By Angela Green, Content Executive, H&C News: Brewing company’s acquisition signals diversification into licensed trade.
One of Scotland’s oldest and most traditional pubs, The Griffin in Glasgow, has been bought by the owner of the Isle of Skye Brewing Company, signalling his first move to diversify into the licensed trade.
Kenny Webster purchased the iconic bar, which has operated on the corner of Bath Street and Elmbank Street since 1903, from city publican and entrepreneur Oli Norman for an undisclosed sum.
The Griffin, which has lain empty since March 2020 after being forced to close during the pandemic, is due to reopen this week following a £40,000 refurbishment.
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.
The businessman, who will employ 15 people, is targeting a turnover of £1million in its first year of trading, doubling to £2million by the end of year three.
Webster said of the move: “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.”
With already one of the biggest independent brewing interests in Scotland, Webster has not ruled out purchasing more outlets.
While new copper fonts have been installed, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”