The Hardman Street cafe bar that changed Liverpool’s night life

When Kirklands opened on Hardman Street in 1975 it heralded a new era for Liverpool's night scene, quickly establishing itself as the place to be for a night out in the city.

The cafe bar, attracting a mixed clientele of students, locals, artists and even celebrities, was one of the first wine bars in the city, and has been widely regarded as pioneering – revolutionising Liverpool's wider drinking scene.

Set up by former fashion designer Alexandra Hewson – known as Sandy, her husband John Hewson and business partner Bernie Start, Kirklands opened on the site of the former Scott's bakery and cafe, quickly establishing itself as an innovative venue which in many ways would go on to change the way the city did nightlife.

Many city centre venues at the time were not welcoming to everyone and operated as members' clubs meaning people could be and were excluded from membership based on arbitrary or discriminatory rules. Women and members of the city's multi-cultural population would often find themselves shut out by accident or design from many of the city centre club venues.

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Following a call-out for memories on Facebook, readers shared some of their memories of the iconic bar.

One former customer, Joseph Anastacio, described Kirklands as "one of a few clubs in Liverpool where you could enter without issue many of the other clubs would use the excuse 'you have to be a member to get in', especially aimed at Black men".

Kirklands, on the edge of Toxteth, was different – and cultivated an inclusive and welcoming environment, open to everyone.

Kirklands customer, Stephanie Dodds was a student at the nearby art school when the venue opened.

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Stephanie said: "Kirklands was a really iconic start-up place – it was a place where women felt comfortable and where as a woman you could sit there and nobody would bother you."

Outside Kirklands in the mid-1970s

The name Kirklands came about when a sign was uncovered that was the original sign left over from a prestigious bakery, which had operated from the building during Victorian times and been given the Royal seal of approval by Queen Victoria.

It is believed Queen Victoria became enamoured with the bakery after trying some of its produce while visiting the Derby family in Knowsley.

The bakery itself had been a big part of many people's lives in the city and later became Scott's bakery and shop.

Maria Oreilly Oreolly said: "My mother worked in the bakery and learned her trade as a confectioner. The skills she learned kept us and neighbours and family and friends in fancy cakes all her life."

The original Kirklands sign remains on Hardman Street

After shutting down in the early 1970s, the venue lay derelict for a few years before being converted into a cafe bar.

While being converted, the original sign was uncovered and new owner Sandy had it preserved and restored – lending its name to a bar which would soon establish itself as a legend in its own right and an integral part of the city's history.

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Kirklands attracted big names over the years such as jazz legend George Melly, and the venue was frequented by the celebs of the day, including some of the city's football stars.

Bernie Carroll, who was a doorman at Kirklands in its early days, remembers the quirky aspects of the place. For his job, he used to dress as a gendarme while manning the doors.

He said: "There was nowhere quite like it. The idea of a place to drink wine and eat exotic foods was so new to Liverpool it was a very big thing at the time – it really was a new one for Liverpool. It used to be a really fantastic bar."

A Kirlands doorman in 1976

As well as a bar, Kirklands was open as a cafe during the day and sold breakfast goods which were uncommon in the city at the time – such as croissants.

Many former customers remember the food at the venue.

Alan Bow said: "Kirkland’s was like a breath of fresh air. It was probably the first time anyone had ever had jugs of sangria, pate, Budweiser. The list goes on."

Donna Maria Kassim said it was "the only place to be in the 80s". She continued: "I used to go for tea and custard tarts as a child with my mum at the cafe my mum also worked there."

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Chris McNulty remembers the Baltimore Rooms, which opened upstairs and provided a venue for performances and later DJ sets.

He said: "Brilliant room upstairs for concerts. Used to do the most amazing baked potatoes in the lunchtime when it first opened.

"So many memories of my late teens early 20s Friday nights after college drinking vodka and lime!!"

The bar continued to run in the 1990s under new ownership after the original owners sold up, but closed its doors for good in 1999, bringing to an end an era for Liverpool's clubland that still retains fond memories for many.

It was re-opened in March 2004 as The Fly in the Loaf.

What are your memories of Kirklands? Let us know in the comments section or email lisa.rand@reachplc.com

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