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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
“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.