Tuesday, 4 August 2020

Parking Tanks on Wetherspoon's Lawn

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.


Curmudgeon said...

Sports TV, presumably, so another point of differentiation from Spoons.

Tandleman said...

Yes but not prominent on day 1. It will be interesting to see how it develops. Is it a bit more upmarket than the Regal Moon? Probably.

Cooking Lager said...

As the 50p tokens work in there, shoe in for beer guide 2021?

ShadowHider said...

Hogarths have their own cask beers and they're usually pretty good as well, especially the Citra. At least it was when I tried it in the Newcastle Under Lyme, Bolton & South Shields branches. :-))

Maybe the brewery isn't back up and running yet as you'd expect them to showcase the beer on opening day.

Anonymous said...

Not very adventurous for a first day! As you say the Tetleys is nowt like it was before. I've tried it in The Rose & Crown nr Bury town centre & it was nowt to write home about. Hobgoblin is OK if kept well. You'd have thought that they'd have pushed the boat out a bit more for their grand opening, cask wise, but good luck to them.

Malcolm Nicholls said...

“Hogarth’s have their own cask beers”??? That’s very much news to me.
I ‘ve been to the NuL branch, which at that time was managed by a guy who used to work for me, The cask beer was undrinkable.
AT’s offer is cheap beer, wide choice of cheap guns and TV sport. The managers are typically self employed and paid a percentage of turnover. No kitchen means savings on the fitout, fewer legal compliance issues and lower wage costs as percentage of turnover.
It seems to have been pretty successful as a business model but, as a customer, as Sam Goldwyn said “include me out.”

ShadowHider said...

News to you, but still a fact.

See here https://untappd.com/HogarthsBrewery

ShadowHider said...

PS The fact that their offer includes cheap guns is very much news to me. :-))

Tandleman said...

Well we must wait and see but I do agree that cask wise, start as you mean to go on. Offer something different from the get go. Don't and you probably relegate potential cask customers to your competition.

Andrew said...

I wonder if the Hogarth's brewery had not restarted when this pub opened?

Britain Beermat said...

Good work 👍 I know nothing about Rochdale as a drinking haunt but you've sold it to me!!
Nice to see a new pub opening in these times

RedNev said...

It's great that they've restored an attractive old building with some history behind it, which is very much a Wetherspoon's approach, but in real ale terms, offering just Tetley and Hobgoblin is tokenism. It wouldn't surprise me if they go down to one real ale after they've poured a few half-empty casks of unsold beer down the drain. I think I'd prefer the Wetherspoon's.

The only Rochdale pub I've actually been in is the Baum which I did like a lot.

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