Historic Sunderland city centre building to become a nightclub once more after huge transformation

A new nightclub and a bar with its own rooftop garden are being created as part of a major investment in a landmark city centre building.

Friday, 16th July 2021, 4:00 pm
The Galen Building is being given new life
The Galen Building is being given new life

The distinctive red brick Galen Building, which dates back to 1900 when it was used as a technical college, has had many uses over the years including as Liquid, Diva and Basement nightclubs, while the neighbouring unit has housed bars such as Varsity and Tequila Tequila.

Now, businessman Michael Downey, who has four decades of experience in Sunderland night life, has taken over the lease of the former Basement club, which has been empty for four years, as well as the former Varsity site which has been closed since before the pandemic.

The nightclub boss previously ran the Varsity site as Tequila Tequila and he will be bringing the Mexican restaurant back to the ground floor of the site. Upstairs, meanwhile, will become a new home for Hidden which Michael has had to move because of the redevelopment work at its previous home in Park Lane Market.

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The new Hidden, Tequila Tequila at Hidden and Trilogy are to open in the Galen Building. From left general manager Mark Hepton and entertainment manager Joe Gullis.

Hidden, which has seen the creation of a brand new outdoor garden bar area, and Tequila Tequila will open to the public from July 23. Next door, work is ongoing to transform the former Basement club into Trilogy, with a view to opening in August.

Michael, who previously ran the former Illusions club in Holmeside, said: “The leases on Hidden in Park Lane and Illusions were up and they both lie in an area earmarked for development. You can’t stand in the way of progress and I think the plans for that area of the city centre are really beneficial.

"The nightlife is more focused at this end of town now so I decided to take on the lease at Tequila Tequila (which was briefly operating as Endless Pizza before the Lockdown), as well as the next door lease at Basement.

"You have so many good bars here now, such as The Rabbit and Street Bar, Greens, Establishment and the new Halo, which is the best that site has been. At this end you have Fitzies, The Terrace, Life of Riley, who all do a fantastic job, and the development of The Cooper Rose, and we really think we can add to that.”

The rear of the site is becoming a new home for Hidden

While Trilogy will be a brand new club, Hidden will very much follow the botanical theme of its predecessor, with the openings creating more than 30 new jobs for the city.

"Hidden was very popular,” explained Michael. “We had an over 21s policy and people liked that. It was a great outdoor space and something totally different in the city, which was great in the summer, but people did get cold in the winter. With this site though, we have the garden area, but also an indoor bar, so it’s the best of both."

Michael has been granted new licenses for both sites, which will make them one of the latest places to open in the city, with a 3.30am licence Sunday to Wednesday, 4am on Thursdays, 4.30am on Fridays and Saturdays and 5.30am on Boxing Day and New Year’s Eve.

The nightclub boss, whose career began at the old Boulevard pub before he became manager of Ku Club, making it one of the city’s busiest clubs in the late ‘90s, says the long-awaited Freedom Day on July 19 is great news for the night time economy, with bars and clubs able to open without restrictions.

The former Basement is being turned into Trilogy nightclub, which will have two rooms

"We’re over the moon about July 19, but we’ll be opening Trilogy tentatively in August,” he explained. “It’s been an awful time for the nighttime economy and all the infrastructure that surrounds it, such as door staff and taxi drivers. It’s also been awful for all those people who have lost friends and family members.

"It’s not everyone’s opinion, but I think our Government and Rishi Sunak have done a great job with the financial support they have given us. But now we need to get open and stay open, so we can provide our service to people and get the economy booming. “Sunderland city centre is really blossoming, there’s so much investment, and I urge people to come and use it.”

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Final touches are still being made to Hidden
The Galen Building dates back to 1900