We arrived in Kentish Town in the spring of 2012 with one simple aim; take an ailing and decrepit old local boozer and bring it back to life. Following a tough, X-factor style selection process, we’d been chosen to take the lease on The Grafton, a sorry pub that had been so lacking in care & attention for so many years that the locals assumed it was about to be turned into flats or bulldozed. With hardly a bean to our name, it took a wing and a prayer and a ton of determination to revitalise this monster of a boozer that we so instantly and helplessly fell in love with.
But revitalise it we did, somehow. Willing friends and family rolled up their sleeves and helped out. We slept on dirty floors, worked round the clock and lavished love on every inch of the place until it looked like the regal monument it deserved to be once more.
Our cautious expectation of turnover would just about keep our heads above water and pay the bills, which as young start-ups was all we could hope for. Only when we made twice what we thought we could manage in a week on our opening night, did we realise we’d made something people really loved.
And that we’d better get organised, fast.
We recruited a great team, installed my brother Aidan – a hospitality oracle, workhorse and general life-saver – as manager and, collectively, our feet barely touched the ground for the next year.
Even then, we couldn’t have guessed The Grafton would go on to become one of the UK’s best-loved watering holes, gaining a ton of awards along the way that included the coveted title of Great British Pub Of The Year in 2014.
We considered Kentish Town our home from the moment we arrived, and made it our mission to involve the local community in everything we did. Events that ‘engage’ were our main objective, hence our installation of the now-staple monthly clothing exchange, regular piano singalongs, pub quizzes, ceilidh dances, bring-your-own-vinyl nights, daytime baby music classes and yoga sessions.
Being a good host is something that’s inherently important to me, and to Joel. If we’re to be so, we have to make sure everybody has a really great time. It was this, above all else, that we dedicated the last four and a half years to.
But it isn’t easy. In fact it’s an incredibly hard business to be in. When the going is good, you feel on top of the world. But sadly the face of the pub industry is beginning to change. With business rates going through the roof and overheads increasing exponentially, our tied business model just won’t continue to be viable much longer.
So we decided it’s time for a new adventure in life and sold up both The Grafton and its sister pub The Gipsy Queen in December. What our new adventure may be, we’re not sure yet. Partnership Pubs still exists, so we may do something together as a team again, or branch out as individuals and do our own thing. Only time will tell, but it’s exciting as hell. Bring on 2017!
Thank you, The Grafton. You gave me so much of what I value in life: skills, friends, happy memories, security and my own home. I will miss your feminist toilet graffiti, your plinky off-key piano sounds, your sunny days on the terrace, your mind-blowing parties and that overwhelming sense of pride you filled me with from time to time. It’s been an honour to be your landlady.
p.s. lets just take a moment to appreciate the guy with the Grafton tattoo