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Interview with Charlie Gilkes, Co-founder, Cahoots

Charlie Gilkes, Co-Founder of Cahoots, talks to us about Carnaby’s iconic nightlife scene. He speaks about the heritage of the area and how influential it was in their decision to base their London Underground themed bar in Carnaby.



1. Can you tell us about Cahoots? How was the concept inspired by the location?

Cahoots is part of Inception Group, which currently has 13 sites – 15 by the end of the year.

Duncan, my partner in Inception Group, and I were discussing concepts for a new bar in 2015. Duncan wanted to do something 1940s focused and I wanted to do something that fitted well with our new underground location. What has to be underground? Logically the underground!

First things first we installed a tube carriage and typical London signing. I remember being in a meeting in Cahoots’ early months, ignoring the red flashing light on Blackberry and then coming out to 6,000 unread emails. While we were discussing next steps, Cahoots had gone viral to 13 million people on Buzzfeed and we were inundated with requests.

I had to build an online booking platform in 24 hours, which then booked us out for six months when it launched the next day. We had never had an opening like that before.


2. How has Cahoots evolved since opening in 2015?

We started as one underground location and have since two taken on additional space to create a ticket hall and control room to complement the underground station below. We now have outside space on Kingly St above and the basement of Cinnamon Kitchen is our control room.

Evolution was of course necessary while under government imposed restrictions; we offered mess tins to stay on theme while bars had to serve food in order to open.


3. Why do you think both Cahoots and the location have been successful? What are the main benefits for you to being in Carnaby?

It’s an iconic part of London that we’re thrilled to be part of. When you visit London it’s a part of town everyone wants to visit when they come. Carnaby and Soho are the London night out.

Part of the reason we’ve been successful is because we strive to create unique and memorable experiences, which are once again sought after. We weren’t able to put something on the back of a moped like many hospitality and leisure places during lockdown. We did provide ration packs where people could make cocktails at home, but our offering remained central to our bar, where people are now gladly returning.

The theatre plays a crucial role in attracting people to this part of town. We definitely saw the return of domestic tourists last year. International tourists are beginning to return too. There are so many great establishments around us, both hotels and restaurants, that it helps create the West End ecosystem that is so attractive to people.


4. What is your relationship like with the community? How would you describe the Carnaby community in three words?

During lockdown the occupiers were all in touch to share information, tips and support each other on how to survive through the coming months. Competitors became comrades and I’ve built a lot of new friendships because of the help we all lent each other.

In three words: collaborative, unique and innovative.


5. And how would you describe your relationship with the team at Shaftesbury?

It’s always felt like Shaftesbury are on the same team as us. We spoke to them early on about one day expanding to encompass the space above the tube carriage at Cahoots and as soon as the space became available we worked together to make the ticket hall and control room possible.

Shaftesbury has been supportive, communicative and we’ve found them unique as landlords. They manage the site where we replicated a bar for the first time, so we must enjoy working with them!

They feel like partners rather than typical landlords. They support a lot of one-off, first-time occupiers and that’s what helps give the area such a creative vibe.


6. What are a few of your favourite memories about Cahoots and Carnaby over the years?

When we launched we did a flash mob in Golden Square with dancers and music, which was great. That was supported by Shaftesbury. Simon and Julia love and support creativity!