Thew news has reached me this week that another old pub has closed its doors. The Exchange Ale House on Market street apparently saw its final night last night, bringing to a close the current 10 year lease.
I first started going in the pub back in 1991 as a naive 16 year old. The landlord was a moustached guy called Kevin I recall. It was an ideal meeting place for everybody with its central location and close proximity to bus stops and it was always my starting point on a night out. The style of the pub was always pretty mainstream with a slight rock feel but it was never what you would call a rock pub (I guess a lot of town centre pubs were like that in those days). Through the early 90’s until 1996, I preferred pubs such as The Mannville, The Smithy and Tumblers and when the two former closed, I briefly used the Exchange as a more regular pub until the Empress turned into a rock pub in 1997.
At the time it was managed by Claire Beastie and it had a fairly large bunch of loyal and close staff and regulars. In fact, they used to refer to themselves as the “family”. From that group, I met some very good friends of mine, one of whom in fact turned out to be my future wife.
A lot of the crowd of the time used to flit between the Empress and the Exchange but each had its own definite followers. Whereas the Empress was more of a definite rock and metal pub, the Exchange retained its mainstream and widespread appeal. It was always a beautiful pub inside with its dark wood, brickwork, stone floor and polished brass and it was generally very well maintained. I think this period is what I would call “my” Exchange. I am sure everyone has their own.
This era lasted for another 3 years or so until the brewery decided to sell the lease for the pub. It was never to be quite the same again. Initially, the new leaseholders turned the place into something a bit more upmarket, fitting carpets and changing the music and style of the place quite significantly. The Exchange regulars decamped to the Empress briefly and then the newly reopened Market Tavern, which was a kind of mini Rio’s in pub format.
After a while, a few of the old regulars slowly filtered back in and eventually I think the leaseholders conceded that the place should return to more of what it used to be, employing new management who were more familiar with the M.O. At first, it wasn’t far off. A lot of the same old customers returned and the place immediately burst into life again.
After a small succession of managers, Steve Malley took the helm and the place evolved into even more of a rock/metal place than ever before – what a lot of people remember it to be. This was quite a buzzing time for Bradford with 3 town centre rock pubs, each within walking distance from each other and Rio’s up the hill. Somewhere along the line, most of those places disappeared but the Exchange stuck in there and for a brief period of maybe a month or so was pretty much the only rock pub in the city, with the exception of the Gasworks which was more of a bar/club than a public house.
Since 2006/7, changes in (mis)management, questionable decor and an embarrasing name change to “The Xchange”, saw the popularity of the pub fall dramatically over the next couple of years or so and despite Danny recently becoming manager, which resulted in a slight peak in trade, it was obvious that the old character and appeal of the pub were long gone.
My recent visits to the Exchange have been few and far between. Not because I necessarily haven’t wanted to. I am very much a creature of habit and when I get settled into a pattern of regular places which I visit, I seldom veer elsewhere. I have often asked about the place to people who I bump into, including Danny who’s recent efforts I think were admirable given what he had left of the place to work with.
I admit I have been fairly outspoken about my opinions on aspects of the Exchange in recent years. I guess I found it ever so sad to see its slow demise from what I remember to be a great watering hole. I have already read and heard mocking comments about it closing, which I don’t think is very fair really. It is easy to laugh and point but remember over the years, it has meant a lot of things to a lot of people and many people did actually put a lot of hard work into the place. Whatever your opinions of The Exchange from whatever era so far, this cannot be denied.
I just hope that the place continues to be a pub. I don’t think it needs to try and be anything but The Exchange Ale House. With a bit of TLC it could be a fantastic place. A real ale spot, a Bierkeller perhaps (an idea I know a few people are keen on). I personally think that for far too long, the place has tried to be something that it is not. I look fondly back to my memories of the Exchange of the 1990’s and whilst I don’t think it will ever be quite the same ever again, I hope that whoever takes it on next will have the care and attention to make it into something just as good.