‘Chilled out’ Victoria marks return of the friendly local

IF I’d ever visited the pub before, I really couldn’t remember when. Now, here I was feeling like Andy Capp, walking in on the stroke of noon as soon as Sheena the new landlady had opened the doors.

The Victoria Inn, on Colchester’s North Station Road had been closed for some years. Prior to that too, it had been rather a quiet place, said Andy Pilgrim, one half of the partnership who took it over in December of last year. Nothing wrong with that, of course. A man does a day’s work, pops into the pub for a couple of beers, watches a little sport and goes home.

The trouble with an early evening trade, is that the pub then empties out by 8pm and for the rest of the evening, it can be like Morrissey’s stag night. I write this at a time when the traditional pub landscape has changed beyond recognition, with thousands of pubs having closed down. Of those which have survived, many have become restaurants or wine bars, by any other name. Others have become music venues, or fight clubs – sorry, that should have read ‘Fun Pubs’.

What happened? Well, the beer became more expensive, the giant pub companies squeezed harder, and then, in 2007, the smoking ban arrived. No point in getting too nostalgic about it, though. The old days had their bad points too.

I can remember, way into the 1980s, not being able to get a drink on Sundays between 2pm and 7pm. It was like Pavlov’s experiment in reverse – a bell rang and you expected not to get a drink. Back then, too, pub wine was largely undrinkable. Food, if they served it all, might consist of crisps, nuts or a pie. Additionally, there still existed that uniquely British phemomenon known as The Landlord That Time Forgot. There he stood, with his handlebar moustache, wearing a cardigan or blazer, still parroting arcane catchphrases from 1950s radio shows which, by then, nobody else could remember. He always rang the bell, dead on time. Kicked you out on the dot, kept the bottled lagers on a warm shelf and ran out of ice every evening at 9pm sharp. Then, as he served you with his last inedible pie at lunchtime, he barked at you: “There you are, Sir. Untouched by human hand – my wife made it!” Ba-boom-tishhh. Now we don’t really want to go back down that desolate road, do we?


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The Victoria Inn was re-opened ten weeks ago and has already got regulars. It’s a free house, so they can sell whichever ales they wish. I only heard of the place recently, through word of mouth. And that’s how Andy and Sheena the pub’s new guv’nors, would like it to be. They pledge not to become a gastro pub, although, when the kitchen’s ready, they’ll serve bar food. They’ll have regular live music and yet, they won’t be a rock venue. A couple of weeks ago, for instance, Graceland, a student combo from the nearby music college dropped in on a Sunday afternoon, to play. They played violin, viola, piano, bassoon and they sang. It kept the drinkers spellbound, said Andy. The neighbours wouldn’t complain about that, would they? Andy wouldn’t mind folk music there either but he doesn’t want anyone playing interminably long slow blues jams.

A self-possessed and tall Yorkshirewoman, with country-singer good looks which match her name, the landlady, Sheena Valentine previously ran the Rose & Crown in Maldon for over three years.

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Her business partner, Andy was also in the licensing trade for 12 years, though not behind the counter.

Originally from Sheffield, Andy’s also in a band, Navacross, who’ve just acquired a record deal. With a pub to run, though he’s lately had to cut down on the music a little, he admits.

It was a proper pub that he and Sheena wanted to run and the Victoria which they got. She and Andy reckon that Colchester’s very friendly. The town reminds Sheena of her native York, she says. They both emphasised that they wanted to run a nice local, ‘a place to chill out’. The phrase kept coming up as I sat on a comfortable sofa gazing around me. Despite a Victorian exterior, the building, like so many in Colchester, is actually much older, with all the old exposed beams which that entails.

Originally a three-storey town house, it’s been a pub since 1859. Upstairs is what can only be described as a potentially fabulous performance space which, when it’s done up would probably lend itself well to spoken word, a comedy or folk club – perhaps even, exhibitions.

In this day and age it was rather a novel idea, I thought. Get a pub and then try to reinvent it – as a pub. Regular clientele, sensible music and so on. No thunderous disco, no plastic menus on the table, no cheap deals on electric blue vodka-based drinks and no men on the door sporting bomber jackets and earpieces. Situated well down North Station Road, The Victoria isn’t, strictly speaking, a town centre pub, although it’s on a bus route and only five minutes from North Station. “When you go in there, ” Terry, one of their regulars told me, “there’s a sign just opposite the fireplace – it reads ‘Be nice or leave’ – which says it all for me.”

Perhaps all those rumours about the death of the friendly local pub, may have been exaggerated, after all.

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