Published on May 2, 2017 | by Alastair Gilmour0
I’ve bought a pub
One of the North East’s most notable ale and music venues has changed hands. Alastair Gilmour talks to the new owner – who actually isn’t that new
You never know what’s in other people’s minds, so sometimes the best way to get the answer you want to hear is to simply ask the question. So, with a burning desire to own his own place after years of working in and managing pubs, Julian Ive eventually put the theory to the test.
He asked Camerons, one of the largest private breweries in the country with an estate of some 70 pubs, if The Cluny in Newcastle’s Ouseburn Valley was ripe for an offer. Julian had been involved with the ale, art and music venue for 11 years, so he knew it inside out.
“My business partner Steve Parkin and I asked the question and were met with quite a positive response,” says Julian. “We met Chris Soley (Camerons’ chief executive) one January morning over a cup of coffee and the deal was just about done. Four months later, here we are.
“It’s great to be back and I’m pleased to say it’s going very, very well and above expectations. It’s all very exciting. It’ll be a while before we finish doing what we want to do, but at the moment it’s day-by-day changes like a bit of paintwork and a freshen up here and there.
“The Cluny has always been about the Ouseburn community – and we’ve already got a lot of our old regulars back. We’re back to getting our coffee from a local company, for instance, as well as using local printers, stationers, musicians and breweries. Sometimes that sort of thing isn’t fully understood by big companies with lots of individual businesses to look after and they can’t make an exception of one.”
One of the most important jobs for the new team is to get The Cluny kitchen back to performing to the reputation it enjoyed several years ago to attract daytime diners with original menus using local produce. A range of cask and craft keg beers also made the pub into something of an institution. But it was while working in a Gateshead pub last year that the penny finally dropped for Julian.
He says: “When I was doing shifts at The Schooner in Gateshead I saw that there were maybe 100 people in for Sunday dinners, then there was a band on at 4.30 which made the pub continuously busy from 12 till nine. It opened my eyes a bit to what could be done.
“The Cluny is a local pub for local people and we need that daytime trade back again to give it a buzz. There are so many great breweries operating around the Ouseburn, so you’ll be seeing more of Two By Two, Out There and Tyne Bank beers, as well as Almasty and Wylam – their Jakehead IPA has been flying out since we got it in.
“We’ve also got a great team of about 25 which I’m inspired by, a lot of young staff with get-up-and-go about them and we’ll be creating new employment opportunities.”
Customers might notice something different in the pub bit by bit – the timber floor is actually mellow oak and that’s going to be stripped back to reveal its original glory, for instance, and artists will be invited back to hang their works.
Julian says: “I’ve always felt the back room is a really good gallery space for local artists which dropped off a bit – after all, 3,000 people a week walk past it to get to the toilets, so it must be one of the busiest galleries in the area. With all that going on and with the music which is going very, very well it’ll be a real cultural hub.
“It’s a trend for bars to be designed to look like warehouses but this is a warehouse and we’ll capitalise on that. We’ll be at the centre of the Ouseburn Festival, looking at acoustic blues on a Sunday, using the space more. There’s a lot more to come with events and local bands.
“Cluny2 is an ongoing project but I’ve always felt the bar in there never really worked, so that needs looking at with maybe some seating shifted around and a little bar put in. That’s also one step at a time, but very quick steps – by September.
“The goodwill has been amazing – people I don’t even know have been stopping me to wish me well, local businesses have been very supportive, and Camerons have been very, very helpful in terms of making the changeover that much easier.
The building at 36 Lime Street, which The Cluny is part of, was built in 1848 as a steam-driven flax mill to a John Dobson design for the firm of Plummer and Cooke. Flax was used to make linen and sail cloth. The neighbouring restored chimney forms part of the original Dobson complex.
In 1866 it was bought by Proctor and Sons and converted into a flour mill then taken over by another flour company Henry Leetham & Sons in 1900. The mill stood empty for many years until the 1920s when it was taken over by McPhersons Wine and Spirit Merchants who stored bonded whisky under the brand name Cluny.
In 1983 Mike Mould, founder of the famous Bruvvers Community Theatre Company, bought the then-virtually derelict building with his brother Roy to convert into a Fun Palace for artists and performers. Bruvvers was founded in 1969 to take live theatre and music into the disadvantaged areas of Tyneside.
Following a meeting with furniture maker Tim Kendall – over a pint, naturally – the idea was formed to invite artisans, actors, musicians and artists into the building to create workshops and studios. It is still a vibrant, creative hub, with The Cluny pub, Cluny2 events space (formerly the Round Theatre), and Seven Stories, the national centre for children’s books, making it a multi-cultural centre.
The Cluny pub was another of Mike Mould’s brilliant ideas, opening in 1999 then sold to Tony Brookes’ Head of Steam group in 2002. Hartlepool-based Camerons took over The Cluny as part of its Head of Steam acquisition from Tony Brookes in December 2013.