13th December 2017 // Interview // Local
The People’s Republic
I walk past The People’s Republic almost every day. It’s always tempting to have a wander in, but I’m usually in a rush to get to uni or to get back home to pick up the kid from school. Newland Ave is awash with independently-owned businesses, and rightly so. It always has been, and long may it continue. Yeah, Sainsbury’s, Boots and Subway make their presence known, but they’re dwarfed by the indies, which is refreshing to see. There’s a proliferation of restaurants and cafés and bars, but even so, The People’s Republic is somewhat of an incongruity. I mean that in the best way possible.
Situated between Bargain Beers and Cooplands, and Just up from Sainsbury’s, it jumps out at you because of its warmth. The next-door neighbours on either side are unremarkable, practically-presented shops. TPR is like a sandblast to the senses because it dares to be different. It demands your attention. You’re drawn to it like the Millennium Falcon to the Death Star. Maybe not the best analogy, but you catch my drift…
As I walk in to meet Dave Rotheray and Bob Reid, two-thirds of the partnership that also includes Darren Sanderson, I’m greeted warmly by Bob and a couple I know from the HU5 circle of usual suspects. You’re immediately put at ease. Walking into a pub on your own isn’t something that’s high on the list of anyone’s favourite things, but it’s an easy transition. From the icy winter’s afternoon, you’re transplanted into a place of warmth, both physically and emotionally.
The first thing you notice is the wallpaper. Knowingly retro-chic, it resembles something from Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, itself a 1971 dystopian vision of the near-future. I don’t know if the term ‘retro-futurism’ is a thing. It is now. I hope I’ve made it up. It’s all circles within circles; browns, oranges and yellows. The stools, seats and ceiling are orange too, as is the bar, offset by a brown, wooden counter, to match the panelled wooden floor. It’s all very autumnal and rustic. The use of light is minimal, but lends the space an intimate feel, whilst also being inclusive.
Dave informs me that the wallpaper has actually been put up wrong; that the circles should be arranged a certain way. Bob interjects and says there are different ways of putting it up. I think it looks fine, but it’s this little aside that encapsulates the whole essence of the place. The pub doesn’t adhere to the usual rules of how a pub should be, and there’s a steadfast desire to do things a little different; to deviate from the norm.
The three have been friends for years, only Bob had been involved in pub management previously, managing Hull Uni Student Union bar, along with others, notably one in Glasgow, which boasted a lounge bar where Celtic fans congregated, the public bar housing Rangers fans. If he could run a bar on ‘old firm’ match days, this would be a walk in the park. Dave, being well-travelled and a famously passionate beer enthusiast, used his frequent trips abroad to research and sample beers from all corners of the globe. All the necessary components for running the bar were already in place.
The seeds were planted because every time they’d go into bars, be it at home or abroad, they’d cast critical eyes over them and think about how they’d do it slightly different. The word ‘different’ is the key here, and it crops up throughout our chat, it’s a common thread and sets the bar apart from the majority of its peers. So, from drunken conversations in pubs, they decided to jump in and thought, ‘why don’t we just do it?’ I know from experience that if you agree or promise to do something whilst inebriated, someone will remember and there’s an unwritten rule that you’ve got to come good. After all, they all had the know-how and the experience; it was a case of tackling the logistics of actually finding a suitable venue, realising their vision and getting the place ready and open. And that takes a lot of work.
Bob says it’s as simple as ‘wanting somewhere we’d want to drink, and just hope other people would buy into it as well.’ It’s taken time to build up a core clientele, but through word of mouth, the concept and the unique atmosphere, it now boasts a fiercely loyal bunch of punters. Bob’s wish has been realised, and Hull has gained a truly unique establishment in the process.
I ask Dave what the ethos behind the bar is.
‘Well, vinyl records play an important part in the vibe. Especially world music, and the major attraction is that we stock a wide variety of beers from around the world. So, world music and world beer is our selling point. Also, it’s the result of travelling around the world, taking bits of what we liked about pubs and putting it all together to create The People’s Republic.’
They didn’t have a particular target audience in mind, but naturally, due to location, it attracts a lot of students. Bob notes that students’ tastes have become a lot more refined since he was a student at Hull University. Ideally people would come for the music and the beer, and looking around the crowd when I’ve been, they’ve achieved this.
I tell them I’m not a particular fan of strong-tasting beer. Give me something that tastes like water and gets me pissed, and I’m happy. Philistine that I am. I wonder how they attract and deal with customers who may be intimidated by the vast range on offer.
‘We’re always on hand to guide customers in the direction of what they’ll like,’ explains Dave. ‘We have knowledgeable and friendly staff who’ll ask what someone likes, if they’re unsure, and suggest something similar. Flensburger is our best-seller by a long way. It’s a pilsner, and most people feel safe with that. We have a set menu, with an extensive range of everything. Then each week we have a rotating list of specials. We always choose a fruit beer, a sour beer and an IPA. So, whether you’re a beer-nut or a craft-beer novice, there’s something for everyone.’
I ask how they choose the specials. Bob says it could be simply because it has an interesting name, or from an unusual place. He pauses and smiles before adding, ‘it could just be because the bottle or can looks great.’ It’s this willingness to take risks that’s also part of its appeal. There’s also a strict ‘no food, no football and no kids’ rule, which is again, quite a risk, but there are enough pubs catering for these needs.
Dave’s quite emphatic in his assertion that, ‘if you do something that everyone likes, you’ll end up doing something that no-one loves.’ It’s an astute observation, and looking around at the curiosities dotted around the place, it has different stamped all over it. There’s a table-top video game from the 80s, a stack of board games, different monthly pictures on the ladies’ and gents’ toilet doors, a lit-up PAC-Man ghost surveying proceedings from the corner of the bar, space-age seats and a mind-bending clock which tells the time by different shapes lighting up different colours. Or something. I can’t even begin to think about it or I’ll have an aneurysm.
I ask what the favourites are amongst the cognoscenti and core group of enthusiasts.
‘There’s a whisky we have at the moment, an Irish Spiced one called Flaming Pig,’ says Bob without hesitation. ‘That’s proving to be really popular, it’s got a really smooth taste. We have our own-brand IPA, brewed locally; that’s selling well. Delirium Tremens is quite well-known, but rarely seen on draught; that’s popular. Brewdog’s about as mainstream as we go, but that flies out. But generally, people like to try something new, and we encourage that absolutely.’
‘Tastes have definitely changed in the last five or six years,’ notes Dave. ‘You’ve got people drinking raspberry sour wheat beer now, who wouldn’t entertain much beyond Carling a few years ago, and that’s great that people are experimenting and embracing new beers, and we’re happy to be able to cater for this change in drinking trends. Craft beer has become more mainstream, but there’s a healthy development within the culture and a will to experiment. I don’t think many people would have entertained the idea of a coffee and doughnut beer six years ago,’ he laughs.
As well as the beer, TPR is also home to some serious music enthusiasts. The soundtrack is an eclectic mix of the more esoteric end of the musical spectrum, and they have special events to cater for the rabid music fans in the city. Strummerjam was a charity night celebrating the birth of the iconic Clash frontman, in which some of Hull’s finest played classic songs from his peerless back catalogue. The History of Hip-Hop ’79-’17 proved to be so popular that another one’s already in the pipeline. There was a Buddy Holly night celebrating the anniversary of the legendary rock ‘n’ roller’s death, special DJ sets by a host of specialist experts in chosen genres. Trevor Simpson recently exercised his reggae expertise, Mark ‘Bliss’ Blissenden conjured up his magic recently, and there are plans of more events to come. They promise at least a monthly party with themes that will prove to be masterclasses in their respective oeuvres. Bob Nastanovich from Pavement also recently guested. Say no more. Always different. Always catering for knowledgeable enthusiasts. Always with integrity.
On top of all this, there’s the popular, irreverent Bob’s Big Brain Quiz on Sunday nights, again with a characteristically TPR twist where the first prize goes to the 3rd placed team. They sponsor a local women’s football team. And there is Klask. Dave came across this board game in Poland, which is a hybrid of table football and air hockey, with magnets and obstacles. You’ll have to go down on a Tuesday to see for yourselves, because my description doesn’t do it justice. The pub is now the headquarters for a local Klask league, with a team from Manchester coming over for a tournament in the near future.
So, what sprang out of drunken conversations in pubs around the world has become a fully-realised project that prides itself on its uniqueness, knowingly setting itself apart from the multitude of bars in the already saturated area. It had to be something different to attract a regular clientele. And it’s managed it with aplomb. It was originally going to be called DDR, after the first names of the owners. It didn’t matter that it was the name of the East German Communist Republic, as they’re all left-leaning anyway, and the décor is inspired by East Berlin, but Dave laughs as he says it conjured up images of a ‘haulage company or a TV repair company.’ So, it became TPR and The People’s Republic. A compromise of sorts, but one where the ethos is adhered to. ‘It also has the word ‘pub’ in it, which is important,’ laughs Dave.
What they’ve achieved has been absolutely on their own terms. They’ve crafted a place that’s welcoming, with a strong emphasis on a community/family atmosphere where the staff are as much a part of it as anyone else, and are encouraged to enjoy themselves as it’s their night out too. The décor, the music, the drinks, the clientele, the staff and the atmosphere make it a singularly wonderful place. It was designed to be a pub the owners wanted to drink in, one as laid-back as possible. And it is. And people have wholeheartedly bought into it.
The People’s Republic ‘Serves the People!’