The pub was a managed house up until 2009 when I arrived in Weymouth. It was a very run down pub at that stage and we spent a small amount of money initially giving the back bar an overhaul.
We made a good start to trading in 2009. Each year turnover grew and in February 2012 the decision was made that it was time for a refit. We closed down for three weeks and gave it a massive overhaul – it’s totally unrecognisable from what it was originally.
It’s a much more nautically themed bar now. Historically it’s been a lifeboat pub, given its proximity to one of the bigger lifeboat stations on the south coast, so the refit theme made sense.
The big upshot from the refit was food sales, especially in the winter time. The previous bar was really open and bare, there was nothing welcoming about it at all. We made the atmosphere a lot more intimate and the food sales grew hugely from the strength of the refurb.
I’ve been in the pub trade since 1992 when I started off in an Irish bar in Paris. In 1996, I went back to Ireland and worked for a local entrepreneur for five or six years in various bars in Derry, where I’m from originally, and then in 2003 I moved to Oxford.
I managed two bars over a three or four-year period before moving to a high street bar in Slough and then Bath where I had a pub for three years. I was then a manager for Marston’s
in Bath for three years before I came
Cheshire Cat Pubs & Bars was a company set up by my sister and brother-in-law and they asked me if I wanted to buy in.
The first couple of purchases they had were in Weymouth, so they wanted me to come down and run the Red Lion for them. I agreed and haven’t looked back since. I’m really fond of Weymouth, it’s a very nice place with a beautiful harbourside.
Having talked to a lot of the locals, we decided to reach out to some of the main Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) guys and set up a dedicated area in the pub. We added a load of pictures dedicated to all the past and existing members. A lot of the lifeboat staff and their families now use the pub who wouldn’t have done so before.
In addition to that, we give 10p from every pint sold of our Lifeboat ale to the RNLI. At the end of November or start of December we invite them all down after their exercises, donate a cheque to them and make a big night of it.
What’s also very noticeable about Weymouth, especially since the 2012 Olympics sailing was held here, is that the level of tourism has increased. There are a lot more people coming in from the Continent and we’re getting more yacht and boat owners visiting from the sea as well – it’s my firm belief that this has come off the back of
the exposure from the 2012 games.
The Olympics brought phenomenal trading for us here. We got lucky as sailors and spectators had to walk past the pub – they made everybody walk through Hope Square, which is where I’m situated, to get to the venue. Through that, people got to see the pub.
Weymouth was inundated with people from all the different countries competing and their families. We got lucky, because of the size of our garden – 20 tables with seats for 160 people, we had the Swedes, the Norwegians, the Spanish and the Argentinians visiting us the whole way through. The Olympians themselves would go out so we had them in a couple of times.
One of the first things we did after taking over in 2009 was create a selection of about 40 or 50 rums. We have a decent selection of whiskies and a smaller selection of gin, but rum is a key theme we’ve made bigger and bigger over the years given our proximity to the sea and the harbour. We’ve currently got 107 rums in our collection.
Because of the size of our collection, most other bars wouldn’t come anywhere close to what we have – in that respect we have a lot of rums that are certainly exclusive to Weymouth if not the Dorset coastline. We’ve got a rum bible that people often ask for and flick through to give them an idea of all the different types and tastes.
As we’ve grown, the main ones that are selling best are the spiced rums. What we also do is, when people go on holiday, if they find a rum that they like and bring a bottle back, we’ll buy it off them. It adds to the diversity of our collection and we make a profit from it too.
Although our main theme is rum, we’ve also brought in an extra 20 to 25 gins along with recommended mixers and garnish. The gin offering now includes strawberries, various berries, and is selling really well.
Through the winter time I’ll have five or six staff, but during the summer time I’ll have 18, 19 or possibly 20. As we’re by the sea, the bar is extremely seasonal – the summer is when we need to make our money.
Sarah, who manages the pub for me, is a rum connoisseur. She does a little taster every now and again for staff – especially as we’re coming into season and all the new guys and students are joining us – so they know what they’re selling. She goes through all the different types of rum, what works with them and the different garnishes.
On the menu
Seafood chowder with prawns, salmon, queen scallops and plaice with granary bread – £6.25
The Red Lion’s seafood trawler board: smoked haddock croquettes, scampi, crispy squid, lime crab, chilli and garlic prawns, smoked mackerel pâté and a half pint of prawns and toasted bread – £24.95
Home-made handcrafted steak and ‘lifeboat’ ale pie served with either chips or mash and minted ‘not so mushy peas’ – £13.95
Lifeboat ale-battered haddock served with either chips or mash and minted ‘not so mushy’ peas – £13.25
Jamaican coffee: Gosling’s Black Seal Rum, freshly ground coffee and fresh cream – £3.95
Red Lion cheese board: local cheeses such as Dorset Blue Vinny, Dorset Cheddar, Cornish Yarg, and Somerset Brie feature with biscuits and chutney – individual portion £5.95, to share £9.95
We’ve got our standard food offering – local ale-battered haddock and chips, a steak and ale pie made from the Lifeboat ale, and a classic burger. All those dishes are home-made using as much local produce as we possibly can.
On the bank holiday at the end of August each year, we try to get a reggae/ska-type band to play along with our rum festival. It is basically a rum-themed event. We make up various rum cocktails and have a reggae-based, Jamaican style menu that marries up with the alcohol of choice.
There’s a local, independent festival organised for the bank holiday at the end of May then, the following week, there’s a local folk festival in the square next to the pub. What we’ve found in the past year is that our best week of trading now falls in the last week in May and the first week in June because it’s sandwiched between those two festivals. If the weather’s good, it’s a very busy period for us.
The building in front of me called Brewers Quay has been derelict for the past eight years. There are plans in the future for that to become apartments, town houses and ground-floor retail – restaurants, shops and whatnot. That’s going to be a key driver for us all year.
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