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.
The next new award for this year is the Best LocAle Pub - celebrating those pubs that go out of their way to offer their customers locally brewed ales and support CAMRA's LocAle scheme which encourages others to do likewise. The top two here are very different but equally deserving outlets which have both gone out of their way to put local brews on the bar with the familiar LocAle header letting customers know that this is local beer. Ultimately the runners up slot went to Chorlton's Oddest where manager Nicola Clark has been a dedicated supporter of LocAle since the bar opened, regularly giving up four or five of her six handpumps to locally brewed ales with Bollington, Wilson Potter and Blackjack (who make house beer "Oddingtons") being favourites. Pipping Oddest at the post was the city centre's City Arms, where the balance was tipped by the fact that the pub belongs to PubCo Spirit meaning that landlord Steve Crook has a significantly more limited list of beers to choose from but still typically has three LocAles on the bar at one time. With very few LocAle beers on the main Spirit lists, Steve sources most of his LocAles through the SIBA Direct Delivery Scheme, giving him choice from those local brewers who are SIBA members. Steve also promotes the LocAle scheme through posters throughout the pub.
The final award in this round goes to the Best Community Pub - the pub which doesn't just sell beer, it really acts as a hub for the community around it, with sports teams, trips, community notice boards and many more. We are lucky that across the area we still have a great variety of pubs who serve their communities in a whole host of ways. Coming a close second this time round was The Beech Inn in Chorlton where almost every night sees a different local group meet at the pub from the Beech Band of folk artists to gatherings of Cajun musicians. However, Best Community Pub for 2013 was named as The Volunteer Hotel in Sale. Again, the pubs sports teams were considered a key part to its success but it was the overall community spirit of the place which ultimately took it over the line. The Holt's pub is rarely quiet and has the benefit of a large committee room upstairs which is regularly used by community groups. Worthy mention was also given to Northern Moor's Carters Arms with the wide range of sporting teams run by the pub including football, darts and pool coming in for praise alongside the regular charity events run by the pub, often making use of the pub's extensive car park.