A Long-empty bar in York could be re-born as a major tourist attraction.

Plans have been submitted to City of York Council for a change of use at the former Society Lounge and Bar at 1 Rougier Street.

The venue has lain empty since the start of the pandemic, apart from a spell as the Blueberry Academy Pop-up shop, selling gifts and hardware.

Now, its owners are seeking planning approval for the empty bar to house a distillery, visitor attraction, whilst still having a bar area.

It would become the new home of the Hooting Owl and Curious Cat Distillery, which is currently based at Barmby Moor, near Pocklington.


Plans submitted to City of York Council says the new operation would create seven full-time and ten part-time jobs, with the facility open daily from 9am to 11pm.

Hooting Owl general manger Mark Stredwick told the Press that the bar owners Russ Brown and Nip Judson of McMillan York Ltd have submitted the planning applications, which also include new signage.

The pair are well-known to the York nightlife scene, with them running Club Salvation, which is almost opposite Society Bar.

Hooting Owl was set up in 2018 by former soldier and businessman Dominic M’Benga.

It produces a range of gins, which are sold in pubs, shops and online.

Hooting Owl also owns a large chunk of Manchester company Curious Cat, which distils gins and rums.

Mark says Hooting Owl has been seeking a new, larger space for its operations and Dominic knew Russ and Nip.

“They were looking to sell to North Star (as part of their Roman Quarter plans) but that fell through. Dom said it has all the space they are looking for.”

York Press:

He continued: “It’s a distillery first. The plan is to have that on the dance floor. Then we have the L-shaped bar area. It would be open in the day and early evening as a bar and shop. Ultimately, we do plan tours for tourists.

“There is a room upstairs which can hold 60. We will use that as an events space, for private parties, corporate hospitality and for business networking groups.

“We don’t have any plans to do food at the moment, but that’s possibly in the pipeline.”

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Mark says the distillery has been working with YorkBID and Make it York on its proposals, which have yet to be approved by City of York Council.

He hopes the development will be able to open early in 2024.

Mark, who used to run the popular Brewtown Tours before the pandemic, added: “It’s a great little area. We have the Malmaison hotel nearby, it’s at the back of the Grand Hotel and the Radisson Hotel is just around the corner.”