Covent Garden's drinking scene won't be the same after the recent abrupt closure of La Perla on Maiden Lane, along with El Nivel above it. We caught up with founder Tomas Estes about the events leading up to the Mexican venues' final days.
The motivation, Estes explains, was two-fold. The first might sound familiar. 'The decision was to get out of a place that in 12 months would have absolutely prohibitive rent,' he says. And to hear him tell it, the circumstances surrounding the sale weren't particularly pleasant. 'We had a sale agreement that was contingent on us being out by 3 October. But once the house owner heard of the time constraint, they tried to take advantage [by making greater demands of us - they] held us to ransom,' Estes says. 'No one knew if we were going to complete, right up to the Friday [30 September]. If the deal had fallen through, we'd still be trading, looking for a new buyer, and having to face exorbitant rent and rent security. So we caved into them.
'It was very upsetting to have to deal with this toxic greed. It's been an unpleasant, emotionally shredding experience, but I'm glad to be moving on. There's this contradictory feeling of freedom and grief,' adds Estes.
The other contributing factor for his decision to close 20-year-old La Perla was the ongoing success he's having with his other venture, Tequila Ocho. 'Something I find curious is that there's not one person anywhere that works 100% on Ocho. So it's time, after eight years, to dedicate some time, attention and money to that,' he says.
He confirms that he's had some recent investment into the brand. 'It's not a fortune, but it's more than we've ever had, so we'll be expressing some new ideas that I haven't before because of a lack of focusing on things, and also a lack of money.'
What about Cafe Pacifico, the 34-year-old sister venue to La Perla, just minutes walk away? 'I'm hoping that two of my partners there, that have been with me in management, and running it, will take a majority share in it,' he explains. But Estes won't be stepping back entirely. 'I'll stay in. It's important to me, as a spirits brand owner, that I keep my hand in as a bar owner.'
And if you're looking for that awe-inspiring agave-spirit collection formerly housed at El Nivel, you might want to pay Cafe Pacifico a visit...