Thursday, 28 December 2017

Another couple down

Over the Christmas weekend I learned that two more Stockport pubs were to close their doors in the new year. While neither could be said to be conspicuously thriving, they hadn’t appeared to be obviously on their last legs.

First is Winter’s on Little Underbank at the bottom of Hillgate. This was a former jeweller’s shop that was converted to a pub by Holts in the early 1990s. They retained the distinctive facade with its automaton clock, although this was no longer in working order. The interior was smartly fitted out on two levels, and initially they hoped to cultivate an upmarket ambiance and attract food trade. Sadly, this was not to be and, maybe in line with the decline of the surrounding area, it steadily became the haunt of some of central Stockport’s more downmarket pub clientele, says he politely. On several recent visits there has been karaoke in full swing, with a distinctly lively atmosphere.

Apparently it has been bought by Stockport Council and is expected to close during January. It presumably forms part of their plans to regenerate the Lower Hillgate and Underbanks area which, as I said in my recent post about the new Redrock entertainment complex, surely has the potential to become a cornucopia of independent businesses. However, they’re faced with an uphill struggle, as currently it’s very tatty and rundown, with as many vacant units as open ones. This will reduce the number of pubs on the famous Hillgate Stagger serving cask beer to a mere six, whereas I can remember as many as sixteen thirty years ago.

The second is the Queen’s Arms, a couple of miles away in Cheadle. This was once a traditional multi-roomed local that had the distinction of serving the rare Robinson’s “ordinary” bitter. However, towards the end of 2006 it was greatly extended and internally drastically remodelled, removing most of its previous character and leaving it feeling rather soulless. I wrote about it in my column in January 2007* in uncomplimentary terms, focusing on the dearth of fixed bench seating.

In hindsight, that wasn’t a very auspicious time to be spending a lot of money on a pub, and it never seems to have repaid the investment, although I wouldn’t have immediately named it as a prime candidate for closure. On the occasions I’ve been in, it’s never been particularly busy, and there have been reports of it becoming a magnet for trouble, with one incoming licensee having to bar a long list of customers.

It’s an attractive building in a good location, but it seems to have suffered from falling between two stools. Is it a sports pub, or an eating pub? You can’t really combine the two – you have to be one or the other. The substantial site may be one reason behind its closure, and there is an unconfirmed rumour that it may be turned into a drive-thru McDonalds. There are two other Robinson’s pubs nearby – the Printers Arms and the Red Lion – both of which I would say have a more congenial and “pubby” atmosphere.

Maybe neither pub will be hugely mourned, but the fact that they are going underlines just how fragile the general pub trade remains at present. I don’t want to put the kiss of death on any pub by mentioning it by name, but I can think of quite a few others that give the impression of living on borrowed time. Plus the prominently-situated George, opposite Debenhams on Mersey Square, is currently closed once again with an uncertain future.

* incidentally, since I wrote that piece, the Griffin at Heald Green has received a further revamp which involved the removal of the public bar and has left it much less pubby and overwhelmingly food-oriented

40 comments:

  1. It's a slow death...thirty years time the landscape will be very different

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  2. I can imagine the loss of Winters will hit you hard, old chap. Really is your sort of gaff.

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  3. Sad to see that on Winters. My brother and I went in there on our first Stockport visit. The façade was fantastic. The interior was in pretty rough shape but seemed like it could be nice with a remodel. Sad to see that.

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  4. Really sad about Winters, a little bit of real Stocky goes. Only went in 3 times but thought Bitter decent. Have to go to Salford for scruffy pubs now. MT

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  5. The other Mudgie !28 December 2017 at 19:47

    I shall miss Winters and am thankful I included it in my Stockport crawl six weeks ago today, but who's going to pay £2.25 for Holt's Bitter when you can get OBB for £2 in both Sam Smiths pubs nearby and Humphrey's pubs aren't quite as scruffy.

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    1. But you don't get karaoke in the Sam's pubs, which is obviously a big draw in Winters. Last week on the Hillgate Stagger there was a guy doing a very energetic punk version of Status Quo's "Down Down"!

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    2. I'm intrigued to hear the punk version of Down Down!!

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    3. If I could get proper beer at £2.25 I would jump at the opportunity, as long as it wasn't a Spoons.

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    4. It is, though, as has been extensively explained in the comments, not the most salubrious of pubs. And you can get proper beer at £2 a pint in the two nearby Sam Smith's pubs which IMV are much more congenial.

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  6. Now I like a scruffy pub with "Character" as much as anyone but Winters??? Despite as you say, a very interesting and unique exterior it's basic standards of cleanliness and hygiene left far too much to be desired. The carpets stank , the windows were never cleaned and the overflowing bucket of dimps by the front door would have discouraged all but the desperate. If the council have bought it, then a free 2 year lease to someone with enterprise may help the regeneration of the area far more than this stain on teh Holt's estate.

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    1. Were we in the same pub? Charm to spare. Pretty narrow view of things, Ted.

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    2. Undoubtedly we were in the same pub Dave, but I was looking at through the eyes of a long-time Stockport resident rather than perhaps a beer tourist looking for evidence of a past elegiac dream of a typical working man's pub. I don't think that it's a narrow view to expect cleanliness and hygiene in any place, however humble, that serves drink. If places like this expect to survive then they need to do more in the face of the smoking ban, cheap supermarket booze, changing demographics and the many other challenges facing the licensed trade. They could start by "donkeystoning" the step as we would say up here; it costs very little to keep clean!

      I have been drinking in Stockport for over 30 years, often in a groups including our wives. They tend to notice and are influenced by such things and will refuse to go in places like Winters.

      A comment like "blends in with that part of the town centre" is also indicative of the problem for Stockport. The town centre is somewhere that people from Stockport's wealthier suburbs shun on an increasing basis. Good riddance you might say, but in the pockets of those people lie the future of those characterful pubs you enjoy, and indeed they would enjoy if they met better standards. It is important to me to see the centre of Stockport regenerate and become somewhere that everyone wants to visit. It won't do that while people use excuses such as "the woindows are cracked, no point in cleaning them"

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    3. I was joking Ted. Lighten up.

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    4. Cleanliness aside, a down-to-earth pub attracting down-to-earth customers is unlikely to appeal to fastidious middle-class ladies. Nothing wrong with that, it's horses for courses. It's not, to be honest, a pub I would personally choose to drink in, but I am quite happy to use the two nearby Sam's pubs.

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    5. Really Dave? OK, then sorry to take the bait.

      Mudge, there is still no excuse for that level of poor hygiene. Our own "fastidious middle-class ladies" have recently drank in both the Queens Head and the Boars. My comment was more about Hillgate regeneration and unfulfilled potential. Lower Hillgate architecturally could be in Shrewsbury or Ludlow!

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    6. Stockport does have that type of potential. Hopefully more like Shrewsbury than Ludlow though! I do believe there is a unique charm to Stockport already though. Sorry to bait.

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    7. The unfortunate thing is we have the luckless SMBC overseeing things, which is about as useful as a one legged man at an arse kicking party

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  7. The other Mudgie !29 December 2017 at 07:58

    There’s no doubt that winters has "Character" something lacking from all too many pubs these days..
    I recently commented that Winters is “very tatty and rundown” but that helps it blend in with that bit of the town centre.
    Maybe “The carpets stank” but I didn’t notice as the man at the next table was eating the bag of vinegar sodden chips he had brought with him, but they were proper chips not like those that Wetherspoons sells with its ping meals. And maybe “the windows were never cleaned” because some of them are cracked.

    And can anybody prove that “you don't get karaoke in the Sam's pubs”?
    You don’t get swearing in Sam’s pubs if you believe the “NO SWEARING POLICY” notices.

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  8. Having recently reintroduced live football on TV, the Griffin is also now attempting to become a sports as well as a dining pub (no sign of the dart board reappearing in what was the vault though). Reading the below-par online reviews of the food, it might be a case of financial necessity: the last time I was there on a Sunday afternoon, admittedly for the Manchester derby, there were far more drinkers than diners.

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    1. Maybe they regret knocking it through, then. I'd still say that showing TV football is incompatible with upmarket dining, though. I haven't been in since taking a look shortly after the most recent refurb, but I did think then that the menu seemed a bit too "aspirational".

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  9. Traditionally low January takings, not helped by the nanny-state prohibitionists nagging everyone to give Dry January a go, and the Wetherspoons Sale, will as ever finish off plenty of already struggling pubs.

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    1. because pubs should be a cosy cartel and competition is soooo vulgar. Hurrah for Spoons for knowing January is a month many people would appreciate a bargain pint and offering one.

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  10. Winters is a shit hole and no one will miss it. Words like character just mean shit hole. Proves a theory of mine, though. If you shut a pub people moan about it and try and stop you. If you run it down so no respectable person would step foot in it, they'll thank you for closing it and welcome the alternate use you propose.

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  11. Bull i'th' Thorn on the A515 south of Buxton has also closed with the sign taken down. Robinson's having a new year clear out?
    TWM

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    1. The core of that pub is a historic building, so hopefully that will be preserved. It has to be said in recent years Robinson's have executed a particularly savage cull of their estate. If they're not careful they'll be left wondering where all their pubs have gone...

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  12. This pub closing epidemic has arrived in the US. A pub I recently started visiting that serves Boddington Bitter on cask and Sam Smith's Oatmeal Stout is rumored(rumoured) to be closing at the end of the year. The hospital across the street needs another parking garage.

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  13. The other Mudgie !31 December 2017 at 09:45

    Regenerating the Lower Hillgate and Underbanks area might seem like a nice idea but does the council not realise that every town needs a “Tatty And Rundown” District, just as it needs a Central Business District, and if not there might Stockport’s new TARD be St Petersgate centred on the Calvert’s Court which I think would be a bit of a shame as I’ve always found that to be one of Tim’s better venues.

    CL,
    Surely you’re not suggesting that Winters is a “shit hole” in the same league as the “absolute shit hole” the Piccadilly Wetherspoons was several years ago.

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    1. clearly absolute shit hole is worse than complete shit hole which is worse than just shit hole. that's language, mate.

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    2. The other Mudgie !31 December 2017 at 10:58

      CL,
      Yes, indeed, and for those who need everything defining more precisely we might all agree that the Piccadilly Wetherspoons was a three-star Shit Hole while winters is just a one-star Shit Hole.

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    3. The other Mudgie !31 December 2017 at 11:19

      CL,
      And while some beer buffs might just look for a dozen handpumps, or worse still an extensive menu, we mustn’t forget the ordinary working man who just wants a £2.25 pint of Holts without being distracted by the fastidious middle-class ladies from Stockport's wealthier suburbs and their pompous beer snob husbands.

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    4. Stockport still has its fair share of shitholes in places like the Egerton Arms, Chestergate Tavern, Jolly Crofter and Pineapple (Edgeley). And surely the rough-arsed working classes are entitled to somewhere to have a drink that is free from craft beer and gastro food.

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    5. The mistake middle class people like Mudge make is assuming shit hole equates to working class. It equates to run down. A friend once invited me to join his reform club and was insulted when I described the run down tatty joint as a shit hole. So I took him to a clean and well kept working mans club and he accepted his own club was indeed a shit hole.

      Most working class people are prosperous and like nice places. Working tends to mean income which affords the opposite of run down.

      The people that frequent shit holes are from all walks of life and all social classes. They have fallen from differing heights to the gutter they now frequent.

      Shit holes cross class boundaries and are not of a social class. Tramps comes from everywhere.

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    6. I am well aware of the difference between the "respectable" and "disreputable" working class, thank you very much. One drinks Peroni, the other doesn't.

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  14. Married Pompous Beer Snob31 December 2017 at 13:16

    The Stockport council doesn't realise anything. It thought that the construction of a multi million pound NCP car park by the station was a strategic "win" for the town. The growth of the TARD, which is pretty much most of Stockport centre, has occured without their intervention. St Petersgate is currently fine with Calverts and the Tap balanced by the Egerton and some botulism guaranteed kebab shops. Everybody has somewhere to go.

    No one has yet pointed out that the typical working class Public House in the Forties and the Fifties offered a standard of comfort not enjoyed at home by many and became somewhere that people would go because it offered a nicer environment than their own damp and rugrat-infested abode. Not to mention a nice warm fire and the chance of getting pissed.

    Using the Moh/Beaufort Scale of pubby shitholeness: if Winters is a one star SH and the Wetherspoons Piccadily a 3 star SH, then the, often confused with Wetherspoons, Picadilly Tavern ( formerly known as the Goose on Piccadilly) is a Seven Star Shithole.

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  15. The other Mudgie !31 December 2017 at 14:22

    Ah, right, so the Egerton Arms, Chestergate Tavern, Jolly Crofter and Pineapple (Edgeley) are likely replacements for Winters on my 2018 Stockport crawl although I remember the Pineapple as the “friendly and cosy pub” What Pub describes it as but maybe I was there too early in the day, just as I’ve never stayed in Winters late enough for the karaoke.

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    1. You're mistaking the Pineapple on Heaton Lane with the keg-only Pineapple on Castle Street, Edgeley, which WhatPub describes as "Boisterous and lively keg boozer; the heart of Edgeley. Karaoke often heard all day." Possibly the most, er, basic/down-to-earth pub in Stockport now.

      All of the four pubs I named are keg-only, so I doubt whether they'll be featuring on your crawl next year. They don't even have any of that high-quality craft keg stuff ;-)

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    2. The other Mudgie !31 December 2017 at 16:23

      Oh, no, confused by two Pineapples.
      I stand corrected, as the man in the orthopaedic shoe said, and shall certainly give those four keg only pubs a miss. Maybe an extra couple of pints of OBB instead.
      If pubs had been properly assessed during the 1970s I’m quite sure that the “splendidly squalid” Becky’s Dive Bar at Southwark would easily have earned a five-star Shit Hole rating before it “was duly closed in a flurry of public health summonses from the appalled jobsworths”.
      http://ohdearohdearishallbelate.blogspot.co.uk/2008/03/beckys-dive-bar.html

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  16. Funny , I always thought that the Egerton was a Robbies House? I couldnt understand why they had allowed that to stay open while they closed their own brewery tap, The Spread Eagle.

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    1. No, it was a Wilson's house. In the 1980s it featured in the Good Beer Guide and I remember having some CAMRA branch meetings in the upstairs room.

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  17. Talking of Wilson's, the Fireman's in Birkenhead is an ex Wilson's pub that once sold decent pints of Bitter and Mild. Now a 3 star shit hole in a 3 star shit hole town. Karaoke, a singing 'Vicar', no cask beer. Birkenhead wins hands down over Stockport in the shit hole stakes due to the lack of cask beer in 90%+ of town centre pubs.

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