GAVIN AITCHISON raises a glass to the couple who have finally got their pub just the way they want it.
THE routine became wearisome for Mike and Maggie Hird, and no wonder. They certainly went through it often enough.
Here’s what would happen: the pub would be sold between management companies over their heads. A new group of corporate reps would come round for a chat.
And then, time after time, they would find themselves embroiled in the red tape every publican hates, going back over invoices that had already been paid and having to re-agree supply chains – when all they wanted was to get on with providing great music and beer.
“We had battles with them because the pub companies would come in then send in the guys in suits – the ‘men in black’,” says Maggie.
“The main problem is they did not understand the old lease.”
Now though, she and Mike have had a weight lifted from their shoulders. Four months ago, after a sixth change in ownership in the space of 12 years, The Victoria Vaults in Nunnery Lane became a freehouse. And they can finally relax.
“We did not think it would ever happen,” says Mike, who has been a licensee in York for almost 40 years. “But it just came to be that Marston’s were selling off some pubs. It came at the right time for us.”
The pub has been bought by a private owner who Mike and Maggie know and who has allowed them to go free of tie, meaning they can choose their own beer and do their own thing. It is, says Maggie, “like a breath of fresh air.”
It’s great news for beer enthusiasts, as the pub has begun focusing on ales rarely before seen in York, those from Cross Bay Brewery in Morecambe. The core range of Halo (a pale ale), Sunset (blonde), Zenith (IPA) and Nightfall (best bitter) have all been available so far, all at a very reasonable £2.80 a pint.
Few come here principally for the beer though, it should be said. For years, the Vicky Vaults has been a cornerstone in York’s live music scene and most of the crowd on any given night are here for the live act.
“When we came here 12 years ago, we decided to do live music right from the start, and it’s music all the way now,” says Mike.
“Live music is our forte,” adds Maggie. “We have given starts to lots of different bands. We make the pub available to new and young bands and then later on, they come back loyally. People really love the music and they come to the pub for that.”
That’s no exaggeration. Performers from all genres, both established and untried, are on the bill every night from Tuesday to Saturday and on Sunday afternoons. The pub sometimes closes on Sunday nights and Mondays, when there are no performers, but on the music nights it’s regularly packed with loyal and devoted fans.
“That loyalty is important for city pubs like us,” says Maggie. “Two pubs have closed in this area [The Cygnet and Edward VII] and pubs are struggling. We have to really thank all the loyal musicians that stick by us and the people that come to support the pub and the acts.”
• FAREWELL to two people who have contributed a great deal to York’s burgeoning beer scene in recent years.
Jon Chappel is moving on from York Tap at the station for a new job in the Midlands, and will be replaced by his deputy Richard Cockram.
Jon has been instrumental in making the Tap a real destination pub, helping cement York’s reputation as one of Britain’s best cities for beer lovers.
In the south of the city meanwhile, Steve Bradley has left the Fulford Arms after almost three years in charge. All being well, the pub will have reopened last night under the new management.
Steve and his wife Ellisif have done a great job in their time at the pub, with varied beers, regular music and good food. Best wishes to them and to Jon in the future.