After investing £400,000 of private money, a publican has defied the trends and re-opened a pub in South Croydon. Our photo-journalist ARNIE LEIBOVITZ was there on Friday to record the occasion
Austin Whelan is the man that you want to hire to host your event. His impeccable social skills, calm demeanour and infectious smile all lend themselves to creating a warm social environment where Guinness flows and the punters are drawn in for a cold one.
That’s exactly what we experienced on Friday when Inside Croydon visited South Croydon’s newest pub, Whelans.
Claire was there on opening night. She is a South Croydon local who over the years has visited the pub on Selsdon Road through its various incarnations, from the time it was called The Refuge, to Spoofers, through The Folly years, to the brief existence of the Baskerville (which was nice). She said she thought Whelans looks like a winner.
Claire and a group of friends had taken a table on the opening night. Among them was John, who himself had run a pub for more than 13 years. “Whelans scored a respectable 9 out of 10 on my scorecard for a pub that’s customer-friendly and meets all of my extremely high standards,” he said.
The new pub is distinctly Irish, though Austin Whelan himself is keen to explain that it is not a “theme pub” in the way so many have been in the past. Whelans is the genuine article.
Whelan already runs a string of pubs, including the Purley Arms on the Brighton Road and the Bedford Tavern in the town centre. This is the fourth pub to carry his own name.
The refit of the South Croydon Whelans was delivered on time, meaning the pub was open for the bank holiday weekend, and will now trade through the busiest period of the year, through to Christmas.
Whelans offers a wide variety of craft beers and the availability of cocktails seemed to have gone down a treat with the patrons on their opening night. The bar was completely packed and their Whelans team had everything under control.
Part of the reason for this was the length of the bar, which stretches almost the entire length of the building (and it is a decent sized pub, too). At least, that’s what Loui reckoned.
Loui had travelled from Merstham on the instruction of his partner, Jess, who lives in Coulsdon. She had told him that this Whelans was where they were going out for their Friday date night.
“It doesn’t get more Irish than this,” said Jess, as they indulged in an ice cold pint of Guinness. Loui was particular pleased to see the array of televisions dotted around the walls. His pet peeve is going out for a drink somewhere that says you can watch sport, and then you have to squeeze into a section of the in search of the football or rugby.
Despite the TVs being on and music playing in the background, the one thing that was not missing was conversation. And you didn’t need to shoout into the ear of your friend in order from them to hear what you were saying. It appears that Whelans have perfected the art of managing the decibels, which makes for a more relaxed environment.
For a bar packed with customers and with what looks to be a decent food offering, plus the odd posh bar stool made from a saddle, Whelans is very well put together.
The crowd attracted for the opening night was a mix, between potential regulars and the mildly curious. It included several for whom a visit to the pub is no longer a regular night out.
The outcome of that social change can be seen in the roll call of now closed pubs in the vicinity of South Croydon, from the famous Swan and Sugarloaf (now a Tesco’s), the Red Deer, the Woodman, The View (now a derelict shell of a building, without planning permission and with no enforcement action from the council), the Stag and Hounds (soon to be flats), to the Earl of Eldon, closed within the past month to enable flats to be built in the pub garden.
Is Whelans Croydon’s answer to a pub revival?
Time will tell, but with the formula of live music, quiz nights, decent food, especially the Sunday roasts, wall-to-wall televised sport, and a decent enough offer behind the bar, plus an owner who knows his business inside-out, things are loooking good.
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