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Chambers made over

The Bluecoat finally opens to the public this weekend after being closed forever in a massive refurb. So what can you expect?

Published on March 28th 2008.

Chambers made over

CONFIDENTIAL went to the press preview of the new Bluecoat this week. Quite frankly, you won't recognise the old place.

A plethora of scribes, TV and radio have been in already, mingling with arts types, asking questions, and swigging back the pinot noir. The darkest thing in the place, it turns out. For the new Bluecoat is all light with plenty of potential for creative use of white space.

Grosvenor's cranes hover high above the Bluecoat's new model garden, as if about to swoop down and pluck away the only two trees that have survived this latest, modern Blitz.

Crucially, there is new wing. It replaces the the one lost to the Luftwaffe and is polished concrete walls, flat laid brick and urban functionality. It completely counters the gentle edges of the original building to which it is latched.

A large gallery within contains an immense wall painting by artist Paul Robinson, part of a show called Now Then. Multicoloured bird boxes dangle down in the hallway outside from Scottish artist Alec Finlay, there is related stampage in frames, and light pours in from several sets of glass doors that lead onto the garden.

Closed for three years, astonishingly, it's difficult to remember anything about the Bluecoat, such is the radical redesign. Quiggins next door has long gone to make way for the giant that is Liverpool One (“It's progress mate”, someone quipped), and Grosvenor's cranes hover high above the Bluecoat's new model garden, as if about to swoop down and pluck away the only two trees that have survived this latest, modern Blitz.

Confidential managed to arrive just in time to miss the speeches by no fewer than five people and just as the media throng had been taxied off to look at the big Cityscape picture at the Walker. There, according, to our notes, they would be treated to another speech, this time by the artist Ben Johnson. “Nice one,” remarked one stray lady reporter we passed on Church Alley.

But the Bluecoat's genial marketing chap, Phil Olsen, had not left the building, and it was no bother for him to take us on another tour.

So what's changed about the city centre's oldest building? Well, the facade is still the same, but, beyond that, everything.

Through the double doors, enter an airy open space that houses a very impressive sandwich and coffee bar on one side (all home made, all biodegradable packaging) and a long information desk and box office on the other.

Then it's straight through more glass doors to the garden, relandscaped, for disabled access, and suddenly as modern as the new wing. You might like it, you might not, but nevertheless is an oasis within the oasis of calm that always has been the Bluecoat, the city centre's oldest building and the oldest arts centre in the UK.

In the new wing there is also a 160-seater performance space, a functional, oblong room basically, which is hard to judge in the absence of a show. Back in the old building, a beautiful looking restaurant and bar occupies the old theatre space.

It is run by the Tate Gallery's national catering arm, although that's where any connection with the Tate ends. A very nice chef called Nigel Smith, a Manchester lad, has come up from London to run it. He treated Confidential to a tasty Lancashire hotpot from a very impressive looking menu which is passionate about locally sourced produce.

We will be in there reviewing when it's settled down, but meantime you need to know that it's open to 10pm every night and has its own entrance, so you can go even when the galleries are closed.

There are nooks and crannies galore to stage performances and exhibitions in the new Bluecoat, following this £12.5 million refurb, plus offices, a shop and artists' work spaces.

There is a lot to like about it too and you should make a point of sticking your head around the door when it opens to the public this weekend.

Just as we were about to leave, the sound of several hundred cats being skinned alive reached our ears. Alarmed, we quickly followed the terrible, terrible noise.

Ah yes, we forgot to mention. Yoko Ono's films are on in the back room.

Bluecoat Opening Weekend. Saturday-Sunday March 15-16. Ribbon cutting: 9.45am Saturday.
Exhibition: Now Then.
Jeanette Winterson's keynote speech (7.30pm, Saturday )
Tom Paulin (1.30pm Sunday)
The Steve Reid Ensemble featuring Kieran Hebden (8pm, Sunday).

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19 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

Daler BoardMarch 13th 2008.

I'm not surprised, AE Scouseman. The front courtyard is now the only decent view in the whole place!

Peter S. LaneMarch 13th 2008.

This looks like Mike Storey's work!

JJBMarch 13th 2008.

The garden is the thing that seems to have most people upset. But get over yourselves is what I say. You'll be able to sit in the lovely Chavasse Park again soon, people. An eqaully lovely oasis in the city centre and with all that first class retail too. Get excited folks!!

A. E. ScousemanMarch 13th 2008.

The garden is worse than that, School Lane - you aren't allowed to smoke there! I asked a member of staff and I couldn't believe this; after all, whoever heard of an artist who didn't smoke? Such artists are apparently expected to go into the street at the front!I did notice however that there were fag-ends in the garden already from before we poor, common people were admitted, obviously dropped by friends of the management of this corporate venue.

Brian SewellMarch 13th 2008.

It’s an expensive caff with a corporate events venue attached.

Charlotte StreetMarch 13th 2008.

If the photo is accurate, the once-beautiful garden now resembles a municipal smoking area. Do they keep the dustbins out there now as well?

Stanley StreetMarch 13th 2008.

Stanley Street says..“ From the report and photographs it looks like it ought to have been renamed the ‘Bluecoat Lounge Bar and Grill (with VIP area for the tie-less to suck lager from the bottle)’. Why is it that whatever we have that is worthwhile, long-standing, eccentric, unusual, charming, unique and Liverpudlian, it has to be gutted and made to look like everything else?”

Rusty SpikeMarch 13th 2008.

Some of us are persuaded that Yoko's feral shrieking comes from part of her family background of the fabled high and mighty Shogun warrior class, although maybe she's been shunned and has had to join the Yakusa, who are much more perilous bunch to hang around with - they also do a lot of yelling and shouting. What on earth was Lennon thinking of. I blame that Maharashi bloke....him and his twinkies all sighing and blessing each other...sent the boy all peculiar. Who on earth had the notion to invade what is clearly a lovely new space from the old with Yoko's inveterate nonsense...shape up lads and lasses...

doreen mckinleyMarch 13th 2008.

will be intersested in the restautanthope its open saturday as it is my birthday

School LaneMarch 13th 2008.

I used to love the Bluecoat garden. I like the look of the building but it is a real shame that they felt the need to turn the garden into another faceless space where you go for a fag.

Lathbury LaneMarch 13th 2008.

Is that a fly drinking pus from a boil on someone's skin? And that's art then, is it?

MargoMarch 13th 2008.

Oh! that lovely lkittle garden has gone, you could sit there with a coffee and forget yoiu were inacity centre.SHAME,in the name of progress they have ruibed it

Honey LaneMarch 13th 2008.

At least I know longer have to worry that the City Council’s plan to locate the ugly and unpopular market stalls that blighted Church Street for so long (thanks to their friends in the Lib-Dem Council despite considerable public protest) in Church Alley might desecrate the Bluecoat Chambers. There’s little left to desecrate.

V. I. Lenin AirportMarch 13th 2008.

The place is now so hostile to the browser and loiterer, there is nowhere to just stop walking and loaf about like there used to be. The old main gallery and bookshop have been replaced with a starkly open-plan draughty barn-like hallway reminiscent of an old bus-station tea-bar, an impression reinforced by the people in anoraks sitting in all the cheap plastic chairs shoved against part of one wall, drinking from paper cups. One naturally feels unwelcome and exposed and needing to find a corner or just to get out of the place. On the plus side it still looks good from the outside – from the front anyway.

Sir Howard WayMarch 13th 2008.

The days when a fellow could settle on a sun-dappled bench beneath the canopy of trees, serenaded by birdsong with a pint of stout from the café, a contemplative pipe and a slim volume of Mallarmé have gone. The benches have gone, replaced by the sort of unpleasant plastic chairs usually found in the waiting area of a run-down, suburban hairdresser’s shop. The trees and shrubbery have gone, save two trees, the birds have gone, the beer is for sale only on the first floor, smoking is banned and no-one who reads Mallarmé would go near this bleak new enclosure! The garden is now more of a yard as found at the rear of a council offices, or perhaps a communal area in the shadow of a block of council flats.

ginger to brian bigglesMarch 13th 2008.

nice one you big t*t. removing the benches to replace them with plastic seats grrrrrrrrr!

Stanley StreetMarch 13th 2008.

The article says: “Back in the old building, a beautiful looking restaurant and bar occupies the old theatre space.” - "Beautiful looking"? Hardly! The old Concert Room has been made to look like any number of ‘trendy cafeteria’ “restaurants”. But then it’s not meant for the likes of us; it is for London types to strut about, braying loudly about how provincial we all are.

Liver BirdMarch 13th 2008.

Perhaps, but think about the poor old Athenæum!

A. E. ScousemanMarch 13th 2008.

What the place needs is an intimate little tea-room like it used to have. I see the old one with the open fire that used to adjoin the lost Bistro, has now been turned into an office no doubt for some bigwig who wants a view of the Courtyard.

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