New bar helps to deliver Rotherham’s future and its past

Published Tuesday, 22nd November 2016
New Bar 1915 helps to deliver Rotherham's future and its past
1915 owner Mark McGrail (centre) gives Cabinet Member for Jobs and the Local Economy Cllr Denise Lelliott and Strategic Director for Regeneration and Environmental Services Damien Wilson a tour of the new bar and bistro.

Rotherham’s historic sorting office is being brought back to life as one of Rotherham's finest eateries and wine establishments - with a special nod to its heritage.

The 1915 Bar & Bistro - formerly Yates Wine Lodge - is set to open on Domine Lane in December and is already getting a reputation as a special place to visit – before it has even opened its doors or completed its refurbishment.

The bar’s new owner is Mark McGrail, a successful local businessman who owns SME Environmental Services. The name 1915 is a nod to Rotherham’s General Post Office which occupied the site and the building next door at that time.

Mark says that if he hadn’t bought the building, another company had plans to demolish it. He is now in the process of restoring the building to its former glory and also hopes to buy other historical properties in the borough. However, it is not all about preservation – Mark believes Rotherham is on the cusp of something great. The new bar looks out on Forge Island where a new leisure hub is being planned. Rotherham Council is currently in talks to purchase the site with several investors already showing an interest in development opportunities, with demolition of the former Tesco building expected to take place in December.

Rotherham Council has been keen to support Mark’s plans, with the council’s Cabinet Member for Jobs and the Local Economy Cllr Denise Lelliott believing people like Mark are central to the future of the town.

She said: "Mark has a clear plan for 1915 which is mirrored by the Council’s vision for the town centre. Rotherham has the opportunities – beautiful landmarks, historical buildings, green spaces, and a fantastic canal and river running through the town. We need to encompass and make the most of these assets. We're delighted that Mark recognises this potential and we are honoured to be given the chance to support him with his new bar and we are looking forward to working with him on future projects."

Born in Rotherham, and leaving school at 13, Mark’s first job was helping to dismantle the old Sheffield infirmary. Now having built up a successful environmental recovery and reclamation business he says he wants to give something back to Rotherham with his dream to restore buildings which have a focal point to Rotherham's great past.

The original post office was designed by architect Walter Pott and opened in March 1907. Besides arrangements for sorting letters and telegrams, there was the chief clerk's office, rooms for the storage of messengers' bicycles, postmaster's and telegraph instrument rooms and telegraph linesmen's rooms. An impressive building, the external includes stone carving crests and the coat of arms of George VI, Walker, Fitzwilliam and Effingham.

The new 1915 bar was once an extension to the main Post Office. Mark is passionate about the building and its refurbishment, even down to exposing the English stitch bricks to restore the wall to its natural state. Skylights, which house half of the building and were previously covered in sticky black plastic, have been meticulously removed to reveal a light and airy space inside. The original stained glass windows which adorn the internal walls and eaves have also been uncovered and lovingly restored.

The new bar and bistro will feature an indoor mezzanine. Whilst there will be a bistro-style menu featuring chunky burgers and a selection of steaks, an outdoor kitchen will enable street food to be cooked on the forecourt. The bar will also offer a selection of draft and bottled beers and lagers, wines and cocktails and will feature a gin-bar and real-ale bar.

1915 will have its official launch at the beginning of December when 200 guests will be invited to celebrate 40 years of Rotherham Rise - Rotherham Women’s Refuge - as well as celebrate the work of The Old Market Gallery which sits across the road from the bar. Guests will be given the opportunity to learn more about the history of the building. Following a Facebook invite, over 600 people have already said they would like to attend.

The popularity of the venue even before it has opened, and the mixed launch, can be attributed to Mark, who is passionate about Rotherham and is determined to be inclusive in the rejuvenation of the town centre.

He said: "Rotherham was once such a powerful town, but it’s forgotten where it's from. Speak to people who live outside of Rotherham and they appreciate the history of the place, the buildings and its landmark. This building is central to a lot of what went on at the time it was built. It is critical that it is saved and used for decades to come.

"At the end of the day, I'm a businessman and I wouldn't be investing if I didn't believe it could make money. And Rotherham has a lot of potential with the future development of Forge Island and the Council’s plans to rejuvenate Rotherham."

Mark wants to be a key part of those plans, and part of that means offering opportunities to young people in the borough. As such, he is renovating the underground rooms of the old offices – on average, the basement is 24 feet below street level, which required a large amount of building work when it was originally built, and none less so today.

Four rooms, each fronted by glass, with access via an underground corridor to the front of the building, will be offered to young entrepreneurs aged 18-24 years old as retail incubation space.

Rotherham Council’s Strategic Director for Regeneration and Environmental Services Damien Wilson said: "Mark first approached our RiDO team when he was looking for an opportunity to invest and we are pleased we've been able to give him the practical support he wanted. A lot is happening in Rotherham – it is a unique town with much to offer and we are confident that businesses who choose to invest here will succeed and flourish in the coming years."

In addition to supporting 1915, Rotherham Council recently approved plans for a restaurant on Ship Hill, and for a restaurant and bar in the former Santandar bank on College Street.

Other ventures taking place nearby include the new Amber Lounge - a cocktail, champagne and craft beer lounge on Moorgate Street - whilst refurbishment work is currently taking place on the former Corn Law Rhymer to become Stone and Taps at the top of High Street. The Crofts, the vacant former Cross Keys pub, has also recently sold at auction.

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