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The Green Room in Maidstone's Earl Street now fully open in former Pizza Express building

Those behind Kent's newest bar, which has transformed a disused branch of Pizza Express, could ask punters for Covid tests in a bid to re-introduce the full nightclub experience.

Today's easing of lockdown meant KentOnline was able to tour The Green Room in Earl Street, Maidstone.

Many were left upset when Pizza Express pulled out of the town. The firm said its decision was due more to rising repair costs for the building, rather than a far-reaching restructure it announced last summer.

The Maidstone building had opened in 1989 and also featured the Music Room.

But music is still very much on the agenda, as The Green Room team revealed, while showing the renovations so far, some of which have taken shape in a matter of months.

As you walk in, there's now a bar on the right-hand side.

On the left-hand side, as you enter the building, is the whisky room, which as the name suggests serves up various blends.

The disused Pizza Express in Earl Street Maidstone, pictured in August 2020, when many lockdown rules were lifted
The disused Pizza Express in Earl Street Maidstone, pictured in August 2020, when many lockdown rules were lifted

With music playing, the restaurant area is further on downstairs.

In keeping with its former life, the menu offers predominantly Italian meals - pizzas, a range of different Mac n' Cheese dishes and slow-cooked ribs.

Upstairs, there is a music area which Richard Carerra, Matt Shead and Chris Ansell - the three directors of the business who also run Grassroots Records - are clearly passionate about.

Jazz nights are planned for this area which is called The Red Box, this part of the building is not yet ready to open, while a vinyl-only room is also based upstairs, where people are invited to come in and browse.

Downstairs is a radio station run by the Green Room and at the top will be a space for dance parties or concerts.

Directors Richard Carerra, Matt Shead and Chris Ansell at The Green Room in Maidstone
Directors Richard Carerra, Matt Shead and Chris Ansell at The Green Room in Maidstone

“It has been absolutely fantastic,” said 43-year-old Mr Carerra when asked what the response has been like since they first opened last month, with people confined to tables outside until this week.

But he is very conscious of trying to balance the feel of a banging night out with keeping people safe and keenly watched the government's experiment on hosting club nights in Liverpool, where people could party restriction-free as long as they provided a negative Covid test.

“It is about trying to make sure that we can keep this ‘R’ number down," he said. "One of the things we are looking to do is to be the first venue in Maidstone that requests testing before you come on a Saturday night.

“We believe, if we can get in the routine of everyone having a test within 24 hours of coming here, then, potentially, we could be opening quicker as a dance venue, instead of everyone having to sit down.

“The test worked in Liverpool. We are trying to find out the full results.

Customers Emma Miller, 44, and 58-year-old Gary Craddock
Customers Emma Miller, 44, and 58-year-old Gary Craddock

“If the experiment has proved worthwhile, I don’t see why the rest of the country can’t do it.”

The three directors all hail from Maidstone.

Mr Carrera added: “A lot of friends have helped out with us getting up and ready and open.

"We can’t thank them enough – Dickson Flooring and Duncan Carpentry are the main ones, along with ORP Sound and Lighting who have been a major part of getting us up and ready.

“The whole team has just been amazing.

“As a new venue, the support we have had in town from opening has just been crazy. We have been fully booked every weekend for the past four weekends, throughout the day on Saturdays as well.

The whisky room in The Green Room
The whisky room in The Green Room

“We have got 12 tables inside and four out the front, and they are fully booked tonight.”

Opening any business during a pandemic is, of course, a risk and Mr Carerra accepts this.

“We have always wanted a building and, when this one came up, it is such an iconic location in Maidstone that is renowned for music as well, so we took a gamble,” he explained.

He says they have paid £10,000 to £15,000 more than they would have done had they decided to open in pre-coronavirus times, putting Covid-19 measures in place ready for their big launch.

“It has cost us a fortune, like it has for every business in town,” said Mr Carerra.

The vinyl-only room upstairs
The vinyl-only room upstairs

Customers Emma Miller, 44, and 58-year-old Gary Craddock, from Rochester, were enjoying experiencing the restaurant for the first time.

“I have never been in here before,” said Ms Miller. “But it is quite nice.

“I would definitely come in here again.”

Mr Craddock believes it is good news pubs and restaurants can now open indoors, saying that is why he felt some had decided to stay shut - even though they could have welcomed customers outdoors.

He said: “I think that’s why a lot of pubs didn’t open.

The Green Room opened in April but was unable to show people all the changes made inside until today
The Green Room opened in April but was unable to show people all the changes made inside until today

“They would have just got lots of April showers and weather like we got today.”

Even though the venue hasn’t been open that long, there is already, a good sense of camaraderie between the staff.

Teo Martins, 19, from Maidstone, said: “It has been nice actually.

“The menu works and the food is great as well.

“Everyone is just really excited for the whole place to open up.”

“We are, hopefully, going to get into the commercial charts next year once we have been going long enough."

Lucy Armstrong studies at Solent University but is back in Maidstone until September and is another team member.

“It has been hectic but in a good way,” said the 21-year-old.

“When I’m at work, I prefer to have stuff to do.”

Mr Carerra says that they have confirmed popular DJ Dimitri from Paris to perform in August and is keen on working with Maidstone-based label Toolroom Productions.

Asked for more information about his own record label, he said: “It is a dance music label, predominantly minimal and deep house.

Chefs Joanna Trebus, 25, and 32-year-old Anna Zatlukal
Chefs Joanna Trebus, 25, and 32-year-old Anna Zatlukal

“But we are starting to venture into tech house, into disco and house music.

“We are, hopefully, going to get into the commercial charts next year once we have been going long enough.

“It is all very positive.”

The venue is members-only after 6pm, although it is free to sign up and become a member by visiting The Green Room’s website.

Read more: All the latest news from Maidstone

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