My Pub: North Riding Brew Pub, Scarborough

By Claire Churchard

- Last updated on GMT

Riding high: the pub attracts a wide mix of customers – locals and visitors, young and old
Riding high: the pub attracts a wide mix of customers – locals and visitors, young and old
After 13 years, the installation of one microbrewery, and a good few tap takeovers, licensee Karen Neilson explains how North Riding Brew Pub has won a place
in the hearts of locals and tourists alike.

The pub

We are a freehouse brewpub. The pub is quite traditional, with wooden floors and cream colours. There are two main rooms – one is a quieter room for people to talk and the other room has a jukebox, a pool table and the television. The microbrewery, set up by my husband Stuart, is downstairs in the cellar. We have a private dining room upstairs that seats 24, but we don’t do food as such because there just isn’t a great demand for it.

The building dates back to the mid-19th century and is a short walk from Scarborough beach; Peasholm Park, an Oriental-themed public open space; and the town’s hugely popular 1930s Open Air Theatre which reopened in 2010 after being closed since 1986.

Stuart and I bought the pub 13 years ago from Admiral. It needed a lot of love and attention when we moved in. It still does now. We are constantly painting and cleaning.

One of our locals is a joiner, he remade the furniture for us, the benches and the tables. We went to see it, and sit on it, in his garden, because he’d built it at home. Then he fitted it all in the pub.

The publicans

I drank in the North Riding when I was 18. It’s always been a lovely, friendly pub.

Stuart and I got into the business when my brother phoned us up one day and said ‘do you fancy going into the pub trade?’ So Stuart and I started running the Cricketers, an Ei pub that we leased, which was up the road from our current site. My brother was a silent partner. The pub doesn’t exist anymore – it’s a block of flats.

About five years after we moved to North Riding, some brewery plant became available and Stuart said ‘we could put this downstairs in the cellar’. He has quite a few friends in the brewing industry and he’d go and brew with them. So putting a brewery in the cellar was the next step. Stuart used to show people the brewing process and I’d have to go down there and chase them out!

We’ve won the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) town pub of the year award quite a few times. It tells you you’re serving a good product and looking after it well. Sometimes you want other people to win it so you can win it back.

The trade

We have all different generations coming in – from people who have just finished work to tourists and retired people who come in at certain times of the day.

Sometimes it looks like Crufts because a lot of people bring their dogs in from walking on the seafront nearby or in the local park.

There are people who come in year after year when they’re on holiday here. Funnily enough, when Stuart got back from watching cricket in New Zealand recently, he said he’d bumped into a
few different people there, and they said, ‘we go to Scarborough to watch cricket and we go to a lovely pub that’s near there. He said ‘that would be my wife’s!’. We get people coming in before cricket matches because Scarborough Cricket Club ground is up the road from the pub [and Yorkshire play some matches there].

Our locals are very welcoming to people. We’ve had people that have only come in for one and then stayed all night because the locals are so friendly. I think sometimes people in local pubs can be a bit cliquey. You walk in and they look at you as if to say ‘what are you doing in here?’ But ours are not like that. They talk to anybody and then they don’t let them leave! I think we’re really lucky with that. Although if they sit in a line at the bar, I shout at them ‘can you lot move so people can get to the bar?’.

Although they are very friendly, our regular customers don’t like change. We have two beer boards, I moved them once. I’d moved one behind the bar so it was directly in front of people while they were ordering and it was in a position where it was easier for the bar staff to update it. But people didn’t like it. They were saying ‘I can’t believe you’ve moved those boards!’ for about six months afterwards.

The drink

We have a microbrewery in the cellar and my husband Stuart runs a slightly bigger brewery a short drive away [called North Riding Brewery], so we take beers seriously.

From the downstairs brewery we’ve got Peasholm Pale Ale (4.3% ABV), which everybody likes. It’s called that because Stuart was on the phone and the person asked him what he was up to. He said ‘brewing a pale ale’ and they said ‘what’s it called?’ and he looked out the window of the dining room at the park and said ‘it’s called Peasholm Pale Ale’.

We have a second ale from downstairs called Pub Chinook (4.3% ABV).

Then from Stuart’s brewery, which is about 20 minutes’ drive out of town, we have Brewery El Dorado/7cs (4.3% ABV), Brewery US IPA (5.5% ABV), a dark beer called Brewery Mocha Porter (4.5% ABV) and Brewery US Session (3.8% ABV).

We also have Bad Seed Centennial (4% ABV), which is from the Bad Seed Brewery in Malton, North Yorkshire. A lot of the beers don’t have names, they use the name of the hop.

As a multiple winner of the CAMRA town pub of the year award, we like to make sure we look after our products and serve them well. It is hard work. I can spend an hour to two hours every day down in the cellar. You’ve got to think that you’ve got brewers that work hard producing these beers and the last thing you want to do is go to a pub where they are not going to look after it. It doesn’t last forever and you’ve got to control what you’ve got coming in and once it is on, you want it to be sold out in two days; two to three days I always say. Ours are checked every day before they’re sold. And I can guarantee, if there was something wrong with one of them, one of the locals would tell me.

We use social media, like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to highlight new beers coming into the fridges. We photograph them and put them on Instagram and we tag everybody in it so you’re promoting the brewery. We also share photos of tap takeovers on social media.

The microbrewery

The microbrewery in the pub cellar is a two-barrel operation, which we put in around eight years ago. It’s where Stuart learned to brew. Stuart has been up at his bigger 10-barrel brewery for two years now and I run the pub’s microbrewery. My son John brews on the pub equipment now, he’s 27. Stuart taught him to brew.

Stuart’s brewery, called North Riding Brewery, can cause confusion with the pub name. He gets phone calls for rooms and I get phone calls for beer! Stuart’s bigger brewery supplies [our own] beers and sometimes guest beers.

Recently it was a friend’s 60th birthday. We had the party at the pub and he came and brewed at the pub with my son as part of his present. He is also our Scarborough CAMRA brewery liaison officer. The beer they brewed was called Porn Star, because, some people joke, he looks like a porn star. He also looks like Bob Carolgees who had Spit the Dog.

The events

Magic Rock did a tap takeover in February. It was amazing because I haven’t done them for a while. We used to do them quite a lot and have little beer festivals.

Magic Rock had six casks on. One of the brewers from Magic Rock had brewed with Stuart before at his plant, so there was a connection. They also had three craft beers on as well, so they had everything. And we sold it all in 12 hours. That was seven nines and three key kegs, all gone.

To publicise the takeover, Magic Rock tweeted and we tweeted. It’s all about social media nowadays and we got a lot of traction on there. We did a countdown to the event. It was a crazy night. I love Magic Rock beers, but if I was forced to choose a favourite I’d probably say the Fantasma IPA (6.5% ABV).

The accommodation and dining room

The pub has five letting rooms, four doubles and one king size, they are clean and comfortable. It is £60 B&B per person per night. We’ve been offering B&B for about 10 years now.

We didn’t do rooms at first because we were concentrating on the pub downstairs. For breakfast, we serve a full English in our dining room upstairs. You can’t come to Yorkshire and not have a full English.

Our occupancy rate is good because we have the Open Air Theatre nearby and the Scarborough Cricket Club ground on the same street. Now they’ve started announcing the Open Air Theatre dates, we’re getting bookings in for that. There are some pretty big acts there – Nile Rodgers and Chic, Emeli Sandé, Texas and Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds. When cricket matches are on at the ground, we can get booked up straight away. There is more cricket coming up with two four-day matches in June and August. It can get very busy with all these people trying to get served at once.

We used to do food for pub customers but we started to find that people were ordering food really late and it started to slowly get quieter and quieter and, because we are so busy, there was nowhere for people to sit. Someone said to me ‘why don’t you open the dining room?’ But people didn’t want to go upstairs. I think there are so many food places in Scarborough now, that there is too much choice. But if somebody said ‘can I open a Thai restaurant in your dining room?’, I’d say yes because that’s my favourite food.

The dining room is used by a few local clubs. There’s a drama group, a chess group and a gin club that does tastings. People can also book it for birthday parties and meetings, you can seat 24 comfortably up there.

The team

There are four bar staff, one housekeeper, a brewer and me. Most people are part time but when someone is on holiday, somebody will do extra to cover for them. My youngest, Chloe, 15, will get up on a weekend and help me do breakfast for B&B guests.

The future

Abbeydale Brewery is coming to do a tap takeover on 13 April, partly because Stuart has been and brewed there, so he knows them. We’ll have six cask and three craft beers on.

I might register the brewery and start selling what we produce with the pub equipment because we do get asked for stuff for beer festivals.

If someone came in and said ‘I’d like to rent your kitchen’, I think I’d agree. I can’t do more food myself, I’ve just got too much on.

Name:​ North Riding Brew Pub

Address:​ 161-163 North Marine Rd, Scarborough, YO12 7HU

Tenure:​ Freehold

Licensee: ​Karen Neilson 

Wet:accommodation split: ​ 90:10

Awards: ​CAMRA town pub of the year 2006, 2008-14, 2017

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