheap! As far as surprises go, my most recent eye-opening couple of days was spent in Braamfontein in Johannesburg which is a rapidly transforming part of the City.
I also had a pretty amazing few days in Havana, Cuba. Discovered this cultural epicentre in the form of FAC (Fabrica De Arte, Cubano) – I highly recommend checking that out.
And how on earth do you find the time for Omeara, Apres, Mumford, Communion…I’m out of breath.
The world is about people and what I do is not about me. So I work as hard as I can and collaborate and trust as much as possible; I’m defined by everything I’m a part of. I dunno really, it just kinda works.
I’m not sure whether my friends would entirely agree…
Is it hard coming from a world where you’re a megastar, into an environment where one of your bartenders might have logged more years in the industry than you?
Definitely. Although I’m anything but a ‘megastar!’
I try and take myself out of any semblance of a comfort zone as much as I can, I think it keeps me sane and I always try to be respectful of the people around me.
Last one, what are the necessary ingredients for a fucking great after party?
Ha! Spontaneity and absolutely zero pretences.
I also think expectation management plays a massive part. Honestly, have you ever had a truly great New Year’s Eve?
I mean, not really…
I’d struggle to believe you if you said yes. That’s because New Years Eve ‘has to be great’ because it has all the pressure.
I think the best after parties are where you arrange something awesome that feels spontaneous and always anticipate the next few moves, so if someone says ‘you know what would be awesome is sushi right now’ – at 2am on a Wednesday night – you know how to pull this off without it seeming like a challenge. And when someone wants to keep going, you always have somewhere to go next.
A great after party never stops.