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How to bank on a good night out; They're the new bottle banks with over-draughts and liquid assets...

C HEQUE it out... the "inn" place for wining and dining is now your local bank! And Nicola Keaney isn't the only one who is cashing in on the new trend.

Because the exchange rate - turning old banks into pubs - is going up all the time.

Nicola works at Bennetts, in Birmingham city centre, the latest bar where beer on draught has replaced the overdraft.

Banks and building societies are closing down branches they no longer need.

And that opens up new investment opportunities for the breweries who are looking for buildings with a touch of class.

The Bennetts building had been used by a succession of banks since 1869, until the NatWest finally moved out in 1995.

Then, Marstons Brewery spent more than pounds 1 million refurbishing the bar on the corner of Bennett's Hill and Waterloo Street.

Now, the vaults have been turned into beer cellars and they serve up baguettes instead of bank statements.

Marstons has also converted the former NatWest bank in Lichfield Street, Wolverhampton, into Rothwells at a cost of about pounds 750,000.

But Marstons is not the only firm that believes it can earn rich dividends by turning old banks into golden bars.

Fullers Inns have just spent more than pounds 1 million converting the old Lloyds branch in Temple Row, in Birmingham, into the Old Joint Stock.

Moseley's Hogshead used to be a branch of the TSB before the tills were turned into a taproom.

Carpe Diem, in Birmingham's Great Charles Street, was once a branch of Lloyds Bank.

It opened in 1994 and was one of the first bank-to-bar conversions in Birmingham.

Allied Domecq Leisure, the firm which owns it, also owns the Factotum & Firkin in Bennetts Hill, Birmingham.

A former Halifax Building Society branch, builders took 16 weeks to turn it into a pub at a cost of pounds 1.2 million.

The management offices are now the Balcony Bar, while downstairs bar staff serve in the main bar where cashiers once stood.

Mike Price, acquisitions executive for Allied, said: "The Factotum & Firkin is in a prime location in a developing part of town.

"It makes sense for us to convert banks and we are currently on the look out for more."

The London-based property firm City Centre Restaurants is also keen to get in on the act.

A branch of Caffe Uno, one of its subsidiaries, has opened in the old Bank of India offices in Colmore Row and more are planned.

It still gets visits from Bank of India customers who cannot believe their eyes when they walk in.

The Left Bank, which opened in Broad Street three years ago, is another restaurant which gets visits from people who remember it as a branch of Barclays.

Caroline Furby, managing director of Bobby Browns Ltd which now owns it, said: "Customers come in and remark how much they hated it as a bank.

"They point to where they used to get told off over the money they owed."

Terry Bray, regional organiser for the Banking, Insurance and Finance Union, said: "More than 20,000 bank staff have lost their jobs and hundreds of banks have been closed in the region over the last seven years.

"Obviously this frees up a lot of very nice buildings in key parts of towns and cities."

Anne Robinson, secretary of the Midland Counties Brewers and Licensed Retailers Association, said: "People are not drinking in pubs as much as they used to.

"Small, less profitable community-based pubs are being sold off and the money is increasingly being invested in quality, city centre venues."

n What do you think about breweries cashing in on old bank buildings? Write and let us know at Talkabout, Sunday Mercury, 28 Colmore Circus, Birmingham B4 6AZ.
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Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Mar 8, 1998
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