Ma Boyle’s and Tempest owner on cracking the business district
IF ever there was a sibling pair with such wildly different personalities. Ma Boyle’s, next to St Nick’s Church, is a classic alehouse and eatery that recently celebrated its 150th birthday. New kid on the block, Tempest on Tithebarn, is a New York inspired hotspot with restaurant and bar, subterranean club Kol Box, and one of the city’s best roof-top views.
I wanted to make sure that no matter who you were or what you did, this could be a hub for you
One thing that both venues do have in common is that they were spotted by an entrepreneur with the eye for potential.
“People at the time said we were completely nuts because they looked like terminal businesses that we weren't going to be able to bring back,” says Iain Hoskins, owner of Ma Boyle’s and Tempest on Tithebarn.
“It was really just about refining that offer, and going - you know what, there are things that people want. It will take a while, but we're not going to compromise, we are going to try and deliver what other people can't.”
Tempest has been open for just four months but has already earned a loyal following thanks to a fresh take on brunch, lunch, cocktails and craft beer, as well as events, club nights, live music and spaces for private hire. But how did the man behind Ma Boyle’s, and former owner of Ma Egerton’s, get involved?
As a resident of the business district, Iain had the bar known as HUS, and then ‘Folk’, on his radar for a while.
“When HUS closed the landlords approached us, because they said they wanted local operators and somebody that understood the area,” says Iain.
“So I thought, okay, let's go and have a look at it. It had been a couple of years since I'd been in, and it was in a pretty bad way at that stage and looked a little bit unloved.
“Within about five seconds of stepping into the site, I decided I really really wanted it. This was March 2020, when we thought we might have to close for a week or two, because of this 'strange pandemic'.
“When I decided to take it over, I wanted to work with what the building gave me. And I live in the business district as well so it was like, well, what kind of place would I like to have around here?
“I think that's the mistake that a lot of people make when they open in the business district. They think in very narrow terms about what type of customer works here, and actually it is everyone from 18 to 70.
“That’s one of the things that we got right at Ma Boyle's. I wanted to make sure that no matter who you were, what you did, whether you were living in the business district, a tourist, a student studying or living here, or whether you worked here - this could be a hub for you."
“Initially, we looked at opening [Tempest] in summer 2020, where we thought we were going to roll through that first lockdown. Then it looked like things were not going to go back to what they were."
Iain says that the delays caused by lockdown kind of ended up working in his favour, as he could still access the Tempest site while it was closed and play around with different ideas. The result is a space that celebrates bringing people back together again, whether it be for food and drink, a party, or even to just get out the house and work in a different place.
“We've got a lot of space to work with and I think people can find their own little corner to hide away," says Iain.
"If they want to take a Zoom call, we've got an area where we can turn the music off. There is something for everybody here, without feeling that we're compromising by trying to be everything to all people.”
Much of the inspiration for the Tempest vibe came from Iain’s time living in New York. His aim was to create a bar that’s as welcoming first thing in the morning as it is at night. That duality isn’t easy to find in the city centre, but they’ve succeeded in attracting a mixed crowd, from those who want to grab some breakfast on the way to work, to people looking for a proper night out.
There’s plenty of competition in the city, but Tempest stands out with a commitment to green practice and thinking local. There are bee hives on the roof and the honey is harvested to be sold over the counter or used in the food and cocktails. The coffee is from a local roaster, Neighbourhood. Cakes and pastries are made by a local baker, and sourdough is supplied in conjunction with the City of Liverpool College. There are even plans for a herb garden on the roof terrace.
“People have emerged from the pandemic appreciating something where they can see how it has been made,” says Iain.
“I'm not saying we're going to have a potato field up there, but, where possible, we are going to try. We've made different purchasing decisions. In terms of meat, vegetables, fresh fruit and things like that, we obviously want to go as local as possible.”
Liverpool has come a long way since Iain’s first hospitality venture in the city with Ma Egerton’s in 2012. Ma Boyle’s was also for sale at the same time, but it wasn’t until three years later that Iain took the leap with his second ‘Ma’. At that time, the business district, including Water Street and Castle Street, was a very different place to the bustling hub that you see today.
“Everyone always says now, that it's a fantastic location,” says Iain.
“When I first took it over, everyone said I was completely crazy. You know, 'it's completely off circuit, there’s nothing around it, all those gorgeous big buildings that housed solicitors have all moved to St Paul’s Square'. It was a very different type of stretch there. So, it was a real risk.
“When I first took over Ma Boyle’s, it didn't open on weekends. It didn't open beyond seven o'clock at night because it still traded under that sort of business district style kind of operation. We had to start from scratch and rebuild that up quite a lot and it did take four or five years to really start to feel that momentum come.”
Since 2015, the business district has seen an incredible resurgence, with the addition of hotels and Airbnb properties, the expansion of the Cruise Liverpool terminal, and more large-scale events being held at the Pier Head, all of which have increased footfall around the area.
“We opened Ma Boyle's the weekend of the ‘Three Queens’ coming in so that was kind of the baptism of fire,” says Iain.
“The Giants, Liverpool winning the Champions League - all that sort of stuff brought people to us, but we really did have to try and break that mould of what it was to be in the business district. That's just about sticking your flag in the sand and saying, here we are, come and find us.
Both Ma Boyle’s and Tempest have built up a loyal following of regulars plus special events throughout the week, including pub quizzes, poetry takeovers, and jazz nights hosted by ParrJazz. Tempest is obviously the new baby at the moment, but does Iain have a favourite of the two siblings?
“They are very different. I live very close by as well, so I'm in and out of the sites every single day. But I don't think there's one day that I haven't walked in and my heart skipped a beat and I’ve thought how proud I am to own both of these venues.
“It’s obviously been a really strange time to open a business - you've got the after effects of Brexit and COVID and supply chain problems, recruitment issues. Sometimes it feels as if it's really, really hard work.
“Through the ups and downs of COVID I had to make some hard decisions. Last year, that's why I sold the bar [Bock Biere] in Manchester, and Ma Egerton’s as well.
"But Ma Boyle’s was the one where I thought, that feels like somewhere that all my creative input has paid off. And it's somewhere, crucially, not only would I like to go, but I'd be proud to take anybody that I’m with.
“Tempest feels the same as well, just on a different scale. I feel like we've barely even started here yet, in terms of what we can offer people, which is the exciting thing.
“I think no matter what COVID throws at us over the next three, six or nine months, we're going to be established here and we're going to be strong.
"It’s a really prominent position, and a few people have said it’s a bit of a weird spot. To me, it feels like it's the centre of the universe here.”
Tempest on Tithebarn, 12 Tithebarn St, Liverpool L2 2DT
Ma Boyle's, Tower Bldg, 7 Tower Gardens, Liverpool L3 1LG
Read next: Groovy baby - Jazz Saturdays swing into Ma Boyle’s
Read again: A bard day's night - the best poetry events in Liverpool
Don't miss out
Get the latest food & drink news and exclusive offers by email.