It’s hard to believe, but I’m about to enter my tenth year living in Raleigh Square. It can’t be that bad then. There’ve been lots of changes down the years, but one thing has remained a constant in my life. Or rather it did until it suddenly closed down.
The Sir John Borlase Warren was, for many years, a main fixture on the Canning Circus pub trail. In fact, for much of the past decade it was arguably the best fixture on the trail. Great beers, a huge garden with decking and greenery which defied the traffic and generally a bloody good atmosphere.
So when I saw the place plunged into darkness at the back end of Christmas, I didn’t think too much of it. Everyone deserves a holiday. But when it was still closed after New Year, my worst fears were realised. The Sir John was gone.
You see, to me it’s more than just a great pub. It’s a decade of great memories for me. In the summertime the place was often a second home. Sunning yourself on the deck at 4pm was an ideal start to a Friday evening. And Sundays. Well, Sundays were so special that me and my mates invented a special drinking club. Which is so special I can’t elaborate any further.
The Sir John was the place where we played one of the shortest ever games of Monopoly. Partly because half the pieces were missing and partly because one of my pals threw a strop, and the board, all over the sofa. It was the place where we rewrote Katie Melua’s classic song to read “Q Is The International Symbol For Pork Scratchings, And That’s a Fact.” It was also the place where the aforementioned bar snacks were the perfect way of shifting vegans from the comfy sofas.
So what went wrong?
Simplistic, but true. But also perhaps a sign that the locals didn’t look after their lovely pub when the last management stopped looking after them.
The Sir John was historically run by a landlord who knew his stuff. He refused to stock alcopops, but he also refused to stock fizzy keg bitter. The brewery delivered some anyway, and asked why the following week he’d sold none. “Because my customers won’t drink it.” And he was right. He was backed by a cast of regulars behind the bar, who gained loving nicknames like “The Happy Goth” and “Pedantic” – who would not only offer you a slice of three different fruits in your G and T, but a choice of ice from the Arctic or Antarctic. It was that level of detail which kept the crowds coming.
But Graham left, to be replaced by a succession of managers who tried so desperately to reinvent the wheel, that the wheels eventually fell off. The garden was unloved, the lights were rarely dimmed. Worst of all, the beer tasted a bit off at times.
Coupled with the arrival of The Hand and Heart on Derby Road and the Organ Grinder on Alfreton Road, the Sir John didn’t stand a chance because it couldn’t stand still.
The owners, Everards, are promising a temporary manager imminently, and have advertised the lease, which at least shows some long term commitment. But what it’ll really require is commitment from the community – students and professionals alike – to start supporting what should be the best pub in town.