Opening a bar: The Watermark Way
Opening a bar: The Watermark Way

Turn to the last page of the menu at The Watermark Bar and you will find a list of recommended bars to visit around Leeds.

Recommending your competitors may not seem an obvious business approach, but is a great reflection of the collaborative and inclusive attitude to hospitality that has helped housemates, close friends and now business partners open their first bar just one year after quitting their positions within highly regarded operators.

Telling my parents, I was leaving a job and position I had worked hard to attain over the previous six years for an idea and possibility was a difficult thing to do” remarks Dariush Afshar Haghighi one of the two founders of the Watermark.

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For those not familiar with the story or concept, Dariush and Filippos are highly regarded bartenders within the Leeds community whose love for drinks and experimentation resulted in a kitchen equipped with more alcohol and equipment than you might find in the average bar. Together they shared a vision to open a bar in the likeness of their house and set about building their brand “The Watermark” using a combination of events, takeovers and social media to build their brand before finally taking over a bricks and mortar site one year later.

“We hosted our first takeover at Chida on a Sunday afternoon, the bar was traditionally closed so we paid a small hire fee and then took over the space inviting friends and colleagues. We brought in the alcohol, the menus, the tills and had a great event but we realised that only the people who attended had experienced or known about the event. The next time our goal was to capture the spirit of the event with a videographer. Promotion and creating a fear of missing out through social media has been the key medium to growing our brand and awareness” comments Filippos Filippopoulos.

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Hosting events in bars that were traditionally closed was one way to keep the money coming in as the brand developed and Dariush and Filippos worked together three days a week upstairs at the Epicurus bar which gave them time to better understand each other’s working style and provide the space and time to build other collaborations and opportunities.

We aligned ourselves with respected bars, brands and individuals in the industry to establish our credibility and ensured we were telling our story through social throughout the process. We were inspired by the story of Two Schmucks, a successful bar in Barcelona created by a pair of immigrants who managed to open a bar with no money and didn’t speak the language but built a community through social interaction – I met Mo the owner at the Berlin Bar Show and could see he was over at the other side of the hill we were about to climb” reflects Dariush.

Cocktails in the City became aware of the Watermark project in January 2018 when the pair posted an open invitation for local bartenders to visit their flat and use their stock and equipment for the benefits of research and drinks development, with the aim of supporting and assisting the Leeds Bartending community.

We want Leeds to be recognised nationally and internationally for the quality of its bartenders and venues. We have a great bar scene here but it’s important to maintain standards through training. We’ve been talking to other operators about how we can continue the development of the industry, potentially through a guild that helps coordinate and promote training and development sessions

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A few months later Dariush and Filippos were promoting their Watermark Brand at Cocktails in the City supported by Disaronno talking to as many people as possible about their vision and dream which is now a reality.

Taking the keys in September 2018 their aim in early 2019 is to complete their vision of turning their kitchen into a commercial venue with a refurbishment of the bar that will create a central island around which guests can sit whilst the bartenders make drinks and that “back to mine” aesthetic will be completed with another smaller bar upstairs with a front room/lounge vibe.

So what does the future hold for this daring duo?

“We will be continuing the collaborations and takeovers now we have a site we can invite people to come and enjoy. Already in our first few weeks of being open we have welcomed the likes of Spaniard of MASH Penthouse over from Copenhagen with a guest menu, as well as a number of brand takeovers.

Building local networks is also a key priority, developing the bar team and less excitingly maintaining the building has also become a big part of what we do now” states Filippos.

If you didn’t catch them at Cocktails in the City Leeds in 2018 don’t miss this daring duo at the 2019 event and wish them well.

After taking over the site of Epicurus: Death & Taxes the bar is due for a refurbishment at the end of February, start of March so watch this space.

The Watermark Bar

3 Cross Belgrave St, LS2 8JP

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Posted on January 14, 2019 Category Announcements