THE owner of one of Inverness’s most popular pubs is promising to help breathe new life into an ailing city centre street by unveiling plans to create a traditional ale house.
George Maclean, who owns the Castle Tavern, yesterday completed a deal to buy the building on Academy Street occupied by The Phoenix and plans to refurbish it and return it to its roots as The Phoenix Ale House.
Mr Maclean used to co-own The Phoenix in the 1980s but sold it to Bass Brewery.
It is more positive news for Academy Street, which has been bereft of investment in recent years, and comes on the back of The Cairngorm Brewery purchasing the former AI Welders building next door for its own flagship pub, and new plans by Highland Council to regenerate the street.
Mr Maclean said this had been a major factor in his decision to buy the B-listed building.
"When I heard that Cairngorm Brewery had purchased the building next door and knowing The Phoenix had been on the market, my ears pricked up," he said. "I have been a customer of the brewery for some time and know that we will work very well together and bounce ideas off one another."
Star Pubs is planning a "transformational" £150,000 investment at the Blackfriars Pub, opposite The Phoenix, and Mr Maclean hopes to see an Inverness Real Ale Festival staged in Academy Street in the future.
"The Phoenix is a bit of an institution and my plan is no more than to make it what it was — a good quality traditional ale house with a wide range of malts coupled with food available at all times," he said.
Mr Maclean, who has owned the Castle Tavern, in View Place, a popular venue for locals and tourists, for seven years, wants to introduce traditional live music, jazz sessions and events such as A Play, A Pie and a Pint, a lunchtime theatre programme.
The Phoenix has been run by a management company for many years and Mr Maclean’s acquisition will see it return to private ownership. The pub shut its doors on Sunday and Mr Maclean gets the keys tomorrow. He hopes to reopen the main bar with a "fresh look" in two to three weeks time. He will then turn his attention to the lounge bar, which he hopes to open by Easter. He plans to staff the bar from his existing employees at The Castle Tavern for the time being.
He is now focusing on trying to find an act to perform on its opening night.
"I had contacted The Proclaimers and asked them if the would be available for an opening gig as they played The Phoenix on their way up in the 1980s but unfortunately they have just finished a world tour and are not performing this year," he said. "They remember The Phoenix well!"
He has no immediate plans for the upper floors of the building.
Inverness Central councillor Richard Laird described it as welcome news for the area.
"The Castle Tavern already represents a quality licensed premises in the city centre and if it can be replicated in Academy Street it will certainly be a lynchpin establishment and important focal point in regenerating this part of the city centre," he said.
The council is currently working on a regeneration plan for Academy Street, which has been described as Inverness’s forgotten thoroughfare. The Heritage Lottery Fund has earmarked £1.67 million for the area to bring vacant buildings back into use, reinstate original shop fronts and improve public areas like Station Square.
The project, supported by investment from Inverness City Heritage Trust and the Scottish government’s Empty Homes Initiative, will also include more support for businesses, job opportunities and the creation of more accommodation and business space.
A student hub is also proposed beside the existing Rose Street car park, while William Gray Construction has plans for new flats and shops at 92 to 94 Academy Street.