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Keith's Wine Bar licence under threat

Police report early hours violence but it's all a bit of a misunderstanding, says owner

Published on January 14th 2014.

Keith's Wine Bar licence under threat



AT a time when Liverpool’s suburbs were a monochrome mish-mash of smoky ale houses – often one on every corner – something happened that made Aigburth completely different. 

In 1979, Keith’s Wine Bar opened its doors and nothing was ever quite the same on Lark Lane. 

The Notice BoarsdThe Notice BoardKeith Haggis's bar existed happily alongside the butcher, the baker and the bookmaker, and as word spread it became the place to go and be seen in. 

With its dressed down charm, the best Sunday nut roast anywhere and dozens of different wines by the bottle, at a time when a pint of Skol was the norm, it was the catalyst that transformed Lark Lane. 

Lonely Planet in its review described Keith’s as “a friendly, bohemian and mostly vegetarian hang-out with a sensational wine cellar that is the favourite resting place of the city's alternative-lifestyle crowd”. 

Knock it offKnock it off!

But 35 years later and the glass has been reflecting flashing blue lights as well as red, red wine. 

Keith’s is facing a battle with the police who want licensing councillors to take a long hard look at its licence after what are reported as a number of late night, violent disturbances. 

Currently the bar is licensed for music and drink till midnight, Sundays to Thursdays, with a 2am closing deadline on Fridays and Saturdays – long after the salad-and-prosecco brigade are tucked up in their futons. 

But Keith’s is in trouble with the local constabulary and it has sent shock waves shuddering across L17. 

Keith's Lark LaneKeith's Lark Lane

The bar made its name with a clientèle that includes poets, artists, writers, philosophers and just plain gobby locals who know everything about everything. To anyone who spent any time in the last 35 years in there, the notion of a violent Keith’s Wine Bar is hard to imagine. 

All will be played out at a meeting of the city council’s licensing committee on January 21. The only item on the agenda is to consider an application by Merseyside Police to review the wine bar’s drinks licence.

The arrival of Keith’s fuelled a Klondike-like invasion that changed Lark Lane. More bars and restaurants followed with the thoroughfare becoming something that, at one time, could have given Notting Hill a run for its money.

Owner Keith Haggis is expected to attend the hearing as licence holder and designated supervisor of the premises.

Keith HaggisKeith Haggis, owner

He said that far from Keith's being a hotbed of violence there has only been one incident of note and that took place over 12 months ago.

He told Liverpool Confidential that nearly all of the 10 or so "incidents" on the police file have taken place outside of the bar, in the main street, and have not involved Keith's customers. 

“I only received the police log yesterday which details these claims," he said. "One of the complaints, allegedly stemming from here, involved a group of about 25 lads playing football in Lark Lane in the early hours of the morning. We were all completely mystified in the bar. They certainly hadn't come from here. Most likely a house party somewhere.” 

He believes higher ranking police officers turned their attention to Lark Lane when violence broke out after the Liverpool International Music Festival in nearby Sefton Park. 

“It all stems from an incident last August Bank Holiday. On the Sunday evening, two rival gangs who had been at the gig in the park ended up in the Albert. A fight broke out and it spilled onto the street. Dozens of police officers turned up and it was then, I think, that their superintendent started looking at the licensed premises on Lark Lane a little more closely." 

Reports of violent disorder at Keith's had, in fact, stacked up from very little. “Don't forget there are a lot of bars and restaurants on Lark Lane now. If there is ever any trouble on the streets, people will report it to the police and when they are asked by the operator whereabouts, they will say 'it's near Keith's Wine Bar', just because it's the landmark. That's the sort of thing that gets logged and goes against you. 

He added: “There was one incident in November 2012 involving two customers in here, where a fight broke out, but that's really all and we dealt with it.” 

Keith added that he has never needed or wanted to employ bouncers to throw troublesome customers back out onto the street. “If someone comes in the worse for wear or are being particularly threatening and won't leave when asked, I have occasionally called the Merseyside Police switchboard and asked, if there's a patrol car free in the area, if they can come and help sort it. 

“Officers are always encouraging us to do this, but then that too appears on our police file as an incident.” 

In the meantime, Keith has posted notices about the place asking customers to keep it down and not to take drinks outside.  

Six people have submitted letters opposing the review of the licence.

The police notice in Keith's window. Click to read full sizeThe police notice in Keith's
window. Click to read full size
One supporter of the wine bar, a forth (sic) year medical student, sent a letter via ipad saying Keith’s made the local area unique. 

“Not only has Keith’s stood its ground and remained on Lark Lane, it has remained in its character. It is the same now as it was 30 years ago providing a snapshot of the past for the generation above and uniting them with our generation. The busy, friendly bohemian atmosphere can be found nowhere else and by adding a curfew to this bar I feel you may destroy this special trait,” said the unnamed student. 

The council licensing committee has the power to modify the licence, either permanently or up to three months, but it could also revoke it completely. 

A Lark Lane without Keith's? Now that would be hard to swallow.


Customers' letters of support sent to the council licensing committee can be found here. It's too late for you to send yours, but please feel free to click and rant below. Otherwise email us here and we will pass messages on.

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

AnonymousJanuary 14th 2014.

Well if this the norm how come certian notoriously s**** violent drinking places have remained open after regular and shocking violence/drug dealing in South Road Waterloo (and Im sure other places) and this grand old little place gets this issue?????

4 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousJanuary 14th 2014.

Curious that, isn't it?

John BradleyJanuary 14th 2014.

Drug dealing goes on in all Pubs, it is what they do, and what causes most of the violence.

AnonymousJanuary 14th 2014.

But not in Keith's

John BradleyJanuary 14th 2014.

Think you will find it says over the door, "licensed to sell wines, beers and spirits" and no matter how many legal fiats you invoke, that will not prevent the alcohol they contain being a drugs and destroying lives and families.

AnonymousJanuary 14th 2014.

Don't let Keith's become a Wetherspoons. Stop this madness now

1 Response: Reply To This...
Skid RowJanuary 16th 2014.

The worst thing about any Wetherspoons is the clientèle, and it would appear that these days Lark Lane has plenty of louts and ruffians already.

AnonymousJanuary 14th 2014.

No wonder the customers are angry, they're being tucked up IN futons.

1 Response: Reply To This...
Sefton parkerJanuary 14th 2014.

Some of them need straitjackets

Chris JonesJanuary 14th 2014.

I could understand if they were taking the license away because of the state of the bogs, but not this!

ValJanuary 14th 2014.

used to frequent daily but moved from area and when we went back a couple of years ago, it was not the same...have heard that there has been a 'takeover' of violence by certain people and hope this is temporary as Keiths is part of lark Lane now and forever

Jane CJanuary 14th 2014.

No respect for the bar...no bar. If 'they' (the violent ones) stop the violence, all will be well...its up to them. Do they want to stay at Keith's or not...then stop it. Again...no respect for the bar...then there'll be no bar.

EditorialJanuary 14th 2014.

Updated story 6pm: Please see new comments from bar owner Keith Haggis who tells Confidential there has only been one incident of note and that took place over 12 months ago. He says nearly all of the 10 or so incidents reported to the police have taken place outside of the bar in the main street and have not involved Keith's customers.

4 Responses: Reply To This...
John HopkinsJanuary 14th 2014.


AnonymousJanuary 14th 2014.

That group of 4 or 5 horrible drunks that stagger around lark lane and park themselves outside Keith's are a huge problem

John BradleyJanuary 14th 2014.

That is Liverpool's Gitterati. The Echo will give them their own column soon.

Hadassah GroveJanuary 15th 2014.

You mean the Echo hasn't already?

SaladDazeJanuary 14th 2014.

If it's gangsters (at whatever level in the pecking order) who are causing the problem, then appeals to decency will cut no ice (or anything else for that matter). The problem is BARS and LONG/LATE licences. Wine bars + food at regular hours = fine. Early morning drink/drugs = madness. But ANO above is right - the restrictions on opening times and what goes on inside should be universal. Much of the problem can be traced directly back to Tony "This week I are be lovin' Sharon" Bliar and his 2003 Licensing Act and the effort to get big consultancies from the City (oops, sorry, convert us to European-style café society). If you want a stay-behind or lock-in then get the bus into town and find the door for The Gaslight.

AnonymousJanuary 14th 2014.

Battle rapping drug dealers with convictions with intent to supply driving round the area being "angry" does not help. Keiths has become a landmark in directions to the deal of the century. Which might just be innuendo or it might be the truth.

Sefton ParkerJanuary 14th 2014.

Even though it's falling to bits, Keith's is a Liverpool institution. And it is a landmark which is why it's name has been coming up. There is nowhere more civilised. Don't let the scally madness of north enders invading Lark Lane take over. Force them back out!

Doris SpeedJanuary 14th 2014.

Why don't the police turn their attentions to all the scumbags ruining Lark Lane instead of one of the only bars along there that is legit?

Richard KempJanuary 14th 2014.

I haven't been in Keith's for years but one of the first things I ever did as a councillor for St Michaels 35 years ago was to support Keith's licence application. It was being opposed by the Masonic and the Albert as it would damage their trade. Keith is a good landlord and I am sure still runs a good place.

AlexJanuary 14th 2014.

We all like a bit of bohemia but I do think the environment reflects some of the people it's dragging in. The place is in need of a good clean up. It's the only cafe I know where you can get a shower while taking a pee! Seriously if you behave like a crack den what kind of clientele do you expect. Saying this I do love what Keith's stands for and just think with little tlc will send a clear message to the idiots that blight Lark Lane to bugger off.

Hadassah GroveJanuary 15th 2014.

Ah, who can forget those heady days of the late seventies when the new Keith's Wine Bar figured prominently in Stanley Reynolds’ ‘Café Society’ column in the Liverpool Echo? Alas the “poets, artists, writers, philosophers and just plain gobby locals” of those days have been priced out by the high rents of the buy-to-let profiteers and driven out by the invasion of priggish and loutish owner-occupiers from elsewhere. The transformation of Lark Lane mentioned in the article from Victorian, affordable, shabby-chic desirability to neon-lit puke-o-rama was very much for the worse.

1 Response: Reply To This...
Eggy ValeJanuary 15th 2014.

Lark Lane went off the rails in the 1980s with all the new bars and takeaways opening. I had friends living there who had THREE cars stolen from outside their house by drunks late at night that were written off in crashes and police chases.

Lord De TableyJanuary 20th 2014.

It seems strange that the police who did not object to the granting of an extension of permitted drinking hours in the park recently, should object to an existing established premises that has a virtually unblemished record. who's calling the shots who's pulling strings Try this one on for size Commissioner......Tell us again who was it that endorsed your appointment.

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