The Trafford & Hulme Branch Pub of The Season for Autumn 2014 is perhaps one of the most unusual "pubs" in the whole of the branch area but one that has made an impression in just six months of trading. Located in former office space above an estate agent's office, the only sign of the Stretford Sip Club's existence is a hand painted wooden sign in the window adjacent to the anonymous door of the premises on the corner of Barton Road and Kingsway.
Step inside the door and assorted casks stacked under the stairs are the first clue to what lies above. Climbing to the top of the stairs and you may think you've been mistaken and you have entered into somebody's lounge complete with sofas and dining table - it's only when you venture to the rear room that you will find the bar complete with it's two handpumps and well stocked fridge.
Opening in April 2014, The Sip Club was the realisation of the dream of landlady Heather Garlick, a born and bred Stretfordian who wanted to bring to her hometown the kind of place she would like to socialise at herself - a cosy and welcoming space offering only genuine quality beers & wines. How the Sip Club has embedded itself into the local area in such as short period of time is remarkable and testament to the vision and hard work of Heather and the band of family, friends and suppliers who have embraced what she set out to do.
Real ale has been at the heart of the dream from the start - initially the only beers available were from the cooled casks which sit atop the bar (no cellar here) and a small selection of bottles. If the Robin Hood pub over the road were to be believed, there was 'no demand for cask ale round here', but the Sip Club has proved that this to be the easy get out phrase that it usually is. The initial expectation of selling cask ale at weekends only quickly fell by the wayside, with demand requiring the casks be changed regularly and the two handpumps being in action all week long and on occasion a third ale being served by gravity from the bar top.
Localism is the key to almost everything the Sip Club does - almost all the cask ales sold are from local breweries, the bottled ale selection comes from Bury's Brightside brewery & bottled cider comes from the Moss Cider Project and Dunham Press. Although bottled lager was introduced some time ago to meet demand, the Club has only just succumbed to offering draft lager, but yet again, Heather has gone for local produce with the new font dispensing Outstanding Pilsner, brewed in Bury.
Meats come from Wrigley's butchers in Stretford Mall, breads from Stretford Bakery, cheeses from Burts Cheese of Altrincham & Preston's Mrs Kirkhams…. Basically if the Sip Club can source it locally, it will. The bar recently hosted a weekend long craft fair entitled Made In M32 with over a dozen local small businesses selling their locally made wares with the event such a success that it will be repeated in November.
To quote from their own ethos statement - "We don’t believe in passing your hard earned cash over to faceless conglomerates but instead choose suppliers producing brilliant quality products that are a labour of love! We see our role as creating a community hub and hope to provide services not otherwise available in Stretford."
It is an approach which has clearly touched a chord with the Stretford community as every event which is held in the Sip Club's function room is oversubscribed - from wine tastings to guest speakers at the Sunday Soap Box and the regular supper club evenings - they area all packed. "Hidden gem" is an overused phrase but it is rightly appropriate for the Sip Club. Even after six months, locals are still climbing those stairs for a curious look and discovering that the pub they've been yearning for is right in their midst.
The Pub Of The Season award recognises not just the Sip Club's commitment to serving top quality local ales in the heart of Stretford but all that it brings to and does for the local area. It is a well deserved accolade for a unique 'public house'.
The presentation evening will be held of Friday 26th September from 8pm. All are welcome to come along to celebrate