Monday, 16 April 2012

The Gardeners' Arms Ongoing Saga

I'm surprised to see that I've never posted about the Gardeners' Arms on this blog. It's the nearest pub to where I live, by some distance, but in the three and a half years I've lived here it has gone through a long saga of closures and changes of management.

Three years ago, not long after I moved here, I arranged to meet a friend there one Friday night, walked over and all the lights were out and the door locked. The manager had just up and left. The next manager did really good food and beer for a short while, but wasn't getting enough customers to keep them going, so both declined badly. The following year they closed again. The daft thing is that there are loads of houses around the pub - it is off the main road, but right in the middle of a residential area. But somehow people didn't want to go out to their local pub.

Summer 2010 heralded another reopening under another new management - an experienced management team this time. They kept the pub ticking over nicely for a year, with a limited range of very well-kept real ale and excellent pizzas, along with a decent choice of other pub fare. But there were still not that many people coming, so when Greene King demanded a greater share of the profits, the management team decided that was an offer they could all too easily refuse and left.

So the Gardeners' Arms closed again and reopened again, then it closed for refurbishment. No signs outside, or on the website, to tell people what was happening, how long it was for, or anything. There wasn't even a useful indicator saying something like "nearest pub 5 minutes walk that way", which they could have done since that is also a Greene King pub.

Then they reopened. The main effect of the refurbishment seemed to be TV screens on every available wall, showing either Sky Sports or some sort of naff in-house music channel. The beer was very cheap and tasted awful, the food likewise, and the management weren't particularly friendly. I went back a couple of times (although not for food), as anyone can have initial teething problems, but it remained as bad. Although numbers there were probably as high as under the previous management's far better quality, but more expensive, regime. Which is a little sad, in its way.

That brings us to the latest change of management. At the time of the Six Nations rugby this year, I was walking past the Gardeners' and I saw they were doing a special price on Guinness during the matches. Expecting England to be tonked I thought I'd pop over and get depressed in company, only to find that the pub had just reopened under new management again.

The Guinness was a decent pint (for English Guinness), the new management were very friendly, there was live music on later that evening ... even England played a lot better than expected. The band doing the live music at the pub's special 'opening evening' were very good - if only I could persuade Facebook to list my 'likes' I would tell you their name - but pretty much drowned out by the large crowd of people drinking and enjoying themselves.

A couple of months, and several visits, down the line, the pub remains busy. The beer is fairly cheap - around £2.50 a pint for St Edmunds and Speckled Hen - but well looked after, and seems to be turning over fast enough to allow them to stock four different real ales. The food is also fairly cheap: standard chain pub fare, but decent quality and well-prepared. We particularly enjoyed their Thursday evening curries.

So, it looks like they may have found the secret of surviving in this part of Emmer Green. Keeping prices down whilst maintaining a decent quality, for the price, does seem to be paying off for them. Friendly and hard-working management helps a lot, of course. Long may they prosper.

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