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Sleuth 25/07/2008

Smoking ban closes classic city pub, Pride v2, Mark Ronson and Northern Quarter to be completely tiled

Published on July 25th 2008.

Sleuth 25/07/2008

Classic pub chokes on clean air
“We’ve been down £60k since the start of the smoking ban,” said Damien Smethurst, landlord of one of Sleuth’s favourite authentic drinking dens, The Castle, on Oldham Street. “We only had the area out the front for smokers, no garden or anything, so it’s hit us hard.” Thus a pub which has been nominated for the Pub of the Year 2008, will die today, sunk under a welter of bills and lack of business. Sleuth will miss it. It was a bit of a mess (blame Robinsons, the brewery for not spending refurb money) but it was a homely pub and a haven for unreconstructed Northern Quarter drinking: plus a bolthole of musicians such as Liam Frost, Stephen Fretwell and mosaic man Mark Kennedy to name a few. Sleuth wishes the best of luck to Damien.

The Castle part 2
When a pub goes, a lot goes with it. Often a lot of individuality. At the Castle you got a mosaic of Kathy, Damien’s mum, on the wall over the bar with her ashes worked into the cement (oh yes, indeed), a big Czech Republic flag (the pub had been adopted by the latter fans in the 1996 Euro Championships), a snug with Damien’s maverick selection of books, a big music room, a urinal flushed by an external drainpipe, a complete range of Stockport brewery Robinsons ales (this is the only Robbies pub in the city centre) and a resident ghost.

Pretty American girls
Two stories amongst many stick out for Sleuth during the Smethurst’s tenure at the Castle. Once Sleuth had the good fortune to take twenty gorgeous American air hostesses around Manchester. They wanted a real pub, so Sleuth went to the Castle. As beauty after beauty sashayed from the snug past the indie band in the music room to the Ladies (unfortunately sited on the other side of the stage) the band slowly ground to a halt, “we can’t fucking compete with this?” said the singer. Later one of the hostesses said, “Your English sense of humour is like so funny, are you born with it or do you learn it?” Sleuth thought for a minute, “We learn it. There are classes at school. I was always late for Timing.”

Grubby British journalists
On another occasion a man in his fifties in a raincoat sidled over to Sleuth in the Castle. He had voice like a car starting up. “Hey, you’re Sleuth aren’t you? I write for the Daily Sport round the corner. Always fancied doing a bit of food writing and was wondering if I could do some for you. I know my ravioli from my ratatouille.” Sleuth looked unconvinced. “Listen, I could take a pretty bird, get a few photographs, spice it up a bit,” said the Sport hack desperately.

The Village battle won
As the Castle dies, Mark Cain and his crew at Velvet are celebrating. They have won planning permission to open a 20-bedroom boutique hotel above their well-known and well-loved bar and nosherie on Canal Street – click here - for the story. The timetable for opening is ambitious, sometime in December. Nigel Martin-Smith of Essential and Queer who led a campaign to get permission refused didn’t turn up and made no representations at the hearing. Take that, as Cain might say.

Pride splits
Meanwhile Sleuth is hearing rumours that Manchester Pride might have a competitor this August. The festival, once a byword for chaos and back-biting, has been run far more efficiently in the last couple of years. Seems that still doesn’t satisfy some locals, who are planning a fringe alternative this time around in protest against what they see as the increased commercialisation of the main event. Sleuth isn’t holding his breath and doesn’t quite know what they mean but has sent out a Confidential correspondent to get the full story. We’ll keep you posted.

Sleuth and jazz
This is a picture of Manchester Jazz Festival in St Ann's Square. Sleuth thinks jazz is best enjoyed photographically.

Odder Ronson grinds to a halt
Sleuth was out last weekend when Jay-Z made his surprise visit to Ithaca restaurant and bar (click here). Mark Ronson also made a Manchester stop-off at the slightly more random Odder on Oxford Road. The trans-Atlantic music producer and professional mumbler mingled with the regulars who paid a fiver each for the pleasure. He was joined by rapper, Wiley who gave a rendition of 'Wearing my Rolex' wearing a Casio. By 1am, Sleuth noted that Ronson was looking worse for wear. So still wearing the same sweaty outfit he’d worn at the Jay Z gig and after several Odder sound system failures, he decided to call it a night. Rumour has it that the pair then joined Jay-Z at Ithaca for £100 shots and no doubt a complimentary Rolex.

Borelesque act
The Circle Club hosted their second birthday party last week with a burlesque treat in store for guests. The night was good fun, but shame that the burlesque act, a Manc version of Ditta Von Teese came only equipped with her tease. Despite several requests this girl was not for moving. Not a hip jiggle, not a nipple tassle toss. Nothing. She sat like an ice-maiden in her giant champagne flute. Sleuth asked her for a little wiggle at least. She just managed enough movement in her mouth muscles to say: “I was told I just have to sit here until 1 o'clock.” Sleuth swears she nearly nodded off at one point.

Probing investigations
Sleuth was at the press conference for new Greater Manchester Chief Constable, Peter Fahy, on Wednesday – who takes up his position in November. He couldn’t believe the quality of questions from Manchester’s finest and the nationals. Some bright spark in the press pack asked this gem, “Do you think it important that a man in your position has an unblemished past?” The ex-Cheshire Police boss looked puzzled by the inanity of it all. Confidential bon viveur, Gordo, who’d come along for the ride, leaned over to Sleuth and whispered, “What? He’s hardly going to say, ‘Well I’ve been a bit shifty but those three deaths in that Knutsford nick weren’t my fault …honest. Now has anybody got any blow?’”

Tiling solutions
Sleuth asked the new Chief Constable if he could send a copper down Spear Street and Back Piccadilly near the Confidential offices at least a couple of times a year. The last time one visited Queen Victoria was on the throne. The open drug-taking and dealing round here is prolific: an enterprising policeman could collect collars for fun. Fahy promised to free as many police from desk duties and get them out and about. We'll keep an eye out for them. Not that it’s just the dealing. Later that evening Confidential Chairman – Chairman How – said the solution to the mess that takes place in the Northern Quarter back streets is to tile them right across the street and up the walls to head height. Then we could just swill ‘em down.

p>Sleuth’s environmental blackmail of the week
Message in Link cash machines about not taking a receipt – ‘Save the Planet, save paper’. Yep, not getting a receipt should do it. Wonder if it saves the banks a bit of money on buying paper as well?

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39 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

EmmaJuly 25th 2008.

Nonsmoker - grow a soul.

MaggieJuly 25th 2008.

sorry to here this I have'nt been in myself for a little while but have very fond memories of the Castle going back nearly 25 years but it was never the same after the smoking ban people just moved on.

John S. LockeJuly 25th 2008.

Regards and condolences to you Damien...The Castle was an institution and will be sadly missed.

NonsmokerJuly 25th 2008.

If a few grubby little pubs close in Manchester a result of the Smoking ban that can only make the city a better place. That and the congestion charge, and we might eventually to breathe clean air in Manchester.

loraJuly 25th 2008.

This truly a shame!but unfortunately more and more pubs and even clubs at he end are going to close! Smokers in this country are enough if not the majority and really will not take for much longer for their right to entertainment stopped. I myself have minimisied the times I go out because unless the place offers a well covered space outside for rain and horrible UK weather, I cannot get satisfaction by going out for a drink and then to leave my drink inside just to goout shivering standing in the street to have a cigarette. And I know a lot of people who do more and more the same as me. We just gother home and drink a nd smoke and feel FREE!!!So I think this is just the beggining of closing places down due to depts cause of low clientel. If something is not done for either some tolerance for smokers or proper outdoor warm and top covered places in pubs and clubs, owners and economy will suffer!!!

non-smoking majoritarianJuly 25th 2008.

To Harry (and other contributors to the philanthropic tobacco companies) you're missing the point, this particular issue is nothing to do with big bad government taking our freedoms away, it's about one very simple issue, the right of the vast majority of people who are non-smokers to not have to breathe in foul and carconogenic tobacco fumes.

NickJuly 25th 2008.

It's many years since I went to the castle but I remember it fondly. I think the point here is not just the smoking ban but the fact that Robinsons (as Sleuth say)don't invest in there pubs. I am positive the Landlord did his best but without any investment how does he compete in a difficult market. Unfortunately this is true for the whole of the Robbies estate the pubs are a disgrace and most have not been touched in years. I know there is an argument that this brings character but outside toilets in 2008 please!!!

AnonymousJuly 25th 2008.

Anti Pride is not new this year! its been building up over the past couple of years and is an alternative arts, music and cultural celebration than the big bars of C/anal treet encircling themselves in an overpriced and leaving out bubble, pumpin out rubbish music coupled with equally as bad service and acting like the only aspect to being gay is to be loud and lagging behind the times. Manchester has an amazing array of personalities and Anti Pride in no way means to kill the normal mass produced pride but to enhance the aspect of our city that weekend by offering something with a different slant. Myself, I will be attending events at both. They are both well spirited and its a chance for us to get our mince on wether thats down C/anal Street or in the Northern Quarter!LET TEH MINCING COMMENCE!!

JonathanJuly 25th 2008.

Gasworks coke that is the most sensible comment on here. I praise you and the phrase 'urban necrosis'.

kittyJuly 25th 2008.

I presume 'The Castle' is the same one nominated for 'Best Pub' in this year's food and drink awards. I think this says everything about the nominations.

TimJuly 25th 2008.

What other problems did The Castle have?It's sad news for Manchester. And sad news for my weekend - I was planning to see Sandbox there on Saturday night!

4 QuartersJuly 25th 2008.

Spawny... comments noted, now much clearer, makes more sense... out of interest, how come you didn't pull the plug way before the 40k, that kinda dosh could haunt you long time

Jack FoleyJuly 25th 2008.

Isn't it about time the selfish Nigel Martin-Smith grew up and accepted that there are other business interests in the village than his own? Every application, new bar, club or club event seems to be objected to by him, and on what grounds? He hates the thought of competition.

AlJuly 25th 2008.

What is it with the crap burlesque acts that seem to be at every party at the moment? I was at the circle and to be honest, there were some much nicer looking women in the place than the bint in the giant glass!

John ClarkeJuly 25th 2008.

I suspect that reports of the Castle's demise may be premature. It should be remembered that Damien was just a tenant of the pub that is owned by Robsinson's. All he has done is, presumably, surrender his tenancy. Robinson's will try and re-let it and, in the interim, probably instal a temporary manager. If they took the chance to carry out a bit of a refurb then that wouldn't go amiss.

davyJuly 25th 2008.

alas don't worry! 'tis sure to be replaced by a much needed starbux..(u know, oversized mugs of hot milk and esp overpriced for the pleasure of the obese) certainly more healthier than the weed, but about 200% more costly!

KelvinJuly 25th 2008.

Pride is absolutely awful ... I steer well clear every year. The Village is characterless, overpriced and definitely not a "community". I hope that it finds itself and hope that the possibility of limited closing times may be the kick up the arse it sorely needs. The bars/pubs should start considering their offerings and try to make them somewhat different. I'm sick of identi-kit bars with a poor selection of beers. I far prefer some ofthe bars in the Northern Quarter.

FrankJuly 25th 2008.

If people really like somewhere then they will go whether or not they can smoke in a beer garden or outside or anywhere, if they don't like it then they wont. To all the people who said they will miss it why don't they talk with their wallets and get down and spend some money! Instead of moaning it's going

EWJuly 25th 2008.

Nooooo... Not the Castle! What a shame. Apart from anything else, it's helped so many bands to start out over the years. Once more the smoking ban continues to get on my t*ts. Best of luck to Damien.

The Truth HurtsJuly 25th 2008.

Hey. Nick - check out the Manchester Food and Drink festival website for the Best Pub entries....out of the 6 pubs 3 of them are Robinson's pubs and 1 of them is the Castle.... action speaks louder than words....

Harry BrowneJuly 25th 2008.

Nonsmoker, you're missing the main issue. Left-wing politicians take away your liberty in the name of children and of fighting poverty, while right-wing politicians do it in the name of family values and fighting drugs. Either way, government gets bigger and you become less free.

sproutJuly 25th 2008.

some very happy times in the castle. first having convincing the regulars that just because i lived in town (right opposite this fine establishment - cath used to bring me drinks 4am with her back to the oldham st cctv and "bring the empties back in the morning") and wore a suit to work i wasn't a $%*@?+. RIP cath/castle and best of luck damien. x

Gasworks cokeJuly 25th 2008.

It's not the smoking ban that killed the Castle, it's the urban necrosis that as swept along Oldham st., there isn't a great deal to be had up there unless your in the market for a new dildo or some book on black magic. It wouldn't have been so bad if Netto would have opened a new "Super store" where Cantor's was, at least there would have been some life, but I'm sure it'll look great with the window all blacked out and a blue neon sign on it.

AnonymousJuly 25th 2008.

Yes Dave, you're probably right. Before anyone gets into a big row about the smoking ban. I think that was the final nail in the coffin but the Castle had other problems too.

AnonymousJuly 25th 2008.

I can count the number of times ive been to a pub on two hands since the smoking ban...I simply CANNOT do without a pint etc and a ciggie. So I stay in or go somewhere with a roof garden. sad but true

Castle regularJuly 25th 2008.

Frank, there's an kernel of truth in what you're saying, but as a general rule it's far too simplistic - it's like saying people would still go to the same restaurant if they stopped serving drinks, or desserts. Of course some die-hard fans WOULD, but not as many and not as often, because something has been taken away from the experience for those who like drinks or desserts with their meal. The result would be an inevitable downturn for the establishment in question - *unless* the people who'd whinged for ages about how they hated drinks and desserts starting frequenting the place in droves. Which hasn't happened in the case of the smoking ban - the general trend for most old-school-type pubs has been a loss of profits after the smoking ban came in. It's a shame that the people who were excited and vocal about the proposed smoking ban apparently haven't talked with their wallets, either.

AnonymousJuly 25th 2008.

My hubby and I had our post-wedding bash in there many years ago(he used to work there part time). A bit rough and ready but the best wedding do anyone who went could remember before or since! Sad news.

4 quarters make 1 whole 1July 25th 2008.

Did anyone here know that the Castle is a Grade 2 listed building and that there have been at least 2 attempts over the years to submit a respective heritage/conservation type planning application to maintain this house. The Planners have just “huurmd and arraghd” “There has been a leaking roof for 35 years?” – had the latter Planning application been received the roof would no doubt have been dealt with in full – in the meantime “damage limitation” cost effective, roof patch repairs will have (no doubt) had to have been completed – after all there is no point throwing good money at bad in the wake of any planning/refurb decision.As someone else here rightly pointed out the Castle currently sits in the “Forgotten Quarter” whilst the big bucks, building/business grants, subsidy, aid, attention, sympathy etc. continues in the other more prosperous quarters. Be assured Oldham Road up to Ancoats will have it’s day, but lets not change the “heart and soul we know and love”. Who’s to say the Brewery /Planners aren’t holding back for this latest quarter development.Now and as Spawny says“it’s important that certain things are put in context”“Leaking roof for 35 years” – as above – on and off yes. Attended to. Yes.“Toilets are atrocious” – there are worse in Manchester, this leads nicely into…“Efforts were made to clean the place up when I took over” – which bit ????????? – call me critical but the ethos here is to keep it up……or at least have a go. (Tenant’s are responsible for cleaning and internal decorations).“Then the smoking ban came in, and overnight I lost 60%; of my trade.” – Smoking in all pubs was banned. It’s all too easy to blame the smoking ban. Smokers have to stand outside all the other City bars/clubs. Lets not lose sight of the recession we are in, people aren’t going out as much. Peoples drinking habits have also changed.“Whilst there are certainly things I could have done differently, and mistakes were definitely made” – This comment speaks volumes“will probably not visit Manchester again unless absolutely necessary” – there is obviously a little more to the Castle closure then…..all to easy to point the finger on one hand, where was the other?Nick – Outside of the Castle you obviously don’t know anything about Robinson’s Pubs.. Rather than rant your best saying nowt….at least be accurate.

AnonymousJuly 25th 2008.

John Clarke - I suspect you are right, if Damien has even officially done that much. Tim - a few other problems, some of the regular's drifted off after Kath passed away, Robbie's have given Damien no support, the bloody place is falling down. Robinson's should be ashamed. And as much as he's a good man, Damien didn't keep the beer in great shape. There were other things that could have been done to help it but he was doing it on his own for a while and it was a big job for one guy.

Eats ShootsJuly 25th 2008.

No investment from Robinsons certainly didn't help poor Damien. But; it was in his interest to make an effort. Cleaning would have been good. Also paying his vat, rent and utility bills would have really helped. Nice guy, but obviously the Castle and he not destined to work. Next tenant please and a bit of help from the brewery - come on you silly brewers; nice pub more beer sold. Duh

OdditeJuly 25th 2008.

Mr Z and Mr West also popped into Odder on Saturday looking for Mr Ronson, who indeed had just left a little worse for wear, out of respect we won't mention his exact slurred words. They didn't stop long, which is probably just as well as they had parked their fleet of limo's at the Bus Stop on Oxford Rd and Stagecoach tend not to like that sort of thing - though we imagine Manchester's attentive Traffic Wardens would've thought it was Christmas!Like all law abiding bars we have to succumb to the powers that be at Environmental Health and have a sound limiter so as to not upset our local residents. Mr Ronson - who was delightful but clearly forgetful, and possibly thought he was still playing to thousands of people many metres away at the MEN Arena, didn't seem to want to be limited and kept thrashing the volume thus crashing the system! We forgive him though as everyone seemed to have fun - and even a drunk Mark Ronson makes a nice aesthetic change to a drunk Mark Garner !!! (Love you Lord xxx)

sproutJuly 25th 2008.

some very happy times in the castle. first having convincing the regulars that just because i lived in town (right opposite this fine establishment - cath used to bring me drinks 4am with her back to the oldham st cctv and "bring the empties back in the morning") and wore a suit to work i wasn't a $%*@?+. RIP cath/castle and best of luck damien. x

AnonymousJuly 25th 2008.

If the castle had cleaned up a bit, provided decent loos for us wimin and stopped the mangy pit bull dog from running round the pub, maybe more customers would have called in. Some great comedy acts and music has been on recently but the pub is manky. I worked there in the 1970's and recently planned a night there and was amazed it was exactly the same!! only grubbier. I had to leave to find a pub with a less conspicuous toilet.

Castle regularJuly 25th 2008.

What happened to my comment (number two on the page) about how nice the Castle was and how ace Damien was? It's disappeared. :(

AnonymousJuly 25th 2008.

It's sad and all that the Castle has closed, but sadder still that all it took was a no smoking sign to close it down. That said though, Apart from the Northern, bar fringe and TNQ/bluu, where do they have back gardens or smoking areas in the n4?

AnonymousJuly 25th 2008.

Nonsmoker, you have no idea what you are talking about. Gutted about the Castle. It had picked up too since Boxie from RK had been around. The Castle was Kath's 'baby', it would be great if can keep going in some form, if Kath's influence there could insprire something bigger and better..keeping with a traditional setting and with Real ale!. Finger's crossed that Robbie's actually invest in it and Damien or Boxie decide to stay!.

DaveJuly 25th 2008.

It's a sad day today with the closing of The Castle. However, where were it's legion of supporters in the year or two before the smoking ban came into force. Whenever I would go in it was invariably empty or at best sparcely occupied. To blame its closing solely on the smoking ban is simply wrong and a case of finding an easy scapegoat.

Phil No 4July 25th 2008.

Well , has Sams been sold ? Its been going down the pan for literally months . Service is really bad , indifferent attitude ..not good at all

ThoseWereTheDaysMyFriendJuly 25th 2008.

A lunchtime visit to The Castle in the early 1980's was brightened up by a scruffy old geezer approaching our group brandishing a shilling (or was it 5p?) whilst muttering "I want Woman!" Eventually we worked out that he wanted us to insert the coin in the Castle's great juke box and select the John Lennon classic. Happy Daze!!

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