Hove's Freemasons has been a landmark along Western Road for more than 150 years – even giving its name to a chart-bothering Brighton DJ duo.
But sadly the last few years haven’t been kind to the pub, which has been chopped and changed, and even converted into a cocktail bar at one point.
“There was a bar in the centre of the room so everything was in a corridor,” says general manager Zoe Tucker, who has taken on the pub after a successful stint at Hove’s Ancient Mariner in Rutland Road.
“It wasn’t cosy or inviting at all. There was lots of faux leather and pink velour kicking around. Every time it had been taken over it had been decorated differently, and there was a mish-mash of stuff that had stayed around.”
Following an eight-week closure and a £250,000 programme of works, new owners InnBrighton have taken the venue back to its pub roots, making the one-time upstairs function room into an integral part of the building, removing the central bar, and taking inspiration from the stunning listed mosaic entrance facing Western Road.
Downstairs the interior is now open and inviting, with varnished wooden floors, exposed brick and painted plaster walls, and big tables along the edges which are perfect for large parties.
The back walls are dominated by two specially-commissioned paintings, by signwriter Katherine Lang, referring to the pub’s Freemasons monicker, with images from the classic movie The Man Who Would Be King and a political cartoon seeing Angela Merkle and David Cameron controlled by strings.
And both outside and upstairs, Lang has recreated giant versions of the Freemasons compasses and set square symbol.
In keeping with the secret society theme, there is a corner of the pub called The Lodge plastered with pictures of those alleged to be Freemasons, from Oliver Hardy to Phil Collins and Nookie Bear.
“Previously there hadn’t been any connection inside with the Freemasons theme,” says Gavin George, chief executive of InnBrighton, which owns more than 40 pubs in Brighton and has now expanded to include four neighbourhood venues in London.
“There are some surprising people connected to the Freemasons who we found on the internet – our customers are having fun looking at the pictures and seeing how many they can name.”
The refurbished pub opened just before Christmas, and has already proved popular among visitors.
Something for everyone
“It was something that was missing in this area,” says Tucker. “There are lots of little pubs along here, but this pub has something for everybody.
“There has been a massive upsurge in customers, with lots of new faces we have never seen before, as well as old friends who love this pub, and love it even more now.
“A lot of people say they even prefer the upstairs – it’s a smaller, cosier area with window seats that has more of a living room feel rather than a beer hall. We’ve removed the PVC-fronted bar!”
The Freemasons offers coffee by day, as well as a wide selection of wines, spirits and beers.
The real ales on tap include Laine’s Best, brewed at sister pub The North Laine, as well as selections from local brewers including Dark Star, Arundel, Crawley’s Kissing Gate and Franklin’s from Bexhill.
There are a few speciality beers too, including the Czech black lager Krusovice, and the Belgian abbey-brewed strong lager Affligem.
A full menu was also launched in December, focusing on traditional pub classics including sausage and mash, cottage pie, fish and chips, chicken, ham and leek pie and burgers.
“We talked to people before we closed about what they wanted,” says Tucker. “We had a very modern menu in place before, because we didn’t think a traditional pub menu would work in the space as it was.
“Everything is homemade, simple but really well done. Quality is key.”
With the Brighton Institute Of Modern Music only around the corner, the pub also offers a BIMM bacon buttie or cheesy chips with a pint for £5.
During the week, Freemasons is hosting live music every Thursday, the club night The People’s Playlist on Fridays and guest DJs, including Juice 107.2 FM’s Jonno, on Saturdays.
The pub also has a secret DJ system, which customers can control through a smart phone app to request what is played on the soundsystem.
“People get quite cheesy,” says Tucker. “We have a lot of 1980s tunes!”
Next week Tucker is planning to launch a new fun pub quiz, and admits she is looking forward to hosting a few special nights throughout the year.
“As a pub manager you set the scene with everything you do,” says Tucker. “I love hosting in my home and looking after people – this is an extension of my living room. I’ve got to make sure everyone is happy.”
That plays a major part in InnBrighton’s philosophy.
“Our managers take ownership of the pub – what brings people here is what Zoe does and her individualism,” says George.
“People have a lot of competition for their time outside of home and work. Pubs are a third place, somewhere you invest emotion and loyalty. We want to keep our pubs comfortable and individual.”
Western Road, Hove, 01273 732043. Open 11am to 1am Monday to Thursday, 11am to 2am Friday and Saturday and 11am to midnight on Sunday. For more details, visit www.drinkinbrighton.co.uk/freemasons