A few months ago this former Punch-owned pub was acquired by the City Pub Company, which had bought the Cork, at the other end of James Street West, a year earlier. They set about an intense 13-week refurbishment, transforming it from 70s throwback to vibrant modern pub, complete with microbrewery. The gloomy old skittle alley was turned into a eating area and open kitchen with charcoal spit and smokehouse, while outside at the back a new patio area – with a heated marquee for the colder months – was laid out.
When the Brew House threw open its doors on 30 September, it was not only difficult to find any points of similarity with what had been there before, it felt as though it had looked like this for ages. Not surprisingly, the team behind the refurbishment had an impressive track record of designing and running successful pubs. John Roberts, one of the directors of the City Pub Company, for example, was once MD of Fullers, while the Bath Brew house’s manager, Lucas Van Rensburg, came fresh from turning the long-closed St Aldate’s Tavern in Oxford into one of the most popular pubs in the city.
The most successful element of the Brew House’s design is the way in which, while being defiantly open-plan, it consists of a series of distinct areas, which flow into each other but have very distinct identities. So, even when it’s really busy, with crowds round the bar, there are two areas near the front – one with leather armchairs round an open fire, the other with wooden tables and a bar-football table – where you can escape the mêlée. Heading towards the back, there are the aforesaid family-friendly dining area and beer garden, while upstairs is a meeting room with Sky sports. And one major selling point, as far as we are concerned, is that, like all proper pubs, well-behaved dogs are allowed in the bar area.
Pride of place, however, goes to the six-barrel James Street Brewery, which greets you as you walk through the door, and produces three cask-conditioned beers for the pub. Two regular beers – Gladiator, a 3.8% classic best bitter, and Emperor, a superb hoppy pale ale weighing in at 4.4% – are joined by a third, seasonal brew. Currently on offer is Maximus, a 4.9% stout porter. For the official opening on 23 October, Festivus, a superb 5.2% ABV wheat beer, made its first appearance. Hopefully, it will become a regular feature. The brewer is Anna Schwable, who learned her craft at the 400-year-old Klosterbrauerei Ettal in Bavaria, one of the last surviving authentic German monastic breweries. Before moving to Bath, she was the brewer at Zero Degrees in Bristol.
As well as the three cask ales from the James Street Brewery, three more from local breweries are available. These change on a regular basis – on a recent visit beers from Yeovil, Braydon and Milk Street were on offer. There is also an ever-changing selection of four keg beers from the likes of Dark Star, Tiny Rebel, Magic Rock and the Wild Beer Co. For cider lovers, there is, in addition to Stowford Press, Honey’s from Midford.
A BIT OF HISTORY
The Midland Hotel, first licensed in August 1869, was opened to serve the newly-opened Midland Railway station at Green Park. The first landlord was William Henry Eyles. It had 14 bedrooms, a sitting room (with a stuffed parrot and a rosewood couch), a conservatory, a smoking room, a bar (resplendent in mahogany and copper), a bar parlour, a coffee room (with a bronzed tea urn and a framed engraving of the officials of the Midland Railway Company), a garden against the west wall and a drawing room. The drawing room was full of High Victorian kitsch, including a rosewood chiffonier, seaweed under glass, a figure under a shade, and engravings of ‘Queen Victoria’, ‘Rustic Felicity’, and ‘Sunday Morning’. In the photograph below of the floods of October 1882, a solitary figure pilots an improvised raft past the Midland Hotel. The long-gone gardens against the west wall, with statues, shrubs in large terracotta pots, and wires for Chinese Lanterns, can be seen on the right. The buildings across the road, including Trinity Church, were lost to bombing in 1942. (From Bath Pubs, published by Akeman Press)
Some pictures from the official opening .
There was a party atmosphere outside and inside.