All change at Wigan venue as new-look bar opens

Emily Pilling at the newly renovated Bailiff Bar at The Old Courts, Wigan
Emily Pilling at the newly renovated Bailiff Bar at The Old Courts, Wigan

Our beer expert Andrew Nowell takes a look the new Bailiff Bar at the Old Courts...

A leading Wigan arts venue is hoping to attract people throughout the day after completely renovating its downstairs bar.

The Bailiff Bar at The Old Courts has been completely transformed from somewhere serving drinks while visitors watch a band or an open mic night into somewhere Wiganers can drop in at any time in the afternoon and evening.

The team at the Crawford Street culture hub has put in a massive amount of work to open up the space, completely redesign the bar to give more room for a wider selection of drinks and bring more light into the venue.

In keeping with The Old Courts’ position as an artistic venue local talent is also being showcased with their work prominently displayed on the walls.

The team at the former Victorian seat of justice turned arts venue says they were inspired by trendy inner-city drinking establishments and wanted to bring some of that urban ambience to Wigan.

Jonny Davenport from The Old Courts said: “We’ve shipped out everything from the old bar.

“Before it was a blacked-out small music venue.

“It worked well for that but we’ve always had aspirations of getting Edinburgh Fringe-style events, stand-up comedy nights, one and two-man shows and alternative events. We weren’t really able to accommodate those types of enquiries.

“We wanted to make it a lot more accessible and the idea was to allow a lot more people to be exposed to alternative arts that they haven’t necessarily seen before or would have to go to local cities to experience.

“In terms of aesthetic it couldn’t be any further from what it was before. We wanted it to look like the kind of placec you might see in the Northern Quarter.

“There’s lots of exposed brickwork and we also wanted to make it different by having exclusively Wigan artwork on all the walls. We’ve even got the artists’ names on cards underneath each piece.”

The new bar caters to a range of discerning tastes, with The Old Courts stocking for the first time an extensive range of craft beers and real ales on cask.

There is also a huge selection of the trendiest drinks of the moment, with plenty of gins, whiskies and wines by independent producers to sample.

The new bar is also making a play for the cocktail market, relishing the sense of drama that comes with concoctions being shaken and stirred right in front of the punters.

The Bailiff Bar opens at noon every day except when it is shut on Mondays, and Jonny says he even hopes to capture something of city cafe culture there as well as providing a place for a night out.

He said: “People are welcome to come in for a pint or a coffee. There’s free wifi and lots of USB plugs to charge your phone or laptop so we’re really encouraging people to come in to work or to hold informal meetings.

“We’ve maintained some of the styles people liked to drink before but we’ve now got a great range of craft ales and there are probably over 100 bottles and cans.

“We’ve had so much positive feedback so far, people are made up.

“We’re also doing cocktails. Our head barman Rob MacDonald went down to London to do an intensive mixology course and now he’s training up the other bar staff.

“That gives a bit more theatre behind the bar. Originally we were going to have a separate room but when we’ve been to Battersea Arts Centre and various ccities we’ve noticed they have a lot of theatre around the actual bar space. We’ve run with that and people are enjoying sitting at the bar and being near it.”

The comprehensive re-jig means the large stage area, which previously dominated the main room downstairs, has gone and been replaced with a cabaret-style corner set-up for the band and open mic nights.

Jonny said: “We were a bit anxious how that would be received but the feedback has been good. People have told us it feels more sociable.”

Jonny also points out that, as a non-profit organisation, the money in the Bailiff Bar’s till is being ploughed back into the venue and its programme of arts and culture.

For more information about the bar, what’s on and the entire venue, visit www.theoldcourts.com