Shock as popular York pub to shut this week – new owners plan to develop the site

Soon to close – the Falcon Tap. Photograph: Richard McDougall

A popular York pub will shut its doors for the last time under the current management this coming weekend.

It’s not because it’s doing badly – far from it – it’s seemingly because the new owners don’t want a going concern getting in the way of their plans for redevelopment.

This sudden closure didn’t just take regulars at The Falcon Tap by surprise – it gave the manager Josef Gray just a week to find alternative accommodation as he lived on the premises and both him and his staff the unenviable task of finding employment elsewhere.

Josef was certainly aware that this situation could occur one day, ever since the previous owners put it on the market for £1.3 million after gaining planning permission for 11 flats above and behind the licensed premises.

There does seem however to be a callousness in the whole way in which this process has been enacted. What happened to business courtesy, professionalism and just plain human decency in treating people with respect and giving them an appropriate amount of time to re-organise their lives?

The Falcon Tap – what we know

The rear of the Falcon Tap. Photograph: Nick Love

The Falcon Tap was previously owned by the 2 Pubs Company Limited. Last July it won planning permission to create two flats on the upper floors above the bar, to demolish modern extensions behind the Falcon, and to build two residential blocks in their place, consisting of nine flats.

As part of that plan, the floorspace given over to the ground floor bar was cut by nearly a half.

The site was put up for sale in February for £1.3 million.

YorkMix understands that it has been bought by a London-based property company.

They want to take vacant possession and so manager Josef and his team are out.

It is not yet known whether they eventually plan to reopen part of the ground floor as a bar, and if so, in what form.

York’s ‘most unique beers’

Josef and his team have done great things with this place since they took over stewardship. They serve five real ales and eight craft keg beers from an eclectic range from breweries.

A European beer expert told me recently that of all the bars in York, this one had provided him with the most unique beers in 2017 that he had never tried before – nearly 150 in all.

If you thought this bar was the exclusive preserve of beer tickers you’d be mistaken.

There was an active social scene with events happening each week such as open mic nights; street food popups, fundraising socials for local charities and regular live music in their “bunker”.

The pub was featured as recently as last week on Channel 4’s Britain’s Most Historic Towns with Professor Alice Roberts attending a live gig in the pub and enjoying a pint and a chat about Viking York as part of the programme.

The closure of The Falcon Tap will leave a hole in what is now an excellent pub and bar scene in what was has been a remarkable transformation of Micklegate.

As beer writer Gav Aitchison told YorkMix:

The Falcon Tap is a fantastic beer venue and has been an excellent addition to the York pub scene, introducing more people to many more top-quality beers, and hosting some brilliant events.

It’ll be really sad if it’s closing.

What was once a downbeat seedy drinking rat run full of cheap shot bars has experienced a cultural metamorphosis with the likes of Brigantes, Falcon Tap and Brewdog offering the best that the burgeoning British brewing scene has to offer, whilst nationally renowned restaurants such as Skosh have put it firmly on the epicurean map.

Let down by the council

The Tap’s beer garden. Photograph: Nick Love

It also serves as a warning to those who take York’s pub scene for granted.

At present you’ve got

  • an appeal underway to reverse the decision not to demolish The Carlton
  • a new planning application submitted for four flats on the site of The Jubilee pub
  • as well as the closure of The Falcon Tap in its current form with no guarantee that something of similar quality will replace it as part of any new development.

All of this makes it all the more astonishing that City of York Council’s Local Plan has omitted any kind of pub protection in its final draft.

The authors of the Local Plan directly ignored a formal resolution by the ruling Executive on October 29th 2015 to include “pub friendly planning law within the Local Plan”.

The authors of the Local Plan also ignored a detailed submission from York CAMRA detailing what best practice pub protection wording could be included in the Local Plan.

The word “pub” was even removed from the definition of “community facilities” in the York Local Plan even though the governments National Planning Policy document specifically mentions “public houses”.

Other councils in cities with similar profiles to York have seen fit to specifically protect their pubs in their Local Plans which makes York’s omission harder to take.

Can’t replace the Falcon

The pub had a thriving music and social scene. Photograph: Richard McDougall

This indifference to protecting York’s pubs is alarming and makes the job of property developers a lot easier when trying to best circumvent problems with planning laws that may otherwise hinder them.

People may point to the fact that in York a new bar opens as soon as another closes so what’s the problem? This ignores the fact that each pub and bar has individual characteristics that not only appeal to certain groups of people but forms part of the look and feel of the local community.

The likes of Micklegate, Fossgate and Bishy Rd all have their own unique social DNA. Their unique idiosyncrasies enrich the vastly varied and enjoyable York social drinking scene overall.

You can’t just replace a unique bar such as The Falcon Tap with another down the road. When it closes next weekend after hosting the Turning Point Brewery birthday celebrations (all welcome) a lot of regulars will feel its loss.

That’s why we all should be ever watchful and fiercely protective of our favourite pubs and bars that we sometimes take for granted.