Lark Lane’s ‘renaissance’ and reinvention

It is mid-afternoon on a sunny Tuesday and Lark Lane is getting busy. The seats outside the bars, pubs and restaurants along the famous Aigburth street are filling up as people make the most of the weather. Leading into Sefton Park, the road is in a prime location for a warm day - and thanks to the council's 'Without Walls' scheme, which turned the lane into a one-way street, repurposing the space for outside tables - it is a hotspot for al-fresco drinking and dining.

Though the cost of living crisis has arrived hot on the heels of the covid pandemic - posing another existential threat to the hospitality industry - the road and its plethora of bars are "thriving", according to those who live there. As busy as ever and becoming arguably South Liverpool's go-to destination, the feeling is that the area is riding high. READ MORE: New laws in place to stop BBQs and fires on Merseyside beaches

The ECHO spoke to those who live, work and socialise on the lane about how the pandemic changed the road and whether it has inspired a new, al-fresco Lark Lane.

The birth of Lark Lane's cafe culture

Ross Bar-Scragg has been working on Lark Lane for seven years. His shop - Fallen Angel Tattoo & Scragg's Barbershop - sits opposite Hadassah Grove and is surrounded by bars and restaurants. The long and wide window at the front of Ross' barbershop gives him a prime vantage point of the lane.

Looking out, he says he has noticed changes on the street. He told the ECHO the shift towards al-fresco eating and drinking, in part encouraged by a greater desire to sit outside during the pandemic, catalysed a "renaissance". He said: "Looking back at it now, it feels as if Eat Out to Help Out and the outdoor seating arrangements sparked a new culture here - a street culture essentially.

It invited people to socialise again and do it openly and publicly and embrace the outdoors. "It was an interesting time - with a lot of people not earning anything, but spending so freely. I feel like that's sparked a new trend - we indulge now.

It's also been surprising to see that against the cost of living crisis. "There are rising energy prices, so many prices are going up, but we're living it up. It's the norm to buy coffees, to be sitting out on the lane.

It's a lovely culture to be part of - I worry about its sustainability as things are starting to change now."

Ross Barr-Scragg pictured outside his shop on Lark Lane in FebruaryRoss Barr-Scragg pictured outside his shop on Lark Lane in February

Matty, 24, from Childwall, is among those who have been drawn to Lark Lane by its vast array of bars and restaurants - as well as the promise of outside space. However, he said that, before the last couple of years, his friends would not have considered it when thinking of where to go out. He told the ECHO: "I think we (his group of friends) started going frequently in 2020, maybe around February, and we'd bump into people that we knew there.

Then when you could socialise during the pandemic, it was a good place to meet. Before that, I didn't really know anyone who went all that often - I think it did then become a big thing. "I think it's a lot to do with the outside seating and how convenient it was. Now, I think it's at a stage when people would suggest going there rather than town.

If we go to Lark Lane, it's usually a full night on Lark Lane. We don't often make it into town. Places are kicking out there around 1am and that's often a good time to stop." Asked whether he agreed with Ross' view that the road has witnessed a revival in recent years, Matty said: "Late 2020 and then 2021, it felt like it really picked up, considering we were in the middle of a pandemic.

I remember watching loads of the Olympics in bars there because it was on late at night." He added: "I think it's right to say it's had a pandemic-inspired renaissance. It has so much outside space and as a result of that, people realised that it was there and was an asset to be used.

They are nice places to eat and drink - there's a lot to be said for that - and they give off the air of independence. I appreciate that there are one or two people who own a few venues, but there's definitely a bohemian feel down there and it feels independent." Tim Haggis is one of the hospitality business owners who has benefited from how busy the road is.

Tim is the owner of Middle East-inspired restaurant Hafla Hafla, which began life as a food truck, before securing a residency at the Baltic Market. Hafla Hafla opened on Lark Lane in 2018 and Tim told the ECHO he has noticed the road has changed a lot in his time working there, including it becoming busier. He said: "The outside eating and drinking has really created a great vibe and atmosphere, along with quite a few more eateries and coffee shops.

Our first couple of years on the lane were quite difficult but we've really found our feet now and gained so many regular faces. I also think the lane in general has gotten much busier, which is so nice to see." He added: "I'm hopeful that the lane carries on as it is at the minute.

It feels like the offerings and quality here has really gotten so much better, which is drawing in the crowds".

The challenges

Lark Lane has become a popular destination for al-fresco drinking and diningLark Lane has become a popular destination for al-fresco drinking and dining

As well as being home to its wide range of restaurants and bars, Lark Lane is also a residential street. The road becoming busier and the increasing number of venues serving alcohol brings with it a number of challenges, according to Sandra Warren, who is the chair of the Lark Lane Neighbourhood Association. She told the ECHO: "Though businesses did suffer during the pandemic, since Without Walls was introduced and once people could go out, it feels like businesses have been flourishing.

It's lovely to see the lane busy. But, living here, that does bring its issues. Stressing her view that Lark Lane is "mainly a residential area", Sandra added: "The more places that open that serve alcohol attract all the same problems." However, she thinks the key to the road's success is finding a balance between the interests of business and residents.

Sandra said those living there do want businesses to thrive, but emphasised a view Lark Lane should not be treated as an extension of the city centre. Though she does see the majority of businesses on the road as being receptive to residents' concerns, she believes the enforcement of licensing agreements will provide harmony on Lark Lane. Lark Lane falls into Green Party councillor Tom Crone's St Michaels ward.

He told the ECHO he's pleased to see the road busy, but shares Sandra's concerns about finding a balance with the interests of those who live there. He said: "I think it's clearly thriving - business is booming there, but I think that's been going for around five years. Before the pandemic, business was thriving and doing very well on Lark Lane, But it does feel like they've bounced back relatively well from covid.

"I think Without Walls clearly helped - I think it's given business extra space and they've been able to expand a bit, which has been helpful. I think Lark Lane was in a really good position anyway, because I think our culture really was moving towards casual dining as part of a day out. Cllr Crone added: "It is important to recognise that it is actually a residential area first and foremost, so it is about getting the balance right.

There has clearly been a shift towards bars, cafes and restaurants opening - we've lost a few little food shops and one or two things which were different. "Some of those things were starting to close and were replaced with cafes and bars. That does seem to be the direction of travel and that's ok but it does need to be balanced, because residents are being affected."

That said, Cllr Crone believes the success of businesses on the road remains central to its success. He said: "I'm glad Lark Lane is thriving. I want businesses to do well - I live where I live because of Lark Lane. I instantly fell in love with the place.

We do have a community feel, it is very much an independent feel, lots of quirky shops and bars, everywhere is a bit unique."

A revitalised Lark Lane

Outside seating on Lark Lane, AigburthOutside seating on Lark Lane, Aigburth

Tattoo artist Lizi works at Fallen Angel Tattoo on Lark Lane and moved to the area during the pandemic. She told the ECHO: "I was hearing about Lark Lane being up and coming and it seemed like town was suffering more than the lane was. So, that brought me here."

Ross added that has helped improve the feeling of community, while addressing a "wane" in how the road was used. He added: "Even if you're not participating in it (the cafe culture), you can walk up and down the lane and just bump into people who are, or perhaps even people watching. "You can have a good chat and talk to people - you struggle to walk from one end of Lark Lane to the other without bumping into at least one person you know and when you work on the lane it's a different story altogether."

Adding that increased footfall on the road helps his barber shop, with more and more people wandering in, Ross said another welcome quality that the move towards al-fresco dining has brought is a continental atmosphere. He said: "I hope there's a time soon when we end up with piazzas in town squares. It's ironic that we've embraced cafe culture at a time when Brexit has started to hit.

"We're detaching and supposedly becoming more British again, but here we are sipping coffees outside small plate Italian restaurants. In the face of a decision that was unpopular around here, we have gone and shown that we're still embracing all things European." He thinks that approach has been integral in helping Lark Lane to move in the right direction since covid restrictions ended, adding: "It feels like there's a good solid community here, which has grown off the back of the pandemic.

Beforehand, it was on the wane and there were more people coming here perhaps as a pre-drinking destination before going to town. It feels a lot more homely now." For Matty, Lark Lane will remain high on his list of destinations for socialising - especially during the summer months.

He said: "I don't think we would have considered it as a location to go to before 2020 but I don't really know why. "Looking now, it's come into its own. It attracts a mixed crowd - people younger than me would go - there's quite a bit of student activity around there now - but people of any age drink there.

"If you go to Keith's on a Friday or Saturday night, you get everyone from an old man sitting on his own to middle aged couples out with their mates and then people my age.

It's a mixed crowd and that's all to its benefit."