Since the Smithy had closed in 1996, a few of us had started frequenting the Exchange Ale House, which was fine but at the time played mainly piped music. It was good but some of us wanted something a bit more.
In the early part of 1997, The Empress was a city centre pub which was not enjoying the best of trade. It was a Bass house which did very well from the day time drinkers but struggled on a weekend night. It was a pub with a reasonably sized function room and dance floor which had tons of potential. Coincidentally, a few of us had the same idea at the same time of asking the landlord Paul Hutchinson if he would be up for hosting rock nights. He was happy to oblige and the first rock based staff and DJs started in February 1997. I joined the team in the spring of 1997 as a DJ and also worked behind the bar for a short time.
The pub naturally took on a rock and alternative format, filling its extensive jukebox with many different sounds, hosting DJs and live music until late 3 nights a week. It became very successful and earned a very good reputation on the band circuit and underground metal scenes.
The Empress continued for seven years or so becoming one of the longest running rock pubs in the city at the time. Unfortunately, the owners of the building had decided to demolish the pub and build an apartment block, with the beer garden area becoming a Tesco Express. The pub had been purchased from Bass at the back end of the 90s by a company which wanted to take advantage of its proximity to the new centenary square development. I had been a resident DJ from 1997 to 2004. I had also been involved in putting a couple of gigs on as well as playing there myself as part of at least two bands (Purity Cries and Reeved). By the time of its closure, I had very much felt like a part of the furniture but I guess the place had passed its best as once enthusiastic patrons had moved on. I will always look back on The Empress with fondness. Although it was not my favourite of venues passed, I had some wild and crazy times there and it served me well through most of my twenties.