Is it a pub? Is it a barbers? Before you pull out your hair and throw down your ale, fret not: it’s both.
Gallagher’s Pub & Barbers, Birkenhead has pulled off the unthinkable and the venture is rapidly growing, not only as one of Wirral’s favourite watering holes, but as a popular tourist destination.
It is the brainchild and successful creation of landlord and landlady (and hairdressing entrepreneurs) Frank and Sue Gallagher who bought the vacant pub nearly four years ago while on the hunt for a new venue for their barbers.
“We’re a barbers by trade” said Sue. We had two shops: one on Market Street and another close by and we came to look at this one by curiosity really. The barbers was going to be the main business of course.”
However such was the ambition shown by the pair that they not only managed to open up a brand new barbers shop, but succeeded in restoring the old bar that still existed from it’s former life as the Dispensary pub which had fallen into a sorry state.
The transformation from dilapidated pub to thriving business was complete and the resulting cosy and traditional pub setting with a fantastic range of real ales, beers and spirits is a reality.
Don’t just take my word for it. Gallaghers’ achievements were duly recognised just two years into business when it was first awarded CAMRA Pub of the Year for Wirral. It has since gone on to win it a further two times. Looks like the barbers know how to cut it as landlords too. So what’s the secret?
“I think there’s a big community spirit”, said Sue. “We’ve got good ale and good bar staff which always helps!
It seems it’s not just the ale that has the locals coming back for more. Gallaghers is host to a number of events. Sunday night sees resident band The Gamblers offer their folky sound to punters. Friday night is Cocktail Night in their upstairs function/events room, run by daughter Issy (Cocktails are two for £8 before 8pm), while every first and third Thursday of the month sees the pub host The Poetry Spoke group who read verse. And whether you’re able to quote more of Mr Burns than Robert Burns matters not; everyone is welcome to join in or just listen.
But the pub also plans trips out for it’s regulars; another example of that priceless community spirit.
“We’ll have an event and it will take off and it quickly becomes a tradition. Last year we decided to go to Cartmel Races and that was a success so that will probably become a yearly thing.”
Just as the annual conker tournament has!
“We have a conker tournament every year”, said Sue. People go out and get their own, they do their own little rituals (like soaking them in vinegar). It’s always a lot of fun.”
Situated at the Bridge Street end of Chester Street, the pub is modestly tucked away- announcing itself with it’s beaming red and white barbers pole- but with a quality hair cut or delicious real ale so accessible by public transport, you’ll wonder why you’ve never popped in.
Gallaghers is just a two minute walk from Hamilton Square station, which for over-the-water folk is a mere three minute hop from James Street. Or if you’d prefer the scenic route, a Mersey Ferry will get you from the Pier Head to Woodside terminal which is within sight of the pub itself.
Sue says that it’s not just a pub of locals; they attract plenty of day-trippers who have hopped the ferry from Liverpool.
“There’s a real shortage of accommodation in Birkenhead, especially where we are, for people/tourists to stay. We lose a lot of people to Liverpool. But then we still get tourists come over thanks to the good transport links with Woodside and Hamilton Square station so close. Some will even come back and become a regular.”
Frank and Sue are certainly doing their best to make sure visitors who make the trip over the water are encouraged to stay, thanks largely to it’s warm family-run feel (daughter Samantha runs the barbers while son Mike works the pub).
“We’ve bought a building nearby which we’re hoping to turn in to guest accommodation. Frank is ex- Irish Guard so old friends of his will visit and want somewhere to stay, which is hard to do at the moment as there’s a real shortage.”
Having successfully navigated the pub industry, it would seem there’s no reason why the Gallaghers can’t extend their empire even further into hospitality.
Birkenhead is long overdue a proper make-over in it’s post-industrialised state and such ventures are exactly what the town needs. But it is a pub deeply engrossed in the past, as highlighted by the recent visit of a certain broadcaster/comedian.
“We had Mark Steel from Radio 4 down here about two weeks ago. He popped in for his ‘Mark Steel’s In Town’ road-show series as he’d been at Cammell Laird learning about the history of Birkenhead. Once he heard about us he came in to speak to the locals and then returned later to have a haircut”.
The pub is decorated from floor to ceiling in framed photographs/paintings of various boats and ships on the Mersey, as well as various armed service caps and other war memorabilia that adorn the bar. So, what’s the story?
“We have two daughters (Fiona and Francesca) in the army so it runs in the family. We had a lot of it in our barbers before we moved here so we brought it with us.”
“Some regulars started to bring in their own caps and other bits of memorabilia from their own previous regiments. It got to the point where people kept ‘complaining’ that we didn’t have their regiments so they just kept bringing their own stuff in. But it’s a special part of the pub and Remembrance Day is a very popular day for us and the regulars.”
A pub with local and historical ties is nothing particularly new. But a pub and barbers which takes great interest in it’s town’s past with a view to it’s future, is quite unique.
Gallaghers Pub and Barbers; Chester Street, Birkenhead, Wirral, CH41 5DQ (Tel: 0151 649 9095)
Barbers: Open: Tues-Fri, 9am-5pm and Sat, 9am-4pm Closed: Sun-Mon
Bar: Open: Mon-Thurs, 12 noon-11pm and Fri-Sun, 12 noon-midnight
By Joe Carroll