Feature: More Time at the Bar Please

There are some major changes happening with two cherished local drinking establishments.

Firstly let’s look at the iconic Blind Jack’s in Knaresborough. Owners Paul and Debbie Holden-Ridgeway held a farewell beer festival in September. After 16 years of holding the reins, the time had come to concentrate on their growing brewing venture, Bad Company.  

I have always loved this rustic hostelry at the heart of Knaresborough. It’s a stripped back no-music-no-TV-no-fuss traditional-style pub that oozes charm with simply great beer. The only available food currently is a bag of peanuts, and the gents toilets in a quirky outbuilding over a pathway where a passing horse and cart wouldn’t look out of place.

Blind Jack’s has been an important pull to Knaresborough as Harrogate’s thriving independent beer scene continues to gain momentum.

The news of Paul and Debbie’s departure made me nervous. Back in 2014 I launched a campaign to save The Yorkshire Lass in Knaresborough. The pub had once been a thriving community venue which had sat derelict since 2007 at the edge of the River Nidd. The owners had applied for planning permission to demolish the building but there were issues. I managed to get it listed as an Asset of Community Value, affording the building an element of protection. The owners appealed, that decision was revoked, and planning permission was granted.  The site now houses luxury flats. I still believe this was a loss much more significant to the town than is acknowledged.

With Blind Jack’s there’s something equally very special that needs respecting and protecting. It’s not about any one aspect, but the overall identity and everything that contributes to that.  

The new owners are Christian Ogley and Alice Bennett. They recently moved their award-winning venture, Christian’s cafe, from Pannal to Knaresborough where they both grew up. Clearly they have big plans for Blind Jack’s: A Kickstarter page talks of refurbishing toilets, introducing food, and even the addition of an onsite brewery. On the page Christian says “The pub has a charm and magic that we’re keen to preserve, but we feel we can further enhance it and create a space that both we and the local community are proud of.“

This sounds positive. To be inkeeping with the uniqueness, it’s important to develop this place unconventionally. The new owners need to think outside the box and I believe that in order to continue the Blind Jack’s legacy they need to absolutely refuse to compromise when it comes to beer.

It won’t be an easy project to get right. However, if they manage it then being in the place will feel like being in the company of an old friend in the prime of their life – and that’s very exciting. I believe that Blind Jack’s has the potential to be pivotal in keeping the town’s social scene alive and reigniting Knaresborough’s own quality independent beer scene.

In Harrogate, The Empress has also recently changed hands. Simon and Sharon Colgan have The Blues Bar and The World’s End in Knaresborough and are investing £100,000 in The Empress – a substantial stone-fronted pub nestled right on The Stray. The new owners plan to relaunch as a traditional pub with pub games nights, live music and food. The Sunday carvery at The Empress is widely acclaimed, and this will certainly be something locals will hope to see continue.

However, it’s not just the interiors that need attention at The Empress – the beer does too. With 10 Devonshire Place booming just down the road thanks to an outstanding beer offer, the new owners will surely be thinking about how they can dovetail with that reputation and tap in to a piece of that success for themselves.

What is actually missing in the area is a pub with a 10 Devonshire Place standard of beers alongside a quality food menu. Market Town Taverns have tried but The Old Bell (Harrogate town centre) and The Swan (Devonshire Place) have become a little bit ‘safe’ in their offer – in terms of beer, food, and surroundings. The pub that ticks all the boxes simply doesn’t exist locally right now, and both The Empress and Blind Jack’s certainly have the potential to fill that gap.

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