Published on September 5, 2017 | by Alastair Gilmour


My bar-utiful launderette

Imagination cuts clean through a pub venture in Durham, as Alastair Gilmour discovers

A late-evening call to a Durham launderette came as a surprise, regardless of it being a business that could be described as idiosyncratic. The nearby Ramside Hall Hotel asked if proprietor Kathy Turner could do the necessary with stage costumes belonging to The Jacksons who had been performing at a local festival. To complicate matters, however, there was a musician playing to an enthusiastic audience in front of the tumble driers.

“We were asked if we were still open”, says Kathy’s husband Richard, who was responsible for booking the renowned Martin Stephenson for a gig. “We had to get shot of him – not easy if you know Martin – so we could get Jermain, Tito, Jackie and Marlon’s spangly costumes cleaned.”

Perhaps this isn’t an everyday tale of laundry folks, but The Old Cinema Launderette & Bar in Durham’s Gilesgate is no everyday business, but you’d realise that when you saw a looped washing line of bras in the window.

It opened as a launderette six years ago in the former Rex Cinema but more recently, Richard – aka Mr Wishy Washy – had the bright idea of inviting musicians to play when the place wasn’t doing anything after the machines had cooled down. Why not press the space into service?

Now going one step further, the Turner family has installed a bar complete with four keg taps in the premises, which can only be described as the quirkiest launderette in the nation.

Richard Turner says: “The bar grew as an idea and we had always talked about doing something – opening it up for something else. It was when we were in Nice on holiday away from all the stress at home, drinking Provençal Rosé, that we came up with the pub idea.”

By day, Richard is a mental health nurse working for the NHS in the Durham communities, while Kathy (“it’s always a soap opera in here”) and niece Becca handle the laundry, dry cleaning and ironing.

“I keep it all separate,” says Richard. “My job is very different to what I do behind the bar, but in some ways it’s the same. The Old Cinema Launderette & Bar is a bar and a launderette – you can still get your clothes done here during the day and have a drink at night.

“We looked around different pubs for ideas – my favourites are the Free Trade Inn, Crown Posada and Cumberland Arms in Newcastle; they’re so relaxed and you don’t feel as though you have to get dressed which is what we wanted here.

“We also looked at the best of what’s around in beer; no cask, it’s all keg, mainly because we have no cellar and there’s very little room behind the counter. We’re still learning about beer and listen to what customers are saying about the local breweries, so we started off with Box Social Brewing Face Melter (3.9% abv), Sonnet 43 Yellow Cab Lager (4.1% abv), Panda Frog Blonde IPA (4.9% abv) and Brinkburn Street Mango Dipper (8.2% abv).

“We even brought a piano in from home and the funeral director from just along the road popped in and started playing Oh I Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside. I said ‘that was great, just don’t give me a lift home’. And neighbours keep on bringing things in, like a lovely old mangle.”

The bar/launderette is done out in pale blues and wan greens, very much washing colours. Retro washing powder packs – Tide, Persil, Omo, Lux Flakes – sit on every surface, bought from ebay or while on holiday in Greece where the old packaging and branding is still commonplace. The ladies’ toilet, entered via pulled-back, theatre-style drapes is straight out of a French courtesan’s dressing room – red flocked wallpaper, nightie on coathanger, plus tongue-in-cheek feminist illustrations by Kathy Turner.

Cinema lobby posters continue The Rex theme featuring classic movies such as An American In Paris, Singing In The Rain and 12 Angry Men. The whole place is lit by 1950s florally-decorated circular glass bowls. It’s amazing.

The four washers aren’t numbered but have small monochrome photographs attached of Douglas Fairbanks, Bette Davis, Grace Kelly and Cary Grant who represent the four decades the picture house was operating, while long-time projectionist Tommy Atkinson smiles in appreciation from a framed photograph – and inevitably, a signed photograph of Dot Cotton in her EastEnders role as a launderette manager.

Back behind the bar is a collection of gins – Hendrix, Edinburgh, Brooklyn and Hepple from Northumberland, plus a fridge full of bottled and canned beers.

“We’ve been invited by the Gala Theatre in Durham to put on some Launderette Sesions, so this month we’ve got The Blockheads, Blue Rose Code, The Lake Poets and Thea Gilmore appearing,” says Richard.

“We’ve already got people saying the Old Cinema Launderette & Bar their local, which is really nice. We’ll open every day if people want to come, rather than the Fridays and Saturdays with gigs on Thursdays at the moment. We’re very family focused – it’s very much a family business. Gilesgate is on the up, people want to chill out, relax – and we’ve got lovely customers, I love seeing them.”

Oh I Do Like To Be Beside The Cinema.

*The Old Cinema Launderette & Bar, Durham DH1 2HX. Tel: 0191 384 1412.

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Alastair Gilmour

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