Interview: Rob Star on 15 Years of Electric Star Pubs
We caught up with inspiring pubtrepreneur Rob Star to talk about taking the Star of Bethnal Green and making it into a group of beautiful indie pubs in 15 years.
Celebrate these gorgeous, soulful Star pubs with a 15th Birthday with a pub crawl round their 8 sites on 15 April 2023. Since its launch in 2008, with the opening of the Star of Bethnal Green, Star pubs have become a real feature of East London, breathing life into historic pubs and venues. Each site brings its own unique, distinct character, quality music, food, drink and great events and entertainment.
The most recent opening is the Star in Shoreditch, which will see the Roadtrip transformed into THE late-night cocktail spot, where you can sing your heart out in the Karaoke area, hear the latest new music and watch sport with your mates.
Tell us about your journey to celebrating 15 years of Electric Star Pubs
I actually wanted to buy a nightclub 15 years ago, I very nearly bought The Rhythm Factory in Whitechapel, but the deal fell through at the last minute and I decided to buy a pub with a late license, down the road in Bethnal Green. That pub was called The Pleasure Unit, despite the risqué sounding name, it was actually a gig venue that bands like The Libertines used to play in. The place was falling to bits and needed a lot of work (costing far much more than I ever anticipated), it also opened just at the 2008 recession hit, so I was immediately in a huge amount debt in a time that everyone was tightening their purse strings.
Fortunately people still like to come out and have a drink and a dance when times are hard, so we did ok. I have to say, I had no idea about running a pub, so was reliant on getting great managers to help me, my first manager was Dan Beaumont (who now owns Dalston Superstore and Voodoo Rays). This was followed by Steve Macri who is now operations Director and a partner with me in the business. You have to know where your strengths are and mine was making sure the place was busy, while he made sure they could get a great drink (we make a good partnership).
The next pub in Kings Cross followed a few years later and slowly but surely we built up a little group, we’re totally independent, nobody has invested stacks of money, we don’t want to be the next Wetherspoons, we’re just happy bringing rundown and derelict pubs back to life and trying to make sure we can earn a couple of quid while we’re doing it.
What makes an Electric Star pub different?
They are all different and have a unique vibe depending on where they are located, we don’t want them all to be the same and they do appeal to different people, so you might love one but hate another.
They do all have some common elements though – Great food and drinks goes without saying, we love to support local drinks suppliers and provide amazing drinks whatever your taste, so expect great cocktails and long drinks, a wide range of non-alcoholic serves and obviously the perfect pint. All of our kitchens are manned by local street food heroes, we rotate these regularly and a number of our residents have gone on to open their own restaurants.
Music is also very important, all of our pubs are blessed with a state of the art Funktion 1 soundsystem, meaning we’ve had some notable DJ’s and live acts perform at the venues (Metronomy, Laura Marling, Basement Jaxx, Seth Troxler, Skream, Idris Elba and Mel Blatt to name just a few)
Design wise, we work with a very talented lady called Sara who brings each of our venues to life. The pubs need to work throughout the day and transition to the evening (as all of our pubs have late licenses), so they need to be set-up to work equally well if your having a celebratory meal midweek or if you’re having a birthday rave at the weekend.
One thing that nearly all of them have (7 out of the 8 pubs), is a karaoke room and they all have a fox hiding somewhere in the building (which is a footballing nod to my Leicester roots)
Who or what inspires you to run the business?
The staff and the customers, without either of them, we don’t have a business.
When I see people enjoying themselves on a Saturday night or we get an email from someone who has had an amazing birthday, it makes all the stresses worthwhile.
We’re very lucky to have some great people working for the company at all levels, some of whom have been with us right from the first day the company was founded (our Hackney Downs manager Mario Denotti started as a barman in Bethnal Green). Combine that with some great local characters who frequent the pubs and you have a winning combination. We have a saying in our company – It’s the people that make the pub!
If each Electric Star pub was a celebrity who would they be?
The Star of Bethnal Green – Idris Elba (It’s his favourite pub, say no more)
The Star of Kings – David Beckham (reliable, fun, popular, never upsets anyone, well turned out)
The Star by Hackney Downs – Liam Gallagher (rough round the edges, not to everyones taste, but doesn’t give a f**k)
The Leyton Star – George Best (Good at sport, likes a drink, also got something for the ladies – karaoke)
The Heathcote and Star – Dame Judi Dench (Grand, elegant, refined, versatile, been around forever and not going anywhere soon)
The Lord Napier – Tracey Emin (Arty in a cool, slightly provocative way, but knows where they’re from)
The Star in Shoreditch – Kate Moss (Likes a party, stays out late, but does it with style)
The Star by Liverpool Street – Lily Savage / Paul O’Grady (you can camp it up downstairs in the karaoke rooms or be a bit more serious on the ground floor)
What are your other favourite haunts? (To eat, to go out, to relax)
To Eat – Breddo’s Taco’s (Clerkenwell)
To relax – Hackney Wick Community Sauna
I am Joint Editor at To Do List. I like free, cheap & offbeat London, especially: cabaret, art, theatre, pop-ups, eating out, quirky films, museums, day trips, social enterprise & much more.