Pub of the Year This award, sponsored by PPL, aims at recognising the venue that has regularly staged the most entertaining and well-attended dance events during the past 12 months. Judges are looking for evidence of a business-like approach, including market research, promo campaigns and investment in equipment The Bedford Balham, South London Chris Scholey's date with destiny occurred in August 1999. There is no other way of describing what happened when he saw the Bedford for the first time. He says: "I stumbled on it one Friday night and thought this was the pub for me. So I returned on the Sunday and asked if I could have a look around and was told: Only if you want to buy it'." On the Monday, he did just that and acquired the lease from Unique Pub Company for the Victorian-built pub, which had started life as a hotel. Chris recalls: "There was something that you knew instinctively was right about the place. It was just like an Aladdin's cave with its theatre, ballroom, and bars." What wasn't quite right was the upkeep of the building, which Chris says hadn't really been touched for the past 25 years. "It was run down and known locally as The Deadford'," he remembers. One of his first tasks was to remove the grime that masked the Bedford's imposing bright red brickwork façade and then put up new signage and lights. What he, together with general manager Stuart Farish and manager David Loughman, didn't want to interfere with was the Bedford heritage, which included the Banana Cabaret nights in the theatre. These have been a feature of the Bedford for 20 years, making the pub one of the first to stage comedy nights on a regular basis. It is credited with providing the starting point for many a comedian, including Frank Skinner and Eddie Izzard, and the walls of one of the staircases leading to the theatre are adorned with photographs of celebrities who have appeared on stage. Prior to Chris and his crew's arrival, the theatre and the ballroom were under-used with the ballroom only occupied for two nights and the theatre for three. Now, the ballroom is alive with music and dance six nights a week and catering for line, swing, jazz, salsa, tango and adult dance classes, together with a children's session on Saturday afternoons. The theatre is also busy and plays host to events as diverse as disco, quiz nights, gospel choirs, swing bands, fringe theatre, poetry with music nights as well as the famous comedy nights. The resurrection of the Balham venue has been recognised by the likes of the London Evening Standard it was voted the newspaper's Pub of the Year in 2002 and Radio London, which has hosted programmes from the pub. Another attraction is that customers can move from place to place within the 16,000 sq ft multi-roomed building and discover a different atmosphere or different offering in each room. Chris confesses that when he took over the pub, "we actually learned on our feet because we had no understanding of how the building would run. On our first comedy night, we had no plates for the food and 250 people, so we had to run all around Balham getting plates from wherever we could." He says this is just one example of the tremendous effort and enthusiasm shown by the 50-strong team at the Bedford. Since its official re-opening in November 1999, takings have reflected the venue's ever-rising popularity. In the first month, it took £42k. In August 2000, that month's revenue had risen to £118k. The monthly takings for August 2001 and August 2002 were £142k and £192k respectively and turnover for the past year stood at £1.6m. Chris's commitment to the Bedford can be judged by his remark: "When we bought it, I said that it made sense of my whole life. I've worked at places like the Savoy, Connaught, on the Stock Exchange, even built go-cart tracks, but I've found nothing as absorbing as the Bedford. As long as it makes a pound and covers its costs, I'm happy." Need to Know Blackpool, Lancashire When you want to stage the best disco nights out in town it pays to ensure your pub puts itself firmly in the spotlight. So what better way than to link up with the local commercial radio station as an effective means of putting yourself in the shop window. The partnership between Blackpool's Need To Know pub and Fylde's own local voice, Radio Wave, guarantees events at the town centre pub always get maximum publicity. "Our links with Radio Wave have provided the perfect publicity outlet for NTK over the past couple of years," says pub manager Michael Sugden. "The station puts on live broadcasts from the pub when we have a major promotion and also help us with other projects. It's an excellent working relationship that has made NTK the number one local choice for people after a fun night out," he explains. NTK, which is owned by Lancashire brewer Daniel Thwaites, needs to compete with intense local competition in Blackpool town centre. Many rival outlets are owned by high-profile national club and pub operators, but Michael says NTK keeps one step ahead by offering a friendly, personal hospitality package to its customers. "We have retained the same customer base because we keep to the same music and disco format. Our core music offering comprises chart, dance and party music. It means our customers know what they are going to get and they keep coming back for more." He continues: "A policy of minimal entry charges and changing drinks promotions ensures customers always feel they are getting a good deal here." NTK can accommodate 850 people at full capacity and scores of customers are known personally to Michael and his staff. "We work hard with the police and the local licensing forum to create a safe atmosphere at NTK. People coming here know they will be looked after and it helps to foster great loyalty from customers." Discos operate seven nights a week at the pub, in the hands of a resident team of DJs, which are occasionally supplemented by guest appearance from other local disc jockeys. "We have drinks promotions every night of the week and the fact we only charge for admission at weekends goes down well with the regulars," he adds. Long-serving staff is also one of the main reasons for the pub's success. Many have worked at the NTK for the whole of the three years since its conversion from a traditional town-centre boozer to major night-time venue. "Even our doormen are long-serving which means they know the local scene and are able to monitor the type of people coming through the door. But we get very little trouble here, thanks, in the main, to the great party atmosphere, which puts people at their ease and removes any tension," Michael explains. The NTK music offering is controlled from one main DJ console box, with a sound system extending to all parts of the venue through speakers and television monitors located around the pub. On the busiest nights, the disco extends to the pub's first floor area, but, in midweek, this level is unused or reserved for private functions. In March, the NTK will close for a major £350,000 refurbishment, which includes installing state-of-the-art disco facilities and cutting edge interior design. "We will have the best-set up in town, which will take NTK into a new era with an increased capacity of 1,000 and the best music and entertainment that Blackpool has to offer," Michael promises.