The £40m kiss
PUBLISHED: 12:18 30 September 2010
A HUGE inferno which destroyed two bars causing up to £40million of damage started because of an innocent kiss, their devastated owner has revealed.
Trendy nightspot Sosho and neighbouring private members club The East Room, in Tabernacle Street, Finsbury, had a combined turnover of £5million before a massive blaze reduced both to blackened shells in March.
Now the Gazette can reveal that the fire was caused by a lit candle – costing owner Jonathan Downey an estimated £40million. But it may never have happened were it not for a kiss.
Entrepreneur Mr Downey said: “It was started by a tea light from Ikea – well, from our catering suppliers. It’s all on CCTV. We put them in these 18-inch high, one-inch thick glass vases.
“The waitress was going round lighting the candles at 6pm and a couple in one of the booths were having a snog, so she did the right thing and left them to it. She came back half an hour later, put the light on the table and lit it.”
The extra-long candles were specially designed to burn out after eight hours – but the romantic delay meant that the flame was still smouldering half an hour after Sosho closed at 2am.
Mr Downey said: “I sat and watched the footage with the police and fire brigade and we just watched it all go up over about 40 minutes. We saw the staff going round putting them out but there must have been something left burning in that one. It might have been a bit of old wax or a bit of paper, we’ll never know. But it was something combustible.
“It’s night vision on the CCTV, so it’s hard to see what it catches. The vase was absolutely fine, it didn’t move at all but the flame just gets bigger and bigger. What a disaster.”
By around 5am 100 firefighters and 20 fire engines were on the scene tackling what had become a fierce fire rampaging over four floors, sending plumes of smoke billowing into the sky and bringing nearby City Road to a standstill. Flames spread to neighbouring buildings but miraculously no one was injured in the blaze.
Six months on and Mr Downey is embroiled in legal wrangling with Royal Sun Alliance over the multi-million pound insurance payout.
“We’re nowhere near sorting it out,” he said. “It’s very protracted and the insurers won’t pay. It’s going to end up in court. We had a 25-year lease on the building but it’s been condemned as a dangerous structure. It’s up to the Corporation of the City of London what happens with it now. They’ll knock it down and build something shiny and new, no doubt.”
Mr Downey, who also owns trendy Clerkenwell restaurant/bars Giant Robot bar and Red Hook, is currently expanding his empire to Notting Hill and Brick Lane.
He had ploughed around £3million into refurbishing the former Victorian warehouse to open Sosho 10 years ago and the 3,000-capacity East Rooms in 2008.
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