Last Chance Saloons

Over the last few years we’ve seen pub companies such as Punch Taverns and Enterprise Inns as well as large pub-owning breweries such as Greene King and Marstons disposing of swathes of properties, mainly pubs of the more traditional design.

The reasons are of course sensible business decisions – in the case of Punch and Enterprise they have had debts to pay off and income from selling poorly performing pubs provided useful cash in the bank. Greene King had bought out other breweries to gain a whole pub estate and then wanted to get rid of the ones that didn’t ‘fit’. Marstons appear to have been shifting their focus to more food-led venues in locations outside of town and city centres.

Going back to the pub companies, the model is that all the pubs are leased out to individual operators and generally in the terms of the lease they are tied to buying wet stock, insurance and more through the pub company and cannot shop around to suppliers/brewers offering the best deal. It is argued that in return for higher beer prices they get charged a more reasonable rent and get the support of a regional manager.

There are of course many such pubs proving a great success, yet there are also plenty of examples where the tied arrangements prevent the publican offering what their customers want, be that interesting guest ales or affordable beer prices. These pubs end up closing down despite the best efforts of the publican running it and the pub company may declare them a failed pub and put them on the disposal list.

Of course there are some pubs that genuinely aren’t viable, perhaps due to the location – maybe an area where very few drinkers live, that is difficult to access or has a lot of competition. However most do have potential if the right format is found by the right person.

The buyer of such pubs may be a local brewery wanting to open their own tap, for example the Nags Head between Loxley and Bradfield was sold by Greene King to Bradfield Brewery who run it very successfully as a rural community pub with reasonably priced beer and simple home cooking. They may be a property investor who buy the pub then rent it out to an operator – such as to some extent the Rutland Arms in Sheffield City Centre where the top floor was converted into a flat and the owner rents out pub and flat separately.

We also have a number of examples of individuals or small businesses that established pub operators buying it to run as a pub and successfully do so – examples including Shakespeare’s on Gibraltar Street in Sheffield or the Victoria in Dronfield – as well as successful pubs that are bought by property men who have seen potential in the pub as a going concern and employ a manager to run it for them or as a joint venture, such as the Dronfield Arms.

There are also cases where the only intention is to demolish the pub to release the land to build something else on – for example the Bradway Hotel was sold to Sainsburys who built one of their local stores on the site and the Horns in Holmesfield now has a housing development where the pub once stood.

The final category is the one currently of most interest though. This is where a pub is bought with a long term idea of either converting the pub to another use or redeveloping the site, but choose to give it chance as a pub first but have a plan B if it fails. In some cases they run the pub themselves, in others it is rented out to a pub operator.

There have been a few recent examples around the Dronfield area. The Hearts of Oak at Dronfield Woodhouse was bought and rebranded as the Hearty Oak, the pub had three rooms which were run in a different style – tap room, dining room and function room and it was run as a family business. The success of this venture was somewhat mixed and the pub has since been demolished with housing built on the site.

The Three Tuns at Hallowes, just outside Dronfield town centre was bought by the owners of Ayeshas restaurant and leased out, it was run as a community pub with lots of real ales and home cooked food, it also acted as a bit of a brewery tap – first for Spire Brewery under its initial ownership, more recently for the Drone Valley Community Brewery. The quiz nights, music sessions, charity events and Sunday lunches have always attracted a good following, however it has recently closed and is expected to be converted into an Indian restaurant.

This takes us to the final example. The Butchers Arms at Marsh Lane (near Eckington, Ridgeway and Apperknowle on bus routes 15A, 50A, 50B and 252) which was sold to a private investor who has applied for planning permission to convert the property into a shop on the ground floor and residential use upstairs. However it is currently leased out to the Hop & Hook Pub Company, a joint venture between Ade Cole of Pigeon Fishers Brewery and Dave Hemstock of RAW Brewery. If they make a success of it as a pub it will stay as a pub, should it fail and close then it gets converted to a shop and or housing and is lost as a pub.

The Butchers Arms is a comfortable pub with a range of real ales – many of them locally brewed – along with a range of wines and spirits plus coffee. There is also a simple food offering on certain days (for example pie night, fish & chip night, Sunday roast) which is due to be developed into a full menu in the new year. It also has an outdoor area for when the weather improves – until then it is about the fire and cosy corners inside!

Although it is on a main road and has a regular daytime bus service, there is no public transport in the evening – and little prospect of that improving given the funding cuts from Derbyshire County Council. However there are buses to Eckington or trams to White Lane, both just a short taxi ride away. The pub also has a car park if you can recruit a designated driver!

The Butchers Arms opens Tuesday to Friday at 4pm and at midday on Saturday and Sunday, closing at 11pm every day (11:30pm Fri/Sat). You can find out more on their Facebook page (search for Hop and Hook).

So here is a bit of a deal from a pub campaigning perspective. The manager there under the guidance of Ade and Dave is making an effort to provide a nice pub with attractions including good beer, food and music, for it to survive as a pub it needs more customers, so please make the effort to get up there (and to other similar pubs too), enjoy it and spend some money!

Andy Cullen

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