A POPULAR bar will reopen to the public later today - nearly 20 months to the day it was ravaged by fire.

Whispers, in High Street, Halstead, will be welcoming customers through its doors from noon following extensive repairs and a refurbishment.

The former wine bar sustained severe fire and water damage when a blaze, started accidentally in the first floor kitchen, ripped through the grade II listed building it is based in.

Having worked hard to resurrect his business, owner Frank Ladkin admits he and staff are excited to finally be welcoming the public back following the fire, which happened on February 23 last year.

"We're all geared up and pretty much ready to go now." he said.

"It's looking really good inside. If I'm honest it won't look like much has changed other than the new bar and furniture.

"It has taken a lot of hard work to get here but it has definitely been worth it. We always knew it would reopen it was just a matter of how long it would take.

"We have had a lot of people walking past and asking when we are opening. We seem to have a lot of support in the town.

"There have been people booking tables even though we haven't done any advertising.

"The only thing people have seen about it is a story in the Gazette two weeks ago."

Mr Ladkin says he has employed an experienced number of people to help run Whispers, which in his own words will be "more like a restaurant than a pub".

One of the biggest changes to the bar will be the food served to customers. A mix of authentic Portuguese and Spanish tapas will be on offer, along with cocktails and four different types of sangria.

Plans are also in place to serve up a Sunday roast with a Mediterranean twist.

Mr Ladkin says the tweaks to his business have been made to address changes in people's eating habits.

He added: "I think with all the new houses being built in Halstead, the high street is going to be changing. It's good news for the shops that all these new people will be coming and it's important we have really good restaurants on offer as well.

"I think Halstead needs something like this and I'm confident the town will like it."