Tuesday, 27 September 2016

The Tannery in Hexham shows what makes a successful local pub

What makes a good pub? How do you attract locals to a former unloved boozer? How do you appeal to a broad cross section of the local community thereby making the enterprise commercially viable? How do you survive in an era where pub usage competes with supermarket bought at home drinking, and justified but financially punitive drink driving and anti smoking laws?
I have no qualifications on this issue but based upon a lot of observations and chats to locals I think I can explain a bit.
I have been engaged on an assessment of local pubs both for work and pleasure since 2010, when I became the MP. I have visited pretty much every pub in my massive 1000+ square mile community from the most northerly pub, the First and Last just inside of the Scottish border in Redesdale, to the Lord Crewe in Blamchland and the Allenheads Inn on the southern Durham border. From the Ridley Arms in Stannington in the east, to the Holly Bush Pub and the Pheasant Inn on the edge of remote Kielder Forest.
It has been an exhaustive study, but great fun!
To be fair I am a big real ale man so any pub that supports this gets my vote. I have recently supported and helped reopen several local pubs - notably the Dyvels in Corbridge which is doing well, with good beer and nice people running it:

But it is clear that today's consumer wants something special from his pub. The old style spit and sawdust pub can survive, but it is difficult. You need an edge, a selling point, a trademark. 
The Dipton Mill Inn is very very good, but probably thebest ale pub of them all, for example, is the Boat House in Wylam which takes beer so seriously is has up to 18 ales at any one time: 

Different places want different things, so it is not for me to prescribe what works in Prudhoe (The Falcon is doing very well with its Carvery) or out in the sticks - but pubs like the Barrasford Arms, the Rat in Anick, and the Feathers in Hedley, are all doing very very well; and the Battlesteads in Wark is probably the most successful pub / small hotel in the county. All have found their model. Others are struggling and there are pubs closing all across the country, and in Northumberland. But there are clearly very successful local town pubs. For an example of this I would urge you to go to The Tannery inHexham, which I helped relaunch last Friday, with the owner and the support group from Punch. I have got to know Punch very well over the last few years, as they have rebuilt and renovated a number of key local pubs, and even hotels like the County Hotel. It is hard to argue against their commitment to our area, their financial investment, and their use of local tradesmen / builders where possible, and their general support. Without their investment many fine institutions would have withered and died - for example the County Hotel which was shut for years, and rebuilt at massive cost. I confess an interest, as they also have for two years helped sponsor the Hexham Jobs Fair which I have run to get more young (and older) people into work and apprenticeships.  
But go back to the Tannery. This pub was really struggling before Dave took it over. It is now packed, and it is easy to see why. 
Start with the beer - a great place to start! 6 proper ales on hand pump is rare, and the quality is excellent. I would go myself just for the ale, and it is better than most other pubs on beer.  Add in plenty of ciders and speciality gins and good wine and you have an offer that clearly appeals. But the renovation has added a great garden area and table tennis table out back, and the food is consistently very good. 
But it is the attention to detail and the quirkiness that impress about the Tannery. It is bright and open, with the best toilets for miles around as one discerning female punter described the newest addition! One male punter on Friday described how "the quirkiness makes the place feel like a much loved room in your home" - and Dave has great plans to add a train that will go all around the bar. This has got to be seen, as it is clearly no normal train! I wish the team behind the Tannery pub well. It is a big addition to Hexham. Their Twitter account is worth a follow on its own. Find it here: https://mobile.twitter.com/TanneryHexham?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Eauthor