The Fort St George in England on Midsummer Common occupies an enviable riverside location and is a building oozing with character; the snug bar at the front is a particular delight. For many years it has been a Greene King managed house, and has had managers of varying quality coming and going at regular intervals. In April 2000 GK leased the pub to Ronan McLister, a landlord of 18 years' experience, mostly in London. For the real ale fan, Ronan has installed a splendid range of beers, with GK IPA and Abbot supplemented by three changing guests - Batemans XXXB, Jennings Cocker Hoop and Badger Tanglefoot on a recent visit. A trial run of XX Mild was being planned. Ronan is also pleased with the reception given to the new menu, which ranges from snacks to reasonably priced main meals and a daily special.
Meanwhile the giant Regal (JD Wetherspoon) is a roaring success, especially with yobs on the Circuit. The two Hogsheads (Twitbread) seem to be in long-term decline, apparently through incompetence. Even though the Bath has had a crass make-over to make it more "youth-friendly", both have refused to respond to the challenge of the Regal and permanently drop their high prices to compete. Staff say they're under orders from area management to defy Trading Standards and leave pump clips for finished beers on display, rather than turning them round or removing them.
Charles Wells have got in on the Circuit action in a more effective way than Greene King. The Ancient Druids, round the back of the Grafton Centre, was rapidly converted to a clone of the All Bar One as Bar Citrus. At the same time GK completely revamped the Castle, next door to the Regal, but it doesn't seem to have caught on: it still looks more like a (very yellow) locals' boozer than a Circuit venue.
At the end of October the Durham Ox reopened as the Chariots of Fire after a complete strip-out. It has a small bar with a couple of real ales from the likes of Milton Brewery and Everards. It's a lively and friendly place, mainly aimed at the younger end of the market.
The Jug & Firkin (Mill Road) is planning to increase its range of beers.
The ever-higher rents being charged by the pub chains are driving long-serving, experienced publicans out of the area or out the trade entirely - surely a sign of trouble to come.
How long can it be before GK and others start closing "secondary" (just outside city centre) and suburban pubs?
Pete Gray retired from the Live & Let Live Free House, our Pub of the Year 1999, in early December. We wish him and his family well for the future.
GK tenancies expected to change soon include the Zebra (Maids Causeway) and the Alexandra Arms (Gwydir Street).
The Red Cow (Corn Exchange Street) got into trouble after ejecting same-sex couples caught kissing. Since then new management have taken over.
All information is believed correct at time of going to press. If our spies have got anything wrong, please contact the editor, who will be happy to print a correction.