Tyne up in Notts - a look at Tynemill Inns

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Related tags: Castle rock, Public house, Beer, Nottingham, Chris holmes

Tynemill's 20 pubs are a mix of traditional and modern, but all with one thing in common - quality. Kerry Rogan went to its Nottingham home.The...

Tynemill's 20 pubs are a mix of traditional and modern, but all with one thing in common - quality. Kerry Rogan went to its Nottingham home.

The Broadway café-bar in Nottingham is pretty much what one would expect for an arts cinema's refreshment area. The room is large with a high ceiling and metal-edged chairs and tables. Trance music plays while cult film posters and swirly patterns are projected onto the walls.

The customers, who range from bohemian-looking students to young professionals and again to middle-aged women and older men reading papers, are eating delicious-looking vegetarian food and drinking...real ale.

The Broadway, which is about as far removed from a traditional real alehouse as possible, is one of the pubs run by Nottingham-based pub company Tynemill.

Tynemill is owned by CAMRA founding-member and real ale fan Chris Holmes (pictured above left)​, who prides himself on providing the best beer in the area.

And although Tynemill runs the Nottingham-based Castle Rock Brewery too, its 20 pubs are not obliged to stock Castle Rock ale.

The Tynemill story began in the 1970s when Chris, who was then juggling lecturing in economics with his role as CAMRA national chairman, got fed up with unsatisfactory pubs serving poor pints.

He decided if he were to find a pub he wanted to go to in his adopted home town of Newark, he would have to open it himself.

He bought the Old Kings Head and set about transforming it into a town centre freehouse selling a range of real ales.

"We stripped the pub down to wooden floors and bare boards, like 'alehouses' are now," said Chris. "But it wasn't a design decision, it was just we couldn't afford anything else."

The issue of cost came up again when Chris and Julian Grocock (pictured on right with Chris)​, who was manager of the Old King's Head and is now managing director of Tynemill, were planning a pub menu.

"My father had not long died so I asked my mum if she wanted to come down and cook for the pub," explained Chris.

His mother agreed and moved from Manchester to provide real home-cooked food, which included the then highly-exotic lasagne and chilli, for the pub.

So the scene was set and the people of Newark seemed to like it. In 1980 Tynemill bought a second pub, then a third followed in 1986 and a fourth in 1989. Chris owns 60 per cent of the company with Julian, Tony Eastwood and Neil Kellett, along with non-executive director Pete Wilde, owning the rest.

Now the company, which has grown to 20 pubs, is set for further expansion, and Chris believes remaining true to the winning principles that were the making of the first pub, is key to the success of the others.

"If you do it right, you'll make money, but if you try to make money, you'll get it wrong," he said. "I want the pubs to appeal to a wide range of people and I want them to be places I would want to visit."

All the Tynemill pubs, which range from the traditional Vat and Fiddler next door to Castle Rock Brewery, to the more modern Broadway café-bar, serve real ale, imported continental lagers and beers, bottled beers, wines, whiskies and vodkas.

They are all mentioned in CAMRA's Good Beer Guide and many are also in the Good Pub Guide. Each of the pubs is, justifiably, proud of its food offering - sticking to the principles introduced by Chris's mum back in the 1970s, they all provide good food, cooked on the premises.

None of them has a deep fat fryer - so no chips in Tynemill pubs - and even the Vat and Fiddler with its tiny kitchen that barely has room for a sink and a microwave, offers an impressive choice of sandwiches.

Although they do have many things in common, there is no question of branding in a Tynemill pub - apart from the green tiles Chris favours as part of the décor.

The arty Broadway café-bar is very different from the wooden panelled Limelight bar attached to the Nottingham Playhouse theatre - which even had people playing the piano when I went to visit.

Different again is the flagship Victoria Hotel in Beeston, where Tynemill's offices are housed. A large, imposing pub, the Victoria is hugely popular with drinkers and diners - something Chris wanted to capitalise on.

"There are three rooms and they're all different," he said. "The first is drinking only, the second for eating or drinking and the third just for eating. But it's not a restaurant - you still order at the bar so it's much more relaxed."

One of the examples Chris uses to show the diversity among the estate is the Forest Tavern, which has the Maze nightclub at its rear. It has a late licence and has live bands several nights a week.

"We try to create places that appeal to everyone," said Chris. "We like to see men and women, business people and those who've retired, rubbing shoulders at the bar. In fact, we like all decent people."

One of the philosophies behind Tynemill is the prospect of promotion. Chris knows all the managers, tenants and staff, and listens to their suggestions and ambitions.

All the managers in the estate were once barstaff and managing director Julian himself was once a manager.

Chris has even gone so far as to buy a new pub so a former manager could become a tenant.

"It's really important for employees to know there's a career path for them and it's good for us as well," he said.

Tynemill has fingers in many pies. In December, it put its money where its mouth is by cutting the price of soft drinks - all year round - under the slogan "safe driving is not just for Christmas - it's for life". Although the company does not tie its tenants to standardised prices, many of them have followed this example.

Castle Rock has also been involved with the Wildlife Trusts. Several beers are to be brewed by Castle Rock, each named after endangered British species such as Red Admiral, a 3.8 per cent ABV bitter. Ten pence from the sale of each pint will be donated to the Wildlife Trusts.

Its latest project - the Stick and Pitcher bar at Nottingham's Highfield Hockey Centre, which opened last Friday - is its first foray into sport, but surely will not be its last.

Plans are in the pipeline to bottle Castle Rock's beers, open a brewery shop and expand the Vat and Fiddle so customers can see into the neighbouring brewery.

"I'm as proud of our bar at the Broadway as I am of one of our more traditional pubs," said Chris.

"And I'm going to be proud of whatever we do next."


Address:​The Victoria Hotel, Dovecote Lane, Beeston, Nottingham NG9 1JGTelephone:​0870 169 0733Website:​www.tynemill.co.ukEmail:​enquiries@tynemill.co.ukNumber of outlets:​20

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