A clenched first salute picked out in neon lights above the car park says plenty about a pub which has survived in an area where many have gone to the wall.
Woodhouse was once well served by its pubs, but in short order the Beer Exchange, Bricklayers Arms and Swan with Two Necks all closed down, leaving just the Chemic, which has endured turbulent times of its own to remain – determined, defiant and absolutely at the heart of its local community.
Since January, the Chemic has been run by tenant Anna Sheppard, who has breathed new life into the pub with a host of events which have drawn people through the doors and create a special sense of togetherness. “It was always my dream to run a pub,” she tells me over an afternoon pint. “We’d never run one before and were initially rejected for this place. Eventually we persuaded them to take a chance on us.”
The ‘us’ in this scenario is Anna and her brother, but – eight months on – the siblings’ business partnership hasn’t lasted the course.
They found themselves thrown in at the deep end. “We needed a lot of training in looking after the cellars, but we didn’t get around to a lot of that until after we had taken over. It was a baptism of fire.”
Anna’s determination to lay on special events for her customers was evident right from the start when she laid on a Burns Night supper shortly after taking over. “We really hit the ground running,” she says.
Since then she has added a speakeasy event with ragtime music, cocktail-making classes, music sessions – and together we leaf through an impressive album which she has put together to catalogue them all. Her singer-songwriter sessions not only feature musicians playing their own compositions, but also talking about the songs and how they were created. Her long-term goal is to bring in better-known acts.
Though new to the trade, she is well aware of the importance of giving her customers great beer. Four real ale handpulls were in action when I called though as autumn draws on, two more will come on stream. “I like to offer a good variety. We always have at least one dark beer, usually including Hobgoblin, and two pales. I know that some pubs have permanent beers, but there are so many different breweries and interesting ales out there that we change the selection all the time.”
One thing that doesn’t alter is the price. “All the real ales are £3.60, even though a few of them should really be a bit dearer than that. I like to treat people sometimes!” One tap is also reserved for craft keg, currently Black Sheep’s My Generation, and these are always rather more expensive at £4.50: “The students who come in don’t mind paying extra for a craft beer.”
Though the Chemic doesn’t have a kitchen, they buy food in specially for events such as the tapas nights, and for St Patrick’s Day, when they served a hearty Irish stew. Equally, customers are welcome to bring in food from nearby takeaways – notably the excellent Arkwright fish and chip shop next door.
Anna admits the last seven months have been “a bit of a rollercoaster” but it’s evident from my brief visit that she’s doing plenty of things well, and has the backing of the close-knit community for whom the Chemic is a second home. She’s a true enthusiast – and deserves to succeed.
Johnston Street, Woodhouse
Host: Anna Sheppard
Type: The essence of a community pub
Opening Hours: 2pm-midnight Mon-Thurs, 2pm-1am Fri, noon-1am Sat and noon-11.30pm Sun
Beers: Changing choice of real ales (£3.60) and one craft keg ale (£4.50), plus John Smith Smooth (£2.80), Carlsberg (£3), San Miguel (£3.80), Pravha (£3.90), Stowford Press (£3.60), and Guinness (£3.80),
Wines: Small selection
Food: No regular menu
Entertainment: Changing programme of live music and events
Disabled: Slightly cramped access and no special facilities
Children: No special facilities
Beer garden: Outdoor area to the side
Parking: Large area to the rear
Telephone: 0113 2457670