Credit where it is due. The large pub owning businesses don’t often come in for praise in these pages but, given the current state of the pub trade, I thought that it was worth reporting a number of cases where they have been investing in their pubs.
Nicholson’s, part of Mitchells & Butlers, operate 38 pubs in the City and the West End. They have recently refurbished two pubs. The Sugar Loaf in Cannon Street, near Mansion House is Grade II-listed and is notable for its distinctive curved and recessed corner detail. It reopened on 25 January after an extensive refurbishment and, in the words of its general manager, “It’s a fresh new look but still keeping the traditional character.” It has a ‘respectable British pub menu’ and serves an extensive range of drinks, which includes cask beers.
The building dates from the early 19th century and is first recorded as being licensed premises in 1839. At that time, the principal local trade was the processing of sugar and there were many small refineries in the area. In the days before it was granulated or made into cubes, sugar was sold in tall solid cones with rounded tops known as loaves, hence the name of the pub. The sugar loaf was also adopted by grocers as a sign of their trade.
The other is the Marquis of Granby in Rathbone Street, Fitzrovia. The pub, which dates from 1897, reopened last November after a four week make-over which gives the pub a ‘warm and inviting new feel’. It is now a specialist cask beer and gin house. The food offering is similar to that at the Sugar Loaf. In the 1930s, the pub was a meeting place for London’s literary set, including Dylan Thomas and T S Eliot, where they happily mixed with some ‘colourful’ local characters. The pub is also mentioned in Charles Dickens’ Pickwick Papers.
There is some history behind the pub’s name, which it shares with a large number of pubs around the country. Lieutenant-General John Manners, Marquess of Granby, (1721 to 1770) was a British politician and cavalryman who gained a reputation for personal bravery and leadership during the Seven Years War. He was also greatly concerned for the welfare of his men. There were no pensions for retiring soldiers in those days and so the Marquess, said to be fond of a drink himself, generously provided the funds for those with long and distinguished service to become publicans. At one time he had more pubs named after him than any other individual, although the spelling varies between ‘Marquess’ and ‘Marquis’. When leading a cavalry charge against the French at the Battle of Warburg on 31 July 1760, he lost his hat and wig. Consequently, to be accurate, pub signs should always depict him bare headed.
Another division of Mitchells & Butlers, Castle Pubs, have also recently reopened two sites. The first is the Castle in Portobello Road, Notting Hill, handy for the famous market. The Castle is featured on this edition’s front cover; thanks to M&B for supplying the photo. It was given a four week refurbishment last autumn, although this was delayed because of the need for some unexpected structural works. The pub is well known as a music venue, with the Rolling Stones and the Clash having appeared there over the years. Regular live music on Thursday nights is planned. A traditional pub menu, including Sunday roasts, will be available.
The other site is the Crown & Two Chairmen in Soho. This historic pub, dating from 1736, has been given a fresh new look while maintaining its traditional look and feel inside. As with the Castle, the food offering will be ‘pub classics’. The general manager commented, “We’ve got great new lighting, furniture, new toilets, and an amazing sound system has been added to keep the pub up to date with the other outlets in Soho.”
Apologies for this report being somewhat belated. Young’s reopened the magnificent Spread Eagle in Wandsworth (SW18 2PT) last March. It has been developed into a hotel with 21 rooms but without any reduction in the size of the bars. There had been letting rooms at the pub until the 1920s. The pub remains on CAMRA’s register of historic pub interiors of national importance and all the traditional Victorian features of this Grade II-listed site have been retained, including the etched glass and brass fittings. It now becomes Young’s flagship because, behind it, they have installed their new head office and training facilities. The menu will feature seasonal British produce and recent reports on the beer quality have been promising. The new management want to give the pub a community focus and are partnering local charities such as Wandsworth Oasis, Wandsworth Age UK, Care4Calais South West London branch, Queer Wandsworth and the South Thames College next door. They are also running monthly ‘In conversation with’ events, with local leaders invited as speakers. One speaker early on was, fittingly, former John Young Memorial Award winner, the legendary John Hatch.
There is news also of two of the tenanted pubs that Young’s sold to Punch Pubs. A reported £278,000 has been spent turning the Gardeners Arms, Southfields (SW18 5JL) into a ‘modern, welcoming and comforting space that combines traditional elements with contemporary design’ under an experienced management family. There is a new bar, seating and dining area, while the outdoor space is being improved and additional seating will be available when spring eventually arrives.
Similarly, the ACV-listed Robin Hood in Sutton (SM1 1SH) has reopened after a £220,000 renovation that has refreshed the pub both internally and externally. The new management, as well as providing an ‘impressive revamped menu’, plan to create an inclusive community venue featuring quizzes and karaoke in the newly refurbished function room, along with community fundraisers in aid of local causes.
Finally, McMullens of Hertford have reopened the Windsor Castle in East Finchley (N2 8DL) after an extensive refurbishment. Described as an ‘urban village inn’, it will serve three regular McMullen cask ales plus one rotating seasonal ale. McMullen’s Rivertown craft beers will also be available. There are plans for a kitchen garden to supply small batches of seasonal vegetables and herbs for the menu.