Rebrand takes city pub hotel back to its roots

Nick Rawes is Deputy manager of the Toll House Inn, Lancaster
Nick Rawes is Deputy manager of the Toll House Inn, Lancaster

Those familiar with the Lancaster pub and restaurant scene will have noticed quite a few changes across the city of late.

Many of Lancaster’s licenced premises have gone through a spruce up or complete refurbishment over the last couple of years, and The Toll House Inn is one of them.

Trying to shake the image of “hotel with bar downstairs”, owners Thwaites decided to rebrand the former Penny Street Bridge, in Penny Street, to take the building back it its roots and re-nose its emphasis on being a pub as well as a hotel.

Following a £200,000 investment it is now one of the company’s Inns of Character, with a focus on the style and history of the building.

Deputy manager Nick Rawes, 37, said the renaming and refurbishment of the building was based on five years of research.

He said: “The Penny Street Bridge was the big thing for Thwaites when it was re-opened in 2008.

“Over the years it turned into a hotel, and it got a name as mainly a hotel, but what we wanted it to be is a pub with rooms.

“We did lots of research and started getting some feedback. All the comments said people just thought it was a hotel with food, so Thwaites looked at doing another refurbishment.

“It was the name that we struggled to come up with. There were three or four to choose from, and then someone within the company suggested The Toll House Inn, as before 1901 it was the commercial toll house for Lancaster.

“So it was adopted and we took it back to its roots and it now preserves some of the city’s history.”

The premises re-opened on December 4 2015.

Although the decor has changed, the food, management and staff remain the same. The former Counting Room now caters for meetings, private meals, and functions for up to 20 people, and the reception for the hotel is now in the bar. There are three lines of craft keg on the bar, with Thwaites’ Crafty Dan and 13 Guns also on tap.

Thwaites recently bought The Boot and Shoe at Scotforth, and The Royal in Heysham village.

Nick is optimistic about the pub and hospitality industry in Lancaster.

“January has been a good month,” he said.

“We’re seeing a lot of new trade, and I think the pub environment in general is looking good in Lancaster.

“There’s a lot of good managers out there keeping the pubs going and keeping Lancaster a thriving city.”

Nick previously worked for JD Wetherspoon.

He opened The Green Ayre in Lancaster and the Eric Bartholomew in Morecambe and prior to that he worked at The Holiday Inn, in Caton Road, following a stint at The Greyhound in Halton.

He is an integral part of the planning and execution of Lancaster Music Festival, and is also in the process of planning for a Lancaster Pride event for 2017.

It’s an Inn of Character - of which there are eight, and over the next few years we’re looking at between 20 and 25. They focus on buildings that have got character to them.

For example the staircase is listed, the stained glass windows, the old arches in the corners of the bedrooms, which have been converted from a large function room.

Reception is now in the bar, and we’ve now got a proper meeting room called The Counting Room which can seat around 20 people - the character is important.

We’re looking at converting two rooms into “city rooms” with a local theme.