Like many small market towns, Bridport has seen changes to many aspects of local life over the last decade. Fergus Byrne has been looking at changes in an industry that thrives on bringing people together
A recent suggestion of a pub crawl around the centre of Bridport resulted in one smart alec suggesting that some of us might be a bit too old for that sort of adventure. Not so—of course! But the comment did set me off researching how the hospitality industry has changed in the town over the years—and it turns out that a pub crawl today might be substantially quicker than in the past. According to closedpubs.co.uk, who specialise in documenting the lost pubs of the UK, as many as 62 of them have closed in Bridport town centre since the beginning of the 19th century. And since over 20 have closed in South Street alone, a pub crawl from the Town Hall to Palmer’s Brewery might have been a challenge for anyone in the past.
Back in the day, pubs in South Street such as The Antelope or The Balaclava or even The Garibaldi Inn offered a focus on drink rather than fine food. Today, although the excellent Woodman still serves the drinkers in South Street with a diverse range of beers and cider, it stands between the ghosts of The New Inn, which was present in 1911, and The Volunteer, which closed in 1996. Other South Street pubs included The Bell Inn, The Castle Inn, The Hit or Miss Inn and The Shoeing Smith Arms—to name just a few. Today it’s up to The Woodman, The George and the Beach & Barnicott to keep the locals imbibed.
But from the mists of the past, a new energy has emerged. Although the ghosts of pub goers and their old landlords may trawl the pavements, new businesses with a new style and modern offer are breaking through—despite, if not as a result of, the coronavirus pandemic.
Directly across the road from The Woodman, the ever popular Soulshine has new ownership in Goose & Badger, an initiative that started in the first lockdown when two River Cottage alumni Joel Gostling and Andy Tyrell found themselves out of work and with a crazy idea to start a pop-up in mid-lockdown! They began at the Pop up Kitchen in Lyme Regis and put together a 6-course menu showcasing local foods supplied by the friends and growers they’d met over the years. Lockdowns continued to hit and they opened and closed their doors more times than they can remember, but they never lost their passion.
The last lockdown saw them shift gears and move their pop-up to Soulshine with a new burger takeaway menu. Quickly finding a local customer base that claimed they were ‘the best burgers they’ve ever had’ Goose & Badger continued to come up with new ideas and menus. By the start of 2021 they had secured such a great reputation at Soulshine, they were approached to take over the Bridport cafe, and soon after became the new owners.
Running Soulshine, along with their team, has seen the Goose & Badger pop-up take a back seat and they have replaced it with permanent menus for breakfast, lunch and weekend dinners in their new home. It’s just the start for the Bridport boys and the newly renovated Soulshine, and they have big plans. Soulshine regulars will be pleased to see the smiling face of original founder Lisa Loader staying on for a while to welcome customers. Soulshine is open Wednesday to Sunday 9:30-2:30 and Friday and Saturday nights 6-9pm (bookings only 01308 422821).
Over on West Street, the popular Pursuit of Hoppiness stands opposite two businesses which once housed The Star Hotel. The hotel was damaged during a 1942 air raid when the publican’s son, George Hecks, was killed. Today The Fridge and Chickenland & Pizza present a somewhat different offer. Behind the Pursuit of Hoppiness in North Street on the corner of Rax Lane, a building next to the conservative club was home to The Mason’s Arms. It was granted change of use in 1989 and after a spell as a popular youth centre now comprises offices and a gallery space.
But the Pursuit of Hoppiness harks back to an era when ale was the attraction for those venturing out of an evening. Owner and founder Alasdair McNabb took the brave decision to see if he could get change of use to reconfigure a small mobile phone shop into a pub. He explained that the concept for The Pursuit of Hoppiness came about after visiting multiple micro-pubs in Yorkshire and Lancashire. These were wet let, independently owned and free of tie pubs built in old Post Offices, hairdressers, train stations and similar small buildings.
‘The focus is always on providing interesting and ever-changing ales and ciders in a relaxed and unique environment’ says Alasdair, ‘which is what we’ve tried to do.’ Before its life as a phone shop the building’s history included time as a barbershop on one side and a tobacconist on the other, separated by a glass panel. Alasdair has met people who have worked and shopped there in its different guises over the years ‘and even a man in his sixties who remembers making the front door as a young apprentice carpenter’ he says.
Since opening in 2016 they have sold close to 8,000 different beers but they’re always looking for more—hence the name. ‘The great thing for me’ says Alasdair ‘which makes the micro pub concept such a great one, is the individual stamp which each owner puts on their business. You can spot the tell-tale traits of a micro-pub a mile off, but each one is rubber-stamped with the personality of the owner. This is the pub you’d find at the bottom of my garden.’
In the post Covid environment, Alasdair hopes to see hospitality venues permitted to continue utilising pavements, parks and dead-end streets for outdoor seating.
Heading east, towards Dorchester, it is now over 250 years since the Marquis of Granby Inn opened up opposite The Bridge House Hotel in East Street. It is said that the pub name, The Marquis of Granby, refers to a philanthropic 18th-century soldier who, concerned about the lack of financial help for wounded servicemen, bought pubs for them so they could make a living. He is said to have died with exceptionally high debts…
Today, the garden of the Bridge House Hotel features The Potting Shed, an initiative that feels a bit like a sophisticated all-year-round festival eatery with a warm and friendly atmosphere. The Potting Shed was the brainchild of Bridge House owners Sara and Marcus Edwards during the first lockdown. Having already made huge improvements and updates to the hotel and cellar bar, they moved their attention to the beautiful but under-used walled-garden and gave a new lease of life to the rickety old shed in the corner. Joining up with Lloyd Brown and David Smith of popular cocktail company Dark Bear, they also re-planted the garden, and added covers and heaters for the cooler days and evenings. The mix of special cocktails and pop-up food has been a huge hit with locals and visitors alike. Current offers include ‘Fire in the Shire’ serving vegan Pizzas on Wednesdays; Antoni Strillozi, renowned Italian chef serving authentic dishes every Thursday and Niamh O’Mara and Charlotte (Chully) Evans of Bowlcut serving up delicious hand-cut noodles every Friday night and Saturday lunchtime.
Chully explained a bit about the ethos behind Bowlcut, pointing to the pair’s use of ‘local, seasonal, and organic produce where possible.’ Their dishes are inspired by the East-Asian street-food style of vibrant and complex flavour profiles. ‘Think sweet, salty, umami-rich sauces with fresh, tangy toppings’ says Chully. ‘We have both always been incredibly passionate about food. After years of separately developing our own recipes and with a new perspective after going through the lockdown, we decided to come together, realising that our vision was very similar and that it was possible to make it a reality.’ As well as The Potting Shed, Bowlcut are popping up in Lyme Regis on Thursday nights. Phone 07551 855878 to book.
The South West and particularly the area in and around the Marshwood Vale has seen innovative chefs, entrepreneurial food producers and imaginative retailers blaze a trail in changing the face of the hospitality industry in recent years.
From the pioneering Dorshi in Bridport to the sophisticated yet simple ethos of Robin Wylde in Lyme Regis; from the world-class wines of Furleigh to local ciders such as Dorset Nectar; Baboo Gelato to the organic flours from Tamarisk Farm, local produce and skilled creativity has given the industry the sort of lift that makes it quite unique and sought after. Long may it continue.