Licensees have grown dizzy over the years trying to keep tra

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But if anyone's given up on trying to make sense of it all, now's the time to take note again. For the news this week that SFI is up for sale, as...

But if anyone's given up on trying to make sense of it all, now's the time to take note again. For the news this week that SFI is up for sale, as possibly is Barracuda, should be of significance to the whole trade.

For it's the over-crowded nature of the high street, and the intense competition this spawns, that has led to irresponsible promotions and binge drinking. All the major problems the trade faces have their origin in that rush to the town centre that started nearly 10 years ago, which was great for the new boys on the block until they got crowded out. Operators late to the party increasingly resembled lemmings as they too piled in to catch the fag-end of the party.

MA|3/3/05 |52 |Subtle Scots makeover |Snifter is a committed pub man, happy to devote himself to the their homely, warm embrace. But every now and then his head is turned by something a little more stylish and, dare he say, sexy. Such a moment occurred the other night, when he walked into Albannach, a glorious bar bang on the southside of Trafalgar Square, and found himself swooning at its seductive stylishness.

The £2.5m makeover is extreme, styled as a contemporary Scottish bar, though it's all done so subtly ­ no red tartan, McEwan's, or damp fag-branded carpets ­ that its heritage escaped a dazzled Snifter.

But if the change of use is astonishing, even more extraordinary is that it's been achieved by a 31-year-old of no independent means and no experience of the drinks trade.

Niall Barnes, the passionately Scottish owner and manager, is an art-school graduate who spent his 20s pursuing management roles at Reuters, British Gas and BA. He then used the £25,000 he'd won on the stock market travelling round the world pursuing pleasure.

Barnes had fun but as Scots do, missed the auld country. Nowhere could he find a decent Scottish bar, so when he returned to London three years ago, he set about creating one in the heart of "Sassenachshire".

Funding was a struggle, and there were set-backs galore, but by December last year, Barnes had fulfilled his dream.

The 10,000sq ft bar is spread over three levels ­ a ground floor bar, a cocktail and whisky lounge downstairs and a restaurant upstairs. Each is distinctive and dramatic. Snifter's not eaten there yet, but head chef John Paul McLachlan has shared kitchens with Gordon Ramsay and Raymond Blanc so that's a treat to look forward to.

Surprisingly, a few influential critics have had harsh things to say about Albannach. But Barnes is undeterred, and customers are flooding in.

Property of the week


£ 60,000 - Leasehold

Busy location on coastal main road Extensively renovated detached public house Five trade areas (100)  Sizeable refurbished 4-5 bedroom accommodation Newly created beer garden (125) Established and popular business...

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