Heartbroken owner announces closure of ‘dream’ bar

By Amelie Maurice-Jones

- Last updated on GMT

Sad news: A £4k energy bill was the final straw for the Lancashire-based bar
Sad news: A £4k energy bill was the final straw for the Lancashire-based bar

Related tags Social responsibility Finance Property Lancashire

Corto bar in Clitheroe, Lancashire, will close in September, leaving its co-founder “devastated” and scared for the future of the pub sector.

The owners announced this morning (19 July) that the independent craft beer, natural wine and cider bar would shut its doors​ for good on 17 September.

A statement posted on social media said: “We knew the bar was never going to make us rich, and that wasn’t the point. What was a sound business plan in 2018 didn’t account for a global pandemic​, a cost-of-living crisis, a recession​, and all the changes the hospitality industry has had to make to survive.”

Founders Katie Mather and her partner Tom said Corto was their “dream, and a vision for our ideal bar”. They added: “We’re sorry to let our brilliant little community down like this. In you we found a corner of Clitheroe​ that we loved, and that loved us back.”

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Final farewell: The much-loved independent bar will close in September

It had been a rocky ride from the beginning for Katie and Tom. They had planned to open the bar in April 2020. But then Covid hit. Every few months since, new challenges have reared their head and floored any progress made.

At the start of this year, the pair had a frank conversation about the bar’s future. “As well as having the determination to keep going, we also needed to have the ability to walk away when we needed to”, said Katie Mather. “We have to know when to call it a day if we get a sign that things are really not going to turn around”.

The sign came in the shape of a £4,000 energy bill​ – a staggering 700% price hike from the £500 bills of the business’ early days. “We have never come back from that,” said Mather. Before the bill, the owners had been coping, albeit not paying themselves any money.

No way out

But this was a tipping point. “We just had to say, ‘we can’t keep struggling like this,'” said the co-owner. She saw no option but to close.

Hikes in produce costs and the pressure of VAT had added to the stress, but Mather drove home the point that the closure was nobody’s fault. She did not blame the customers, with everyone struggling to make ends meet, nor did she blame suppliers, who couldn’t help putting up prices.

People and businesses​ are affected “from all corners”, according to Mather, who is also associate editor of food and drink magazine Pellicle​. “We have so many charges put on us as an alcohol business,” she said, “and it just doesn’t seem like anyone will be able to run a pub. It’s a losers’ game at the moment.”

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Katie Mather: Hospitality has been 'pushed past breaking point'

Corto’s closure is part of a mass shutdown of pubs across the country, with 200 pubs​ closing in the first quarter of 2023. This bigger picture left Mather feeling scared. She couldn’t imagine the country without pubs. “It makes no sense to me that they’re the things being left at the wayside,” she explained, “they create such a space for connectivity, talking, friendship and community.”

Mather made the decision to close as she couldn’t see a way out. The onus to save independent businesses shouldn’t sit with individuals, she added: Government​ needed to step in.

She’d like to see this help in the form of support with energy costs or rental costs, but also acknowledged that there just wasn’t the money available to give businesses. Hospitality had been “pushed past breaking point.”

She continued: “So many people have commented and sent personal messages apologising for not coming more often, and it’s breaking my heart, because it’s not their fault we’re closing.”

Wonderful community

Guests have rallied in support and sadness for the dog-friendly, child-friendly venue on social media. One Twitter user said: “You created a very special, inclusive place with immaculate vibes and delicious offerings. Absolutely gutted I won’t get to spend another Saturday afternoon in your bar”.

Another added: “Heartbreaking news! This was an amazing bar and community space”.

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Special space: Mather's proudest achievement was the community the bar had fostered

Reading the response on social media, if she’s being honest, had left Mather “devastated”.

Every individual seemed to have their own personal connection to the place, she said. “You don’t realise that you touch people’s lives like that.”

Her proudest achievement since the business’ beginnings was building a small, niche bar that become home to a wonderful community. “It’s like a pub I remember from childhood, chatting with the bar staff,” she recalled. “It creates somewhere people tell us feels safe, welcoming and somewhere they call their own.”

This community was all she’d ever dreamed of fostering. She looked back on her favourite moments from Corto’s history, from collaborating with local artists, to film nights, that would draw in new guests who’d heard of the LGBTQIA-friendly bar’s renowned orange wine​.

Out with a bang, not a sulk

Championing the beer Never Known Fog Like It from local brewery Rivington as the in-house pale ale was also a big achievement for Mather, who had watched the brewery flourish in popularity.

The pub’s customer base included kids who she’d known since they were toddlers. They’d proudly show her homework or tell her about story they’d read. The parents would remark: “They wanted to come in, it’s not our fault we’re coming for a pint”.

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Good times: Corto will pull out all the stops with tasting events, music nights and parties in its last months

Mather reflected: “I was hoping to see them grow up, and I still am, but they’re not going to be in my pub. I’m not going to serve them their first drink, and that’s quite heartbreaking to me.”

On Instagram, Corto vowed to go out with a bang, not a sulk. Until the bar shuts for good in September, it’s party time: music nights, tasting events​ and “lots of silliness” is on the cards.

“If people want something in the bar, we’re going to do it,” promised Mather. “Let’s just have fun and make the most of the space while we still have it.” She didn’t want the closure of the bar to be a sad occasion. Instead, she hoped people would remember the good times.

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