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New lease of life promised for former Casa Mia piano bar in Southwold

PUBLISHED: 06:23 20 June 2014

The former Casa Mia piano bar in Southwold.

The former Casa Mia piano bar in Southwold.

An historic Southwold property is to be given a new lease of life after standing empty for several years.

The former Casa Mia piano bar – also known locally as the Dutch Barn – has been taken over by a consortium of five people who plan to turn it into a restaurant with up to five letting rooms.

It will be called the Sail Loft in recognition of an earlier use of the building.

The new leaseholders include Robert and Catherine Adey, who previously owned Trinity’s cafe and restaurant in Southwold High Street, Caplin Building Services in Frostenden and two other partners.

They have taken on the building in Ferry Road for 20 years and hope to be ready to open their new business by December.

Mr Adey said: “We wanted to keep it as a restaurant. That’s what the planners want.

“The place has been empty for some years and is in a pretty poor state inside.

“The building itself is pretty sound as it is but we want to upgrade it to make it a prime venue for eating and staying as well.

“We hope to be up and running for the Southwold Christmas lights switch-on.”

He added: “Although we have signed up to it there are still a lot of things to do. We are very excited about the prospect.”

The former music bar/restaurant had stood empty for years and its future looked uncertain before it was taken on by the consortium, collectively called the Sail Loft Ltd.

Building owner Chris Buck bought the property in 2010 and struggled to find a commercial tenant for the property.

He lodged a failed planning application in August 2012 to demolish the building and redevelop the site with two houses and a stand-alone seasonal café.

A second application, to convert the property into a single five-bedroom house, was rejected by a planning inspector on appeal this year.

Planning inspector Janet Cheesley dismissed the appeal on the basis that the proposed loss of commercial premises would adversely affect the local economy.

Mr Adey said the redeveloped Sail Loft would be an all-encompassing restaurant that would be open all day, serving food such as pizzas in the daytime and offering fine dining in the evening.

He said he hoped the service would be attractive to a wide range of customers, from holidaymakers and people staying to folk using Southwold’s camping and caravan sites further along Ferry Road.

He said the Sail Loft Ltd was seeking planning permission for the letting rooms and, if approved, the accommodation would be luxurious and offer views towards the sea at the front or across the marshes to the rear.

Mr Adey ran Trinity’s with his wife Catherine for 10 years

Their former business in now home to French and English café Le Roc, which opened earlier this year.

The couple lived in Southwold for 14 years and raised their four children there before moving to Saxmundham in 2010.

He said: “We know this can work as a restaurant.

“I think the planners were right in not allowing it to be a private dwelling.

“It has always been a restaurant and that’s what it should be.”

The former Casa Mia piano bar is in a conservation area. It is believed to date back to 1840 and was once used by workers making the distinctive dark red sails for wherry boats.

The building was later acquired by the British military and was used throughout the second world war as an operational base for service personnel tasked with packing parachutes and making camouflage.

In the 1950s and 1960s, it became a popular eatery known as The Old Dutch Barn and high-profile figures including Princess Margaret and Monty Python Michael Palin would dine there during visits to Southwold.

In 2006, it became Casa Mia – an Italian-style café bar, owned by singer-songwriter Ed Darragh. It was run as a restaurant, cocktail bar, and as a late-night venue for live music, attracting a range of performers.

It also staged popular ‘open mic’ sessions on Thursday evenings.

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