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TGt Meets...Ellie Gill, Owner of The Grapes Bath

Meet our latest TGt Meets...Ellie Gill, Owner of the newly renovated pub, The Grapes Bath. We asked Ellie all about her incredible journey of turning an old public house into The Grapes Bath.

1. Tell us a little bit about The Grapes Bath...

The Grapes is documented to have been a pub since at least 1792, having been a wine victuallers before that, hence the name.  Last year my husband Jonny and I, took the building on and completely refurbished it, following years of neglect.

Opening mid August 2019, the bar is going from strength to strength and thanks to our regulars and trade from the Bath Christmas Market we started this year in the black.  During the week we have regular music sessions with Blues on a Tuesday, Gypsy Jazz on a Wednesday and our really popular Irish Folk Sessions on Thursday, all featuring incredible local musicians.

We've teamed up with some friends who had been running the Secret Izakaya  Supper Club for a couple of years to create the Budo Ba at the weekends.  For those of you who don't know, Izakaya is the Japanese version of tapas - umami rich small dishes that go perfectly with beer or sake.  Budo Ba translates to Grapes Bar and you can try this out upstairs in our Jacobean Living Room and specially created Sake and Spirits bar.

During the week the upstairs room is well used for a variety of Pilates, Yoga and Life Drawing classes as we believe the room is pretty special and should be enjoyed by as many people as possible.  We also host meetings, book clubs and get togethers in the Living Room, with the latest group to join being a philosophical debating society.

In the next couple of months we hope to open our kitchen downstairs but maybe need a bit of a rest before that happens as the last year has been pretty full on and it would be great to recharge the batteries before entering the next phase - especially as Jonny plans to run the kitchen.

2. Tell us a bit about yourself...

We've both run pubs together before, though Jonny has far more experience than I, having run large bars in London's West End before we ended up with a country pub near Devizes which we left around 16 years ago when our kids were both under five.

Since then we have lived off-grid on Salisbury Plain in an old gamekeepers cottage in the middle of an organic farm.  When we had our last pub we grew most of the produce for the kitchen on our allotment in the village, as well as keeping milking sheep, goats, pigs and a variety of fowl.  At the cottage we carried on our smallholding, though it has diminished as the kids have got older and we have gone off with jobs taking us further from home.

Before we got to The Grapes, Jonny spent seven years working at the Three Daggers Brewery in Edington which is why we stock two of their real ales at all times, one of which they make under our Nash Street brand name.  I've spent the last ten years, since graduating from Bath Spa Uni, working in town centre management with my consultancy and for the past six years ran a national campaign funded by central government, called Love Your Local Market, which involved 1200 markets across the country.

We run the pub with the help of our kids who are now 18 and 19 and go to the local college and in November last year, our niece Sophia came to join us, having previously run pubs in and around the Aylesbury area, so you could say The Grapes is a bit of a family affair.

3. What made you want to take over The Grapes Bath and bring it back to life?

We first saw the place as Jonny had been on the look out for a micropub and it was in a very sorry state.  The whole thing had been gutted and there weren't even any electrics, a bar or cellar equipment.  With five floors it was about as far away from a micropub as you could get but we're both a sucker for a bit of history and The Grapes has it in spades.

Grade II* listed we soon found out that permission had been granted to separate the bar from the rest of the building, with the upper floors to be turned into student accommodation and  KFC seeking to get a foothold into Westgate Street downstairs.  With so many pubs being lost across the country, we just went onto automatic pilot to try to preserve the place and to be economically viable, that had to include the upper floors.

It took a great deal of hard work and effort but we're pretty pleased with the result so far and from feedback, believe the majority of folks feel the same way, even if we do get a load of flak for not keeping it the way it was from some.  

4. What are you most excited for with the opening of The Grapes Bath?

Where do I start....music, some great beers and variety of spirits, great local produce, our BnB's up and running.  We're hitting the targets we set ourselves.  That feels pretty good.

5. What're your future plans for The Grapes Bath?

There's loads more to do in the building as we have permission to move the toilets down into the cellar, open one of them up as a chill out space, restore a huge fireplace down there and clean up the old wine store and put in a glass door so people can appreciate the history of this part of the building, some of which is thought to date back to the medieval. 

By moving the toilets we can create a fit for purpose disabled toilet and open up the back of the pub to support larger bands.  It's a mission for 2021 though as this year we're concentrating on consolidating what we've done already, opening the kitchen, not to mention the mammoth task of prepping the cellar by strippng them of all modern paintwork so the walls can be limewashed.

6. How do you like spending your time off?

You kidding right....what time off! 

Having said that, I do like taking the odd night off for a bit of a boogie or bingo over at Komedia and Jonny gets together with some musicians at times in the bar which is great as he spent most of his teens and twenties touring as a professional musician.  It's like having a second childhood at times.  Shame I don't feel the same in the morning as I did then.

7. What were some of the biggest challenges you had to face with the renovation of The Grapes Bath?

My biggest challenge was the day the plasterer walked out.  He had started doing a staircase ceiling with traditional lime plaster onto lathe and it kept falling off.  I had only slept about four hours the previous night and just remember putting on a pair of marigolds and doing it with my hands as it was way too complicated with a trowel.  My mantra was that folks had been creating buildings out of this stuff for millenia...how hard could it really be.

For Jonny I think it was the sheer relentlessness of it all.  He built everything you can see in the place and more besides.  We still haven't taken a full day off since April 17th last year....we're really looking forward to that holiday.

8. What are some of the things people can look forward to when The Grapes Bath is open?

People were surprised by our choice of drinks.....the cry of 'what no Stella/replace with Thatchers/Guiness' etc seems to be less often these days but with the opportunity to own a freehouse, why would we stock what you can get everywhere else if we don't have to.

The range seems to be getting a proper following now.  We stock only local ciders from Honey's and Iford Manor, we have a Kolsch brewed like a lager from Bradford on Avon's Kettlesmith Brewery, our wheat beer is from Weihenstephan, the oldest continuously brewing monastery in the world and we stock a fantastic Milk Stout from the Bristol Beer Factory. 

Our premium lagers are shamelessly about us with Jonny's favourite being Pilsner Urquall, the first ever pilsner to be brewed in 1842 and my favourite beer has always been Asahi, though both of these get a run for their money these days from our Helles lager.  It has a low ABV at 3.8% and is a rare beast in that it is brewed to that strength rather than watered down to it, so has a much better taste than most low alcohol beers, which is why we take the effort to get it all the way from Suffolk.

9. If you could describe Bath in 3 words what would they be?

Beautiful, fun, noisy.

10. What's the best way to stay up to date with The Grapes Bath?

We're pretty good on social....either Facebook, Twitter or on Instagram via @thegrapesbath

Check out The Grapes Bath HERE!

The Grapes Bath

14 Westgate Street, Bath, BA1 1EQ

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