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Brewer to re-open historic pub The Griffin

The Griffin dates back to 1903

Amid talk of pub closures and the price of a pint rocketing because of soaring energy prices, one of Scotland’s oldest hostelries is to reopen after being mothballed two and a half years ago.

The acquisition of The Griffin in Glasgow by Kenny Webster, owner of the Isle of Skye Brewing Company, marks his first move into the licensed trade.

The bar has operated on the corner of Bath Street and Elmbank Street since 1903 and has been acquired from entrepreneur Oli Norman for an undisclosed sum.

The Griffin has lain empty since March 2020 after being forced to close during the lockdown, and is due to reopen this week following a £40,000 refurbishment.

Mr Webster, who also owns the Black Wolf Brewery in Throsk, Stirlingshire, and North Coast Brewery in Kinloss, said it had been his intention to buy a bar for some time, but he was waiting for the right opportunity.

He will employ 15 people at The Griffin and is targeting a turnover of £1 million in its first year of trading, doubling by the end of year three.

He said: “Being a brewer, it’s a natural fit to move into the licensed trade, but I wasn’t going to acquire any pub just for the sake of it,” he said. “It had to be the right one and, when the Griffin became available, I knew that was it. It ticked all the boxes.”

Ornate features have been retained

With already one of the biggest independent brewing interests in Scotland, he has not ruled out purchasing more outlets.

His move comes amid concern that rising energy prices will see beer prices soar, with one expert predicting an “unaffordable” £20 a pint. Because punters would not pay such prices, it would mean thousands of pubs would close, said Tom Stainer, chief executive of the Campaign for Real Ale.

He told the Daily Star the cost of a pint would have to rise to “ridiculous” amounts to match the increase in running costs that pub landlords now face. He said some pubs were seeing bills go up by 500% to 600%.

Mr Stainer added that a Camra survey this summer found that more than 50% of the British public think that the cost of a pint is already unaffordable.

His warning follows craft brewer BrewDog’s decision to close six pubs over its rocketing energy bills as it criticised the Government for being “clueless”.

Six of the UK’s biggest pub and brewing companies, including Greene King and Carlsberg Marston’s have signed an open letter to the Government, urging it to act to avoid “real and serious irreversible” damage to the sector.

Undeterred, Mr Webster said new copper fonts have been installed at The Griffin, but many of the original fixtures and fittings have been restored, including the original, horseshoe-shaped oak bar and tables, while the ornate, A-Listed wood-panelled frontage has been given a makeover. 

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Interior lighting has been replaced with than 200 LED lights to save on energy costs and make its running more sustainable. 

The bar and lounge areas will serve a range of cask conditioned ales – including those produced by the Isle of Skye Brewery – as well as wines, spirits and traditional pub food, home cooked by the Griffin’s resident chef.

A separate function area – that can accommodate up to 70 people – will be offered for hire for parties and events and there are also plans to host live music events.

Mr Webster said he did not plan to make any significant changes, adding: “The great charm of The Griffin is that it never changes. People continue to go there because, over the decades, it has retained the same welcoming mix of warmth, conviviality, and familiarity. 

“Stars appearing at the King’s like it because it’s a home from home – somewhere they can go for a quiet drink after their show and enjoy themselves without being harassed or hassled.”

He added: “We never considered changing that winning formula – all we have done is to refresh its appearance. 

“When you take over a venue that’s as iconic as The Griffin, you feel a responsibility to respect people’s feelings for the place and to exceed their expectations. We’re confident we’ve done that.”

The 120-year-old haunt, formerly The King’s Arms, has long been a favoured watering hole for performers at the neighbouring King’s Theatre. Named after publican William Griffin, who owned and ran the bar in the 1960s and 70s, it has been a much-loved destination for generations of regulars, students, office workers and revellers heading to city-centre nightclubs. 

Celebrity customers over the years have included Still Game stars Ford Kiernan and Greg Hemphill, snooker players Alex Higgins and Alan McManus, comedian, and presenter Paul O’Grady – creator of alter ego Lily Savage – actors Claire Sweeney and Joe McGann and Del Amitri frontman Justin Currie.

Kenny Webster owns Isle of Skye Brewing

Phil Differ the comedian and writer and producer behind shows such as Scotch & Wry, Naked Video, Chewin’ the Fat, and Only an Excuse performed a one man show there.

The pub was also heavily namechecked in Espedair Street, a novel by Scottish author Iain Banks. 

Mr Webster said: “The Griffin is such an iconic landmark, even people who have never been there noticed when it closed and wanted to know what was happening to it.

“Since we started working on the refurbishment, there has been a great deal of interest locally, as well as all sorts of rumours and discussion online. Clearly it means such a lot to the people of Glasgow and we’re delighted to be taking it forward into the next chapter of its life.”

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