GAVIN AITCHISON finds it’s all change at two pubs on Lawrence Street in York
IT’S easy to forget just how grim the Waggon & Horses once was. Walk in today and you see a busy bar room, a vast beer choice and walls covered in a colourful collage of pump clips – but it wasn’t always like this. Far from it.
Not so very long ago, the place was truly, utterly, pitifully dire. A dwindling clientele and a plummeting reputation had left it in the doldrums. Being kind, you could call it a locals’ local – but only because everybody else had stopped going there.
By the winter of 2007/8, it looked well and truly doomed. It was boarded up and developers were hovering like vultures, waiting for it to breathe its last. But then… it didn’t die.
To widespread surprise, a saviour came calling. Lincolnshire brewery Batemans bought and refurbished the pub, created some B&B rooms upstairs and brought in Paul and Mandy Marshall as licensees.
In July 2008, it opened for the first time that year, with new beers to try, hearty burgers and a weekly quiz. Word spread, business grew, the beer range expanded and before long The Waggon was renowned not as a dive but as a real ale haven. When Paul and Mandy went free of tie in 2011 they were able to source even more rarely-seen beers from microbreweries around the country, and when York’s Camra branch named The Waggon its pub of the year 2012, it was the culmination of a fantastic few years’ work.
All of which means that the new landlords have a lot to build on but also a lot to live up to when they take the keys on Monday morning.
After nearly six years at The Waggon, Paul and Mandy are moving across the road to The Rook and Gaskill, which Paul has also been running for the past few months.
They are having a farewell bash at The Waggon tonight and it will then re-open on Wednesday under new management.
As Paul and Mandy move out, Tom and Paulina Renshaw move in. Tom is from Lincolnshire and Paulina from Slovakia, but they have been living more recently in Switzerland, selling ski holidays. The Waggon will be their first pub together and they are relishing the prospect.
They spoke to various regional brewers but were most impressed by Batemans. Whereas others spoke repeatedly of demographics and spending, Batemans were the only one to focus on the beer, says Tom.
Tom and Paulina will have three Batemans beers on the bar at all times, with rotating guests alongside, including from local breweries and some Tom knows well from Lincolnshire and the East Midlands. They have less freedom than Paul and Mandy did but the range should remain varied and enticing.
The couple intend to extend the hours from February 10, opening from noon every day instead of 3pm. They also plan to develop the food menu, providing classic pub dishes made in-house with local ingredients – “Sensibly priced food that goes well with a pint and a newspaper,” says Tom.
As for Paul, he says he and the family will miss The Waggon. It has been their home as well as their pub for the past few years, and they have accrued many happy memories there. But it’s time for a change and Paul says he will be happy to move to a pub where the focus is entirely on the beer, where he need not sweat over room bookings and early breakfasts and where, thanks to his own hard work, he has another cracking pub on his doorstep to visit on his nights off.
THE Old Ebor, on the corner of Drake Street and Nunnery Lane, has a charity fundraising day in aid of Yorkshire Air Ambulance, on February 8. There is an Eighties fancy dress theme.