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Interview with FortyFive Vinyl Café

Flora Tucker speaks with the York-based cafe's co-founder about music, community, and coffee.

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Image Credit: FortyFive Vinyl Café

Walking into the FortyFive vinyl cafe on the 8 March, I was struck by the warm, welcoming atmosphere of the place. With a gentle buzz, greenery, and a Black Keys vinyl playing, it’s clear why this independent cafe is so popular. I spoke to Dom, who co-founded FortyFive with Dan in 2017.

Do you want to tell me a little bit about the founding of FortyFive, and how long you’ve been here?
Me and Dan, we were in York and both of our bands had broken up. And so I started an online store selling used records. Then after about a year of that, I was like, I want to start an actual place that will be selling records, and be a cafe, and a music venue at the same time. I put it on Facebook and Dan saw it, and was like, “I want to start a cafe. Do you want to go into business together?” And we did it.

Was it important from the beginning that this place was a music venue as well?

The idea was initially that it would just have the odd show here and there, but then, because we have the YouTube channel... Nothing like that was happening in York at the time, so it was like, well, let’s preserve some of the music that comes through here, small intimate shows and things like that. That was kind of the point. Now, we actually have international artists getting in touch with us, asking to come and do showcases on their tours and things like that.

Oh that’s fantastic. Can you tell me about some of the exciting music events that are coming up here?

Next thing we’ve got is the end of April. Got a guy, he’s originally from Scotland, lives in Liverpool now, called Callum Gilligan. There’s Ben Hemming, he’s touring with someone, I believe, at the moment. We’ve got some local stuff coming up as well with Everything After Midnight. They’re  really cool. So yeah, loads of Friday and Saturday nights, that’s usually when we have the music on here.

Brilliant, and if any of our readers are in bands and want to perform here, how might they go about setting that up?

They can email me, dom@fortyfiveuk.com and I’ll have a listen. We’ve always got support slots that need filling.

I saw on your website that you say that you are run by musicians, and for musicians. How many of your staff that work here are musicians?

Well, me and Dan are musicians, soon to be ex-musicians. Dom laughs, and looks around. There is Louise, who’s behind the bar now. She’s in a band called Pennine Suite, who are amazing. Cat, she’s here today, she’s a sound engineer. And works with the Level opportunities project through Young Thugs, so that’s for women and non-binary people. So yeah, pretty much everyone’s all musicians here.

What’s your favourite record that is played here, or that you guys have at the moment?

I just got the Forrest Gump soundtrack, that’s really good. Dom laughs. That’s just full of classics. But every so often they get overplayed. So Fleetwood Mac, Rumours, gets banned every three or four months or so.

What’s your favourite thing about running this place?

I think it’s just the sense of community really. People feel comfortable and at home here, I think. We’re not like just a hipster place-to-be, that only a select few people can come to. We have all walks come through here. And yeah, that’s it really. That's what I’m most happy about.

Speaking about all walks of life coming through here, I saw on your website that you are dog-friendly. Do you have a favourite dog-regular?

We used to have those two massive huskies that used to come in. And there was a little sausage dog called Frankie that used to come in a lot. We do have a few regulars, but since lockdown it’s all changed quite a lot. So our old regulars aren’t coming so much anymore, it’s all like a new crowd.

Wow. Of course you must have known the question was coming. Can you tell me a bit about lockdown, and how that was for you guys?

It was… interesting. I literally saw it on the news, and the next day, no one came in. And we were like, so what do we do? It was completely out the blue. And it wasn’t ’til about three weeks after that that we found out if there was going to be any support. After about the second week, we saw people doing online quizzes and things. So we thought, right, we’ll do our own. And we did that for three months or so. Every Saturday night, we did, like, a music quiz, on Facebook Live, but then it would be silly. We’d have different rounds where you could have something like “Ikea or Cheese?”

That’s quite good. If you get Swedish cheese, no one’s ever going to know.

Yeah, so it was interesting. We used to get people from the music scene to recreate movie scenes, and people had to guess what they were. Most of the time they were very obvious, but we’d get different hospitality venues to do them. House of Trembling Madness, they did an amazing one for Castaway.

So you mentioned working with other venues here. Do you think you’ve got a strong link to other independent cafes or restaurants in York?

Yeah, I’d like to think so. Cause we’re all local as well. We know a lot of the other bars and things, like the Artful Dodger, that’s basically our local now. All of our friends work there, that’s why we DJ there once a month. House of Trembling Madness, they’re friends of Dan’s. Spring Espresso, they’re friends of Pete who works here, so yeah, we are just very close. Especially with the businesses up and down Micklegate as well, we’re all in it together.

How have you recovered after the pandemic?

Uh, we were so surprised. At first, we weren’t allowed any outdoor seating, the pathway was too small. So we could only do takeaway. And that was a little bit touch-and-go at first, because everywhere else was able to do outdoor seating, and we had to literally only do “you can swing by and leave”. So when we were actually able to have people sitting down in July, immediately it was completely full! We were expecting to slowly trickle back in, people being very cautious. Everyone took it in their stride. Got on with all the restrictions and things and yeah, it was just... really cool.

You mention takeaway, I wanted to ask, what is your favourite thing that you do on the menu here?

Because it’s restaurant week, we have just started, we have got all these, like quite a few new ones. I had this West Philadelphia, Born and Raised, which is like, steak, peppers and onions, in a grilled cheese sandwich. That was amazing. I think today I’m going to have the Chiquitita because that sounds really tasty.

What’s in it?

That’s with chipotle chicken, jalapenos, with slaw and guacamole on the side. Actually, I’m not very good with spicy stuff so maybe I won’t have that.

So, what is your hot beverage of choice?

Just a coffee… I am the worst cafe owner because I like coffee with milk and sugar. We have our own blend of coffee. We have two out at the moment.

Can you tell me about that?

We work with a roaster over in Bradford called John. Indie coffee roasters. When we first opened we basically developed our own blend, which is just our house blend. And then we’ve gone on to do a second one called Juno blend. That’s more of a sweeter, fruitier one. And we’re working on our third at the moment, which is like a darker, espresso, type, really hardcore…

Friday night, working here, what’s your favourite cocktail to make or to drink?

Ah, favourite cocktail. Ah, espresso martinis are always fun because of the bit of foam on the top.

All right, there we go. And what is this place’s best kept secret?

Best kept secret… We have got 12th-century or 16th-century stonework in the basement. There’s kind of a priest-hole carved out of stone. I don’t know what it’s there for. Apparently there used to be tunnels under Micklegate from the river, so when they do deliveries, all the deliveries are linked together or something? I don’t know whether that had something to do with that. So that’s our little inside bit of history.

Is there anything else you think people should know about?

Oh yeah, in August, we’ll be five years old! So officially more than toddlers. Because it’s bank holiday weekend when we opened, we’re going to do Friday to Sunday, do three nights of… something. So we’ll do an extended DJ night, a gig night, and there’ll also be music bingo as well.

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