The Camberwell Shark Blog

So close...

It's game over for the Camberwell Shark (for now)

Apologies for the long silence, we didn't want to comment too much during the negotiations with the landlord of the premises. But we're sad to say that we handed the keys for Zuki's Beauty Bar back at the end of June.

First, the good news. Largely thanks to the overwhelmingly positive comments we received on our planning application, we were awarded planning permission to turn Zuki's into a proper bar in September 2018. And after a nervous morning before Southwark Council's Licensing Sub-Committee, we were granted a premises licence in the same month.

That just left the lease to finalise, which we'd assumed when we set out would be the easiest of the three tasks. But after months of trying to resolve problems in the basement, we conceded defeat.

We owe a big thank you to everyone who supported us in trying to open the Camberwell Shark. We're sorry we won't be serving you a pint anytime soon. We are still very much committed to opening a micropub however and we're hopeful of finding alternative premises soon.

For anyone who's interested, the year long saga of the lease negotiations is summarised below (it's a bit tedious, sorry BK, but it was even more tiresome in real life).

Should have listened to Zuki

Our heads of terms agreement with the landlord in May 2018 gave us a mid-September deadline for signing a five year lease on the premises, those four months giving us time to obtain the necessary permissions. We achieved these (just) in time and were ready to sign. Just one problem, the premises was still full of the previous tenant's possessions—including their milk—and we'd been promised in the heads of terms that all fixtures and fittings would be removed.

After a few weeks of pushing the agent got the previous tenant to come and collect their possessions. Then, on the evening the removal was due, we had our first warning sign, a phone call from an unknown number. It was the eponymous Zuki (not Luki). She told me not to sign the lease: there were lots of problems in the basement which the landlord had not sorted for her, including sewage leaks, and all the water pipes down there replacing. She'd stopped paying her rent because the landlord wouldn't pay for any repairs, and the landlord had locked her out of the premises.

Not exactly a glowing reference. I went down to speak Zuki in person and rang the agent the next day. The agent assured me the problems happened under a previous agent, everything had now been fixed and the sewer in the basement properly sealed. He produced paperwork to that effect and we were just about placated.

Our first near miss

While Zuki had taken almost everything that was upstairs, it turned out nothing in the basement was hers. In the interests of getting the deal done, we agreed with the landlord that we would sign on the basis that we would then arrange for that to be cleared and he would pay.

The four of us arranged a phone call. Were we all happy to sign now? Remarkably, yes. I was to tell the agent to set things in motion.

Before I did, I thought I should take one final trip to look round the premises. It was one of my better decisions.

There had been a big leak from next door's premises in the back room of the basement. More worryingly, there was also a leak from the ceiling in the room we had earmarked for storing beer.

We told the agent the landlord would have to address the leaks and dry the basement out before we'd sign. The agent agreed and we waited for confirmation the work had been done.

And waited...

We pushed on with other preparations, the highlight being a glorious training day at Fuller's with a free bar, but October became January with no progress on the basement, save from a visit by a plumber who declared the leaks fixed. The drips from the ceiling suggested otherwise and with little ventilation in the basement, the smell was becoming overwhelming. We didn't need our Level 2 qualifications in cellar management to tell us this wasn't the optimal environment for beer.

Dave commented in hindsight that "there were a lot of points along the way where I would have walked away if it was just me." I presume the day we discovered the mushrooms was one of them. But we doubled down. We paid for a damp assessment to find out how bad the basement was and what remedial works were required. Armed with Damp Man's report, we told the agent what was required and said we would arrange the works if the landlord paid for them and if sufficient progress was made by the end of March, we would sign and if not, we'd walk away.

Game on. We set to work. Mould Man soon arrived on the scene and my Whatsapp was beginning to look like I was the fixer for a particularly humdrum set of superheroes.

Dehumidifiers were purchased and industrial ones hired. Dodds's builder mate Rich came and smashed up the damp ceiling and walls in the proposed cellar room. With the pipes exposed, our plumber soon found the problem—a loose washer. He reckoned it had been leaking for years.

It was looking encouraging. We told the agent we'd all inspect the premises on the evening of Friday 29th March (the earliest we could all get there due to holidays) and if we were satisfied with the progress, we'd proceed to sign. The agent seemed happy with this. But the Thursday before, the agent rang back with the news that the landlord wanted us to sign by close of play tomorrow or the deal was off.

Deadline day

We couldn't sign without an inspection and could not understand the haste, particularly after months of inaction from the landlord. We hadn't even been sent a final version of the lease with updated dates. After an early morning phone call on the Friday morning, we replied to the agent offering to sign first thing Monday morning if we could inspect Friday evening and review the lease over the weekend.

We found it a bit baffling. I spoke to the agent and said we'd see what we could do and asked for a copy of the final lease anyway. That arrived at 2.30pm and was full of errors. It was gone 5pm before I received acknowledgement of the errors but still not final version of the lease.

We decided to do our inspection anyway. And Dodds resolved that we should have one night in the Shark at least so we came armed with tinnies.

The basement was in much better shape. After two hours of talking through the final issues we had on finances, we agreed to tell the agent Monday morning we would go ahead. We'd drank the bar dry and just before we were about to lock up and move on to Hermit's Cave, I nipped to the toilet in the basement.

Hello again

Another puddle in the cellar room. Deflation and despondency all round. At least we were off to the pub. Stockers and I consoled ourselves by ending up in the Tiger until 3am debating which Prime Minister we'd most/least want to go for a pint with (sorry Theresa).

We gamely tried to resurrect the deal by going back the following week and asking them to try and fix it properly. They promised a "full and thorough review of every pipe in the building" but we all knew it was over. We went through the motions—we had nothing to lose—but we had little confidence left in the building or the landlord. When the agent arranged finally for a plumber to attend in June and pronounced the leaking pipe "ok but keep an eye on it" it was time to put ourselves out of our misery.

The Shark will return

It’s the end for this iteration of the Camberwell Shark. But after a bit of a break over the last few months we are ready to give it another go. The search for a new premises has already begun...


It’s back to our favourite activity: research. We wander from New Cross to Queens Road Peckham under the flaky premise of inspecting a vacant railway arch. We also give our own beer a try for the first time.