Features

Published on April 6th, 2016 | by Alastair Gilmour

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Small but perfectly formed

The number of micropubs in the UK has doubled in the last year and the sector is expected to reach 800 by 2018, according to the Micropub Association. Martyn Hillier, who co-founded the organisation after opening the country’s first micropub in 2009 (The Butcher’s Arms in Herne, Kent) says the total of micropubs in the country was easily over 200 – double the figure at this time in 2015. He also predicts that there is so much momentum behind the business model that there will eventually be 15,000 micropubs in the country.

He says: “There is room in the market for 10 micropubs to every microbrewery – and there are currently 1,500 microbreweries.”

The micropub ethos is to create small community alehouses where simple pleasures come first without any distractions such as televisions, music or gaming machines.

North East micropubs include Curfew in Berwick, The Office in Morpeth, Split Chimp in Newcastle, The Rat Race at Hartlepool Station, and Wor Local in Prudhoe. Curfew and The Office have been selected by the Tyneside & Northumberland branch of the Campaign For Real Ale (Camra) among its current pubs of the year – tremendous accolades for
small businesses.

Wor Local in Prudhoe is instantly likeable. Furniture was bought from Felling Social Club and fits in well at the former computer games shop. The place even smells right. It’s extremely friendly, animated purely by conversation. The small counter has room for three ales – all local, as the name suggests – but there’s an emphasis on ciders kept in boxes in the fridge. Cheers recommendation: A flight of three third-pints – different styles and interesting flavours. Cheers recommendation II: Be vocal about Wor Local.

This month, Mark Hall at the Split Chimp on Newcastle’s Forth Street is moving the pub to the railway arches on Westgate Road. Not far, but virtually doubling the size and potential of the operation. A big difference is in the provision of three toilets, one with full disabled access.

“There’s much more footfall on Westgate Road,” says Mark, “and it’s on the main ale route for people. The upstairs will be a function room with pop-up food, but the main bar will be downstairs with room on the counter for six handpulls. At the moment we can accommodate 50 people at a time, but the new place will take between 75 and 100 – it’ll still be a micropub though.”

The biggest difference, however, is the “secret” plan for upstairs – a 31-foot pub skittles alley which Mark expects to take off big time.

“They’re popular down south around Gloucestershire,” he says. “It’s a game for either two people or for teams and I hope to get a league going.”

Peter Morgan, who opened The Rat Race at Hartlepool Station, was one of the early micropub converts. He opened his 20ft x 16ft premises using a £9,000 redundancy package, buying tables on eBay for 90p, rooting around beer festivals for glassware, and building his own cellar (basically a large cupboard). The pub is a regular award-winner too.

As the man says, the micropub movement has real momentum.


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Alastair Gilmour



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