In a time of many pub closures, the Best Newcomer award celebrates that all is not doom and gloom in the pub world and that amongst the closures, we are also gaining new or re-opened outlets which are well worth waiting for. The runner up in this category was Pi (Altrincham) which opened on Shaw's Road near Altrincham Market last October. Sibling to Pi (Chorlton), the Altrincham branch continues the same successful formula of friendly service, great selection of real ales and an almost unsurpassed range of world beers, with great gourmet pies for when you are peckish. However, in what could possibly be considered cruel irony, Pi lost out to a new bar which is its Chorlton sibling's new nearest neighbour. Font (Chorlton) opened in March this year in the premises of the former Iguana Bar which had been closed for two years. With eight cask ales and a massive 25% discount to CAMRA members, Font has helped draw more people into what was already an excellent strip of pubs and bars along Manchester Road from the Sedge Lynn at the south, past Pi & Font to deNada at the north end.
Chorlton can also boast the winner of the Most Improved Pub or Bar award. Although some may consider that The Jackalope would have been a contender for the Best Newcomer award having only taken on the moniker in February, the Barlow Moor Road bar remains under partly the same ownership as its former name Escape. However, the transformation in this small bar since Lee Gorton joined Rob Loader and decided to revamp the bar has been remarkable. Although Escape offered one or two real ales and quality was usually reasonable, Jackalope now offers four ales from some of the hottest names on the local and wider brewing scene with Salford's First Chop being near permanent alongside RedWillow, Arbor, Magic Rock, Fyne Ales and more. A regular line up of live music and other events has helped draw in the customers to keep the ale turning over regularly and making sure the place is rarely quiet. There's even the regular "Jackgammon" nights - while poker tournaments have been a recent fad in pubs, how many have tried backgammon tournaments to bring the customers in?
In a complete contrast, the runner up in the Most Improved category is a traditional back street local. Since Yvonne Hartley took over The Railway on Chapel Road in Sale, the once lacklustre pub has seen a turnaround in its fortunes. It is busier with locals returning, has more atmosphere and is turning over more real ale meaning that the quality of the offering is much improved. The work of Yvonne and her team is testament to the importance of good management to traditional pubs and how there is hope for any seemingly dwindling pub in the right hands. If other landlords want to see how to improve their pub, they could do worse than look at what is happening in Sale.