Pubs are thought in many quarters to be pretty much unmitigated doom and gloom at the moment and although there are some chinks of light, with Covid-19 still on the go - and around for the foreseeable future - you don't expect to see many major pub openings, but there are still some.
Rochdale Town Centre is on the up. The River Roch, culverted and hidden for many years is now open again and providing a fine focal point for a revamped centre which includes a new shopping mall, complete with a cinema and eateries bang in the middle of town. OK, it leaves one, or maybe two, shopping centres rather exposed to chillier times, as footfall returns to the area around the river and the wonderful Victorian Town Hall and the tram stop. This is a town that couldn't maintain a McDonald's in the centre and with it gone, tougher times have also seen the closure of the Royal Bank of Scotland. In the fine - grand even - building thus vacated, we now have a new pub. This hasn't appeared by some kind of surprise. Clearly this million pound plus conversion has been planned for quite some time, but equally, what exactly would appear remained a bit of an educated guess. We had heard it would be entirely wet-led. That is there would be no food, which could be considered a bit of a gambol in these times. Well, maybe, but maybe not. Either way, a substantial new public house certainly had many wondering if there is room for one more?
So what's the competition? The Greater Manchester CAMRA Pub of the Year (and narrowly beaten in the National competition) is the Flying Horse. This as you can imagine is a hard act to follow, with its traditional beer offering, combined with real ciders, craft beer and excellent food is clearly the one to - if not beat, that will be hard - but at least emulate. Former National Pub of the Year, the Baum, is now under new management, but still offers a great pub experience, excellent beers of both cask and craft variety, along with great food. In the former General Post Office building, we have the Medicine Tap, selling locally brewed beers and guests together with imaginative food in a very fine conversion of yet another grand building. Bombay Brew offers a well-chosen range of craft and traditional beer, as well as Indian food of the tapas variety. It is the Bundobust of Rochdale. With the Regal Moon run by an experienced real ale loving manager who frequently tops JDWs best seller of cask ale list, there is certainly plenty to go at. In short, for the drinker and the hungry, Rochdale, with a pretty supportive council, already offers a lot. What can the new pub add?
It opened yesterday and your intrepid reporter, for once, not also ran, went along with the lovely E to see what was what. The building is impressive. The outside has been cleaned up by Amber Taverns, who operate it as part of their Hogarth's chain. The building itself was used as a
house by the Rawson family from 1819, who conducted their banking
business from the small adjoining building. It was rebuilt in 1879 and redesigned in 1913 to create the
distinctive porticoed frontage it has today.
Inside, once you have navigated the Covid-19 formalities and hand sanitising, you first notice the long bar to your left. Ceilings are high and ornate and original features and covings have been retained. To your right is a seating area with windows looking out onto the Butts. Behind this area, the bank’s vaults have been turned into a separate
seating area. To the rear, toilets - thankfully on the ground level - are modern and appealing, as is the large beer garden to the rear. Carpets are thick and seating a mixture of low and high. All in all, rather handsome.
All well and good, but what of the beer I hear you ask? As you might expect from Amber Taverns, the usual suspects are all here. Fosters, Carling, Heineken, Kronenbourg, Morretti and John Smith's are to the fore. For the real ale lover we have Tetley Bitter and Hobgoblin. Gin menus are everywhere and a fiver will bag you a double of some rather decent gins, as well as the tonic to go with it. Beers are very keenly priced with Tetley at a mere £2.15 a pop and Carling at £2.60. Others a tad less. The pub was, as I'd expected, quite busy with the curious. Service was good and cheerful, aided no doubt by the Covid queuing system precluding any stress from a baying thirsty mob.
So who is it aimed at? Prices, being of an ilk, clearly indicate its next door neighbour the Regal Moon is the target. I imagine it will attract a few others too, depending on how its clientele develops. The real ale drinker though is likely to give it a fairly wide berth, but those in need of decent gin in rather more comfortable surrounding than Spoons, might well be tempted too.
Like all new pubs, this will be a work in progress, but it will find a niche and will take business from elsewhere. New customers for the Rochdale "offer" will very much depend on the success of the whole town centre redevelopment, but Rochdale is heading in the right direction.
The Tetley Bitter retains little of its previous flavour. As someone who drank a lot of it in my time, it isn't the same at all. Condition was average, as nobody else seemed to be drinking it. I can also confirm there is no food offering. I didn't see as much as a bag of crisps.
There is a good recent piece on the redevelopment of Rochdale Centre here. This gives more detail which I recommend you having a look at. The building you can just see in the top photo, is the Regal Moon.
A bit of a CV. Tandleman is a veteran beer lover, local CAMRA Chairman and activist, beer writer, beer reviewer and pursuer of all things good in beer. He lives in the North West of England and London. Despite his CAMRA membership, he does not limit himself to cask conditioned beer, though he believes that cask conditioning, when done correctly and appropriately, brings a quality to beer that is hard to equal by any other kind of presentation. He is a strong supporter of Northern methods of beer dispense and avidly detests poorly presented beer and dislikes pasteurisation. He regularly visits Germany, has conducted corporate British and German beer tastings for CAMRA at the Great British Beer Festival where he has worked for years on Biere Sans Frontieres and was Deputy Organiser at CAMRA's very successful National Winter Ales Festival in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 and at the Manchester Beer and Cider Festival from 2013 to date. He admires good brewers wherever they are and has travelled extensively in pursuit of good beer to drink. He also judges beer at both the International Beer Challenge and the World Beer Awards.
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