Tapping into real ale to revive ‘back street boozer’

Gary Tilney, who is aiming to revive his pub, The Forest but soon to be renamed the Woodside Tavern, as a real ale hostelry. The pub is in Rutland Street at its junction with Rutland Road.
Gary Tilney, who is aiming to revive his pub, The Forest but soon to be renamed the Woodside Tavern, as a real ale hostelry. The pub is in Rutland Street at its junction with Rutland Road.

AT A time when many pubs are closing, Gary Tilney and Norman Bottom took the plunge this week by relaunching a “back street boozer” in Sheffield.

They are hoping the surge interest in real ale will help to revive the fortunes of what used to be The Forest in Rutland Street, at the corner of Rutland Road.

The new formula sees at least six real ales at the newly named Woodside Tavern, combined with community activities such as live music, quizzes, darts and dominoes and poetry and comedy nights.

In the current economic climate, Gary admits to being somewhat nervous.

“It’s a journey into the unknown,” he said. “There’s apprehension, but we are determined.”

The businessmen, who already run the Meadowhead Fish Bar, are hoping the pub will become an addition to the wealth of real ale pubs on the doorstep, around Kelham Island and Shalesmoor.

“The ace in the pack is that we are a whisker away from the real ale trail,” said Gary. “People travel from afar to go on the trail and hopefully we can become part of that.”

They were tenants at the Meadow Street Hotel in Netherthorpe for seven years before buying The Forest eight years ago “as a back street boozer that wasn’t doing anything.”.

It was a family friendly pub with a social club that took children to the coast a couple of times a year.

“It was always a really friendly pub,” said Norman. “People said it was like New Year’s Eve every Friday and Saturday night.”

But the going was tough as a result of the recession, cheap supermarket drink, increasing beer tax and the smoking ban.

For the past year, the pub has been run by managers. Now Gary and Norman are taking direct control again and updating their approach.

“We have been in the game 15 years,” said Gary, who is also a singer in the pubs and clubs with the stage name of Gary Philips. “We know the area and we are moving into traditional beers, on the cusp of the real ale trail.

“We are striving to keep the core values to get people back into the pub. People want to be entertained and they want to feel welcome in a safe environment.”

There are some economic factors to help them.

“It’s a free house and we don’t have to pay brewery prices for the beer. Because we own the pub, we don’t get inflated rents.”

The Woodside Tavern reopened on Monday after being closed for two weeks for a refurbishment. Singer Paul Pashley will give a performance on Sunday - and it is already sold out.

l Up to 700 real ales from across the UK will be served when the Society of Independent Brewers’ holds its annual festival at Ponds Forge. The BeerX Festival is expected to attract at least 5,000 people from March 14 to 16.