A York pub is to be reborn with a new team at the helm.
The Last Drop Inn on Colliergate was shut abruptly after the Breal Group bought owners the Black Sheep Brewery in June.
Staff spoke of their shock at being escorted off the premises within hours of learning about the decision.
Now, though, it is set to rise from the ashes – and under a new independent owner determined to make the most of what he calls a “Christmas cracker of a pub”.
Yorkshireman Paul Kemp, currently running a pub in Bristol, is taking over the Last Drop Inn and can’t wait to get started.
“I know the Last Drop, I know that area, I know most of the real pubs in York as well. To try to get in on that scene – it wasn’t something I was going to give up lightly.
“I’m really excited to be coming home, and I’m really excited to have acquired that pub. I think it’s a Christmas cracker of a pub.
“And I’m hoping we can firmly put a new stamp on its previous identity.”
Cask beer and nibbles
He sees the Last Drop Inn as “a classic English style pub, with the emphasis remaining on cask ale – there’ll be at least eight cask lines.
“And we’ll look to buy not only local beers, but we’ll try and stretch that a little bit further afield.”
He can’t wait to get Timothy Taylor’s Landlord on in the pub – a “groundbreaking beer” he has loved since he put it on in his first pub in Leeds.
The last drop was York Brewery’s first pub, opening in 2000. The brewery went into administration in 2018 and, with its pubs, was bought out by Masham’s Black Sheep Brewery days later.
Given what happened this summer, Paul said: “I never say never, but I doubt there’ll be one single Black Sheep beer on there.”
The Last Drop only has a tiny kitchen. On the food front, Paul says they will begin with “small nibbles initially, like a really nice local cheddar, and cold cuts, probably with some beer mustard that we’ve just acquired”.
Later he hopes “to do something a little bit more substantial for people”.
He’s already appointed a manager, someone who is already working in the trade in York. Paul gets the keys next Tuesday (31 October) and hopes to have the pub reopened by the first week in December.
Before then, there’s a lot of work to do.
“Unfortunately, with the Last Drop, the way that it’s fallen into administration, it’s been stripped.
“There’s an empty cellar, there’s nothing in it. All of the dispense points on the bar have gone, all the furniture is gone.”
But he said there was nothing structurally wrong with the pub. As part of the renovations he plans to create a trading area on the first floor where his team could host tasting nights.
The Last Drop will also start hosting acoustic music evenings and pub quizzes – where visitors or people new to York will be offered the chance to join a team to get to know people.
And he’s into rugby league, so is keen to do something with the York teams and their supporters.
More to follow
Paul, 49, went into the pub and hospitality trade after graduating from university, and worked for Bass Taverns for 17 years before going independent.
His Fat Pigeon Pub Company ran four pubs in Bristol. Then Covid hit, and he downsized to just one, Beerd, which serves craft beer and pizza.
Hailing from Dewsbury, he was looking for an opportunity to return to Yorkshire – and the collapse of the Black Sheep followed by the decision to offload several of its pubs provided the opportunity.
At the time, a Black Sheep spokesperson told us that they had “explored every angle to try to keep these locations trading profitably, but without success” – implying that the Last Drop was not financially viable.
To which Paul responds: “Cobblers!”
“I’ve wanted to work in York for a long time. And business wise, it’s good for three different things.
“We’ve got a nice vibrant population of people. We’ve got lots of tourism, and there’s a university. So three different revenue streams from different types of customers.”
And as an independent operator, he has more agility than pub companies.
“I’m not tied into any contracts, and that’s how that’ll stay. It will be very much be a free house.
“I’ll purchase what I want from who I like.”
He is moving to York, but will still keep running the Bristol pub “at arm’s length”.
And Paul hopes the Last Drop will just be the beginning. “We’re opening the Last Drop, and then we’ll be looking for some more sites.
“Whether it’s Leeds or York, we’re looking to open some more sites in the near future as well. It’s like a bit of a new lease of life for me.”
The couple who previously ran the Last Drop, and were ousted by Black Sheep, Alex Higginson and Shannon May, are now running The Stone Trough Inn, located near Kirkham Abbey.