London restaurateur April Jackson is to open her first standalone bar, SideChick, in Brixton in October.
It will mark her fourth south London venue, following the launch of restaurant Wood and Water, which she rebranded from Three Little Birds in 2021, as well as two bars in shipping container complex Pop Brixton, ABV and Batanga, the latter of which opened last year.
The name SideChick was born after a conversation with a friend who mentioned he had a "five-year side chick".
"He said it very casually...I thought that would be a great name for a cocktail and then we were like ‘let's call the bar SideChick'," Jackson told The Caterer.
"To be honest, I was a bit nervous some people are not going to get the joke, but if you can't smile when you hear it, you're probably not supposed to come."
SideChick will be Jackson and her partner Lee Tan's first standalone bar, which she said would offer something "slightly different" to their previous ventures.
The launch comes after Jackson told The Caterer last October that the focus of the business will be on bars rather than restaurants going forwards, as the operations were easier to manage.
Guests at SideChick will still be able to order a selection of "small and cute" bites inspired by the flavours of the American South, such as buttermilk boneless fried chicken, pulled pork nachos, and fried okra.
The drinks have been curated by Tan, who has been in the drinks business for over 20 years. While ABV had a focus on rum, SideChick will offer "more of everything else".
There are over 10 cocktails listed on the menu, which includes the signature 5YR Sidechick with seasonal daiquiri; the Penicillin with whiskey, ginger and lemon; and the Tokyo Iced Tea with four white spirits, Midori and lemonade.
Tough times for hospitality
Jackson said: "I'm excited about the project… but if you are entering the game now, it has to be for the long haul. It's not because you think you are going to open tomorrow and all of a sudden you've got bums on seats and revenue is going to fly. You have to kind of be able and willing to rough the seas right now and that part does not enthuse me."
She added: "It's like a squeaky bum time in terms of hospitality. I keep seeing places close. Right across the road from us was a very large Breakfast Club [which had] a great reputation. They literally closed down and it brings me zero pleasure to see big boys close, because when big boys who have other sites where you could pool revenues from different places are choosing to close, it doesn't instil me, as a little independent individual, with much hope."
She has also seen less flexibility with staffing, with candidates expecting higher wages regardless of their skillset.
"One thing I continue to see is that wages are getting higher. I would say it's a great thing in theory, but when you're not getting the expertise to match that and you are trying to compete with big conglomerates who can perhaps afford these higher wage bills…there is a slight struggle with that in terms of the calibre of staff," she said.
However, Jackson said she was pleased to discover that prices for 20 litres of oil dropped from £35.99 to £28.99 this week. "I don't know if that was an error or if this is a sign [things are] going to be better," she added.
Jackson was heavily involved in the design of SideChick, which she said resides in "one of the few buildings in Brixton that has the old architecture".
She has described it as being "more Maserati than Lamborghini", highlighting the elegance of the site. The exterior has been painted a deep plum, while the interiors feature deep blue – almost black – ceilings and hints of terracotta.
"I think coming from Jamaica, for example, you will see women on construction sites in a way that I've not seen here. In Jamaica, when I was starting my business, I feel like people were probably more ageist. I never felt like because I was female that was a thing… so we've kind of created our own little culture. I just think we're kind of lucky; you don't have that toxic energy at all."
SideChick will open on 4 October and remain open from Wednesdays to Saturdays, 5pm until late.