A businessman who is building up something of a Manx pub empire says he is optimistic for the future of our local boozers.
The pub trade here, like in the UK and Ireland, has been hit hard in recent years by the economic downturn and the smoking ban, leading to drinkers calling time on going out for a pint and staying at home instead.
But Marty Downey, who now owns five well-known pubs in the island - his latest acquisition, the Railway Inn at Union Mills opening just before this year’s TT – believes our boozers are making a comeback.
He said: ‘Takings at the Railway have really gone up since TT. I’m very optimistic about all the pubs.
‘If they are run properly and kept respectable, people will come to them. It’s easy to say it’s cheaper to have a drink at home but what’s the fun of sitting at home looking at the four walls?’
Marty set up Island Drainage and Groundworks in 1990. His first foray into the pub trade was a decade later in 2001, with the Victoria Tavern on Douglas’s Victoria Street.
It had latterly been operated as a Chinese restaurant but had seen better days. Marty bought it up and converted it into a wine bar.
Next up was the Glen Mona Hotel in 2004 and then the Ginger Hall in 2006-07. Both were done up and rented out.
They were followed in 2010 by the Tynwald Hill Inn which has had a chequered history since then, having been leased out, then sublet and finally having closed down just after TT.
Marty, 62, got the keys back this week and intends to get his builders in soon to begin renovations. His idea is to put in a restaurant and have the pub back open by mid to late September. He says he intends to lease out the Tynwald Hill Inn. ‘We’ve got somebody in line for that,’ he said.
Marty runs the latest edition to his empire himself.
TT star Michael Dunlop was invited to officially reopen the Railway Inn last month. A former CAMRA pub of the year, and one of the best-known vantage points for the TT, the Railway had been run by Celia Morgan whose family had owned and operated it for 100 years.
The pub now has a strong TT and Manx Grand Prix theme with many photographs of stars from the past right up to the present day with the Dunlop brothers. A new beer garden at the side has superb viewing for the races overlooking the course.
Marty says: ‘We spent a lot of money refurbishing it with a new beer garden at the side. It’s a family orientated pub, geared up for the family. We do evening meals with home cooking.’
He is planning to get another VIP to officially reopen the Tynwald Inn later this year.
So why did he get involved in pubs in the first place? Marty, who works hand in hand with commercial director Paul Corteen on the pub acquisitions and refits, said: ‘To be honest they are a better return than having your money in the bank. And I enjoy doing it!’
He moved to the island from his native Northern Ireland in 1971. His first job was a kitchen porter but his businesses, which includes Island Drainage and two building firms – Ramsey-based Caine Bros and Tooms Bros, based at Ballacutchel Farm, Braddan – now employ a total of 120 people in the island.
So has he plans to expand his empire? ‘Watch this space. I’m certainly not going to retire!’