Writer

The Prestonville Arms Brighton – Literally a locals’ pub

When Brighton Beer Blog wandered into The Prestonville Arms Brighton, desperate for food late on an eat-out-to-help-out evening, we couldn’t have imagined what a warm and welcoming couple we’d find behind the bar.

Chatting to Caroline and Will over the course of a couple of visits, their love for the pub and drive to make people’s time there enjoyable was plain to see.

Then we heard the epic story of how they went from simply being passionate local punters to proud publicans, and we had to share it…

Tell us a bit about yourselves, and the tale of how you came to be running the Prestonville Arms.

Will
Ooh, that’s really quite a big question. (Laughter)
I used to live in Brighton and worked in bars for about eight years, eventually becoming a manager. I then spent six years in events, where I met Caroline, and we spoke about doing something foodie, pub orientated.

 

Caroline
We were both living in London then, but we moved to Brighton. I gave up events work while Will continued running festivals and commuting to London.

 

Will
So we moved just up the road in 2017, and the Prestonville Arms was our local. We loved this pub, it was awesome. Then something went wrong with the old landlord; it became grubby and there was never any beer on.

 

Caroline
In fact there were a few landlords, I think in the past two years there were about four of them.

 

Will
And the toilets were horrible. (Laughter)
At the end of all of this, just before Christmas last year, the landlords just gave up on it and it ended up being closed for two weeks, which was just really sad to see. A lot of people have been coming to this pub for 20 years or more, the whole of their adult lives. The kids living on this street have been raised eating the food from this pub, and it has a real community vibe to it. So when it stayed closed for two weeks there was this sort of collective depression and sadness.

 

Caroline
It’s always sad seeing a pub sitting there closed.

 

Will
So we decided to meet up with the brewery, just on the off chance, thinking this could be a good opportunity to take it on. So we talked things through, and two days later we were in here.

 

Caroline
Got the keys!

 

Will
A tenancy at will.

 

Both
We just thought fuck it, let’s do it. (Laughter)

 

Will
We spent two weeks cleaning, because it was disgusting. We ordered some booze from Fuller’s and finally opened, and everything was going really well.
We opened on Christmas Day for a couple of hours, which is an old tradition here. We took it through Christmas and New Year, got a chef in.

 

Caroline
We then decided to apply for the full lease. We were told that there was already another couple interested in the pub so it would be between them and us.
This went on for a couple of weeks; they kept saying “Well we haven’t decided yet who the best couple is.”
Then we got a sit-down meeting with Fuller’s here, just after Christmas, and they had decided to give it to another couple, just based on their experience of running another pub.

The business plan we were asked to fill out was a template that had nothing to do with our personal background, the events we’ve managed. 

 

Will
Or the fact that I’d managed bars previously for years as well.

 

Caroline
Eventually we were told that they had chosen the other couple. We were absolutely heartbroken. I was in tears. We’d put so much sweat, blood and tears into it.

 

Will
But word spread around that we hadn’t got the pub. The community somehow found out who to contact at Fuller’s and they essentially got bombarded with e-mails.

 

Caroline
(Laughing) All from the locals – nothing to do with us.

 

Will
Just everyone! Word spread really quickly, far and wide. Lo and behold, two days later we got a call from the guy at Fuller’s saying, “My boss has had a lot of e-mails… (laughter) and he can’t ignore the groundswell of emotion that you two have caused. He would like to come down and meet you personally.”
So he came down; but the whole time we were just thinking, we haven’t got the pub, they might offer us somewhere else. But we won’t get here.

 

Caroline
But in that time we redid our business plan. We scrapped the template and started again.

 

Will
So he came down for the meeting, and we explained that we just wanted a chance to fight our corner, we weren’t going to give up without a fight.

 

Will
The next day he phoned to say “I want a formal meeting with you both in a week’s time.” (Big sigh) So we carried on running the pub. The kitchen was open again – thankfully the chef was willing to carry on, even though we just didn’t know what was happening from week to week.
The next meeting was more formal, a kind of interview with him. It took two or three hours, and he scrutinised our business plan.

 

Caroline
We took him through the finances.

 

Will
We told him about our actual experience – we were more than capable, which he clearly hadn’t heard before – and in the end he said “I think you’ll be very happy here. I’d like to offer you the pub.”
So phew, what a relief! But we hadn’t ordered any booze, because we thought we’d be leaving, so we needed to get emergency orders in. Everyone was really happy. We threw a big party.

 

Caroline
Yeah, to say a big thank you to the locals.

 

Will
So we built the pub up to a really good point. It was busy, we had live music, quizzes, Sunday roasts, staff in, almost to the point we were considering taking a day off…

 

Caroline
And then COVID!! (Laughter)


Wow, an epic journey to this point. Apart from the prolonged application process, what are the practical steps in running a pub?

Caroline
The building is owned by Fuller’s, we set up a business and pay a rent, deposit and service charge, and order all our wet stock from them.

 

Will
You can buy the fixtures and fittings from the brewery or you can rent them. We rent, which means they’ll fix and replace.
If you were going to be somewhere for ten years or more you might buy them but that makes your start-up costs greater. But we have a three-year lease, and as we don’t know what might happen we decided to rent.


What is it about this pub in particular that made you want to run it?

Will
It was our local. We already had a love for it. It’s very hard to explain, and I think a lot of people who have been drinking here all their adult life would say the same. They all love it.
I think it’s the people that come in that make it. We did a lot of cleaning and improvements, especially in the garden, but really it’s the people.

 

Caroline
It is, but it’s also a beautiful building as well. You can find pictures on the internet from when it was built years and years and years ago. We’ve still got the exposed brick,  the fireplace that works in the winter, and it’s so cosy.

 

Will
Also because it’s just out of town we get a really relaxed crowd. There are never people doing shots at the bar. It’s just not that kind of place.


Are there any good stories or old gossip about this pub? 

Caroline
Ghosts!

 

Will
There’s an old landlord who died here, we’ve got the death certificate.

 

Caroline
Yeah. Of pneumonia.

 

Will
We didn’t know about this at first, but someone told us the pub is on the ghost walk of Brighton. We didn’t really believe them… but then we were decorating the back room and I put loads of pictures up. One particular picture I didn’t get round to putting up, and when we went in there the next day the landlord’s death certificate was framed and on the wall. I definitely did not put that up. I didn’t even realise what it was. I didn’t put it up. Did you, Caroline?

 

Caroline
No, and there are other things. Like we’ve cleaned down the night before and then come back in and the nozzle is on the Amstel. So unless our chef is sleep drinking… (Laughter) But it’s not scary.

 

Will
He’s a friendly ghost, isn’t he?


What does the Prestonville offer people? Why should they come and visit?

Caroline
We really want it to feel like an extension of your living room, so we want people to come with their dogs and their kids.

 

Will
Yeah, it’s not formal, it’s relaxed.

 

Caroline
You can get good food here – feed your kids – get a lovely meal with a couple of drinks.

 

Will
We like to think it’s the epitome of a traditional pub, done well.

 

Caroline
And when the masking tape comes up and the carpets go down in winter, and the fire is on, it’s going to be just lovely.

 

Will
Then there’s the regular quiz, last Thursday of every month. Before lockdown we had live music every Saturday, six-piece funk bands and the like.

 

Caroline
We are going to bring live music back, but it’ll probably just be a duo acoustic thing so that it doesn’t make people get up and dance too much. Music has always been important to us – we always wanted to have live music on. We’re in Brighton for Christ’s sake, the birthplace of so much fantastic music. There’s not as much access to free live music as you’d think in Brighton, and people love it, so it’s definitely something we’ll push a lot more when we can.

 

Will
We’ve spent some time making our own personal playlists for the pub as well.

 

Caroline
Additionally we like to do things around themes, like Halloween or Easter, things like Pride or Wimbledon or the European Championships (which we were going to do BBQs for) and get TVs in. If people don’t want to go into town or sit home on their own, we want people to know they can come here and have fun.

 

Why does this area need a really local pub?

Will
There are a lot of houses, and generally they aren’t rented – people own these houses. Anywhere like that needs a local community pub, and Brighton is quite a community-focused place.
One of the locals was in tears when the pub was closing before. She had spent most of her adult life coming here, she’d had lots of experiences here and she was really genuinely upset.

 

Caroline
Also some of the people around here are living on their own. One lady says her own goodnight to the pub when the lights turn off at night, and it’s just very sweet to know the pub is a place for people to feel together.

 

Will
It’s a shame at the moment because those people come here to socialise and meet people, and they can’t really at the moment. So we set up a bench for them across from the bar, so they can be socially distanced and still chat and talk to us as well, which they like to do.

 

And if the Prestonville wasn’t your local, what other pub in Brighton would you want as your local?

Will
Ohhh… One pub I’ve always loved, which is in town but without attracting that ‘in town’ crowd, is the Hop Poles. They’ve extended the garden, which is nice. It’s hard to put your finger on what’s special about it, but it just attracts good people.

 

Caroline
It’s the kind of place that only the locals seem to know is there – you don’t seem to get that passing crowd that just want to get tanked.

 

Will
It’s a place you can sit for a while with mates and have a few beers, which is what we like about pubs anyway.

 

If you could sum up the Prestonville Arms in three words what would they be?

Caroline
Second living room! (Laughter)

 

Will
Sorted.

1 Comment

  1. B Mortimer

    Hahaha, that was weird, the laugh had been pre-prompted by “the ghost”. The ghost is real, possibly, but the beer is real, definitely, and we would recommend

    Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

The Prestonville Arms Brighton – Literally a locals’ pub

When Brighton Beer Blog wandered into The Prestonville Arms Brighton, desperate for food late on an eat-out-to-help-out evening, we couldn’t have imagined what a warm and welcoming couple we’d find behind the bar

Chatting to Caroline and Will over the course of a couple of visits, their love for the pub and drive to make people’s time there enjoyable was plain to see.

Then we heard the epic story of how they went from simply being passionate local punters, to proud publicans, and we had to share it…

Tell us a bit about yourselves, and the tale of how you came to be running the Prestonville Arms.

Will
Ooh, that’s really quite a big question. (Laughter)
I used to live in Brighton and worked in bars for about eight years, eventually becoming a manager. I then spent six years in events, where I met Caroline, and we spoke about doing something foodie, pub orientated.

 

Caroline
We were both living in London then, but we moved to Brighton. I gave up events work while Will continued running festivals and commuting to London.

 

Will
So we moved just up the road in 2017, and the Prestonville Arms was our local. We loved this pub, it was awesome. Then something went wrong with the old landlord; it became grubby and there was never any beer on.

 

Caroline
In fact there were a few landlords, I think in the past two years there were about four of them.

 

Will
And the toilets were horrible. (Laughter)
At the end of all of this, just before Christmas last year, the landlords just gave up on it and it ended up being closed for two weeks, which was just really sad to see. A lot of people have been coming to this pub for 20 years or more, the whole of their adult lives. The kids living on this street have been raised eating the food from this pub, and it has a real community vibe to it. So when it stayed closed for two weeks there was this sort of collective depression and sadness.

 

Caroline
It’s always sad seeing a pub sitting there closed.

 

Will
So we decided to meet up with the brewery, just on the off chance, thinking this could be a good opportunity to take it on. So we talked things through, and two days later we were in here.

 

Caroline
Got the keys!

 

Will
A tenancy at will.

 

Both
We just thought fuck it, let’s do it. (Laughter)

 

Will
We spent two weeks cleaning, because it was disgusting. We ordered some booze from Fuller’s and finally opened, and everything was going really well.
We opened on Christmas Day for a couple of hours, which is an old tradition here. We took it through Christmas and New Year, got a chef in.

 

Caroline
We then decided to apply for the full lease. We were told that there was already another couple interested in the pub so it would be between them and us.
This went on for a couple of weeks; they kept saying “Well we haven’t decided yet who the best couple is.”
Then we got a sit-down meeting with Fuller’s here, just after Christmas, and they had decided to give it to another couple, just based on their experience of running another pub.

The business plan we were asked to fill out was a template that had nothing to do with our personal background, the events we’ve managed.

 

Will
Or the fact that I’d managed bars previously for years as well.

 

Caroline
Eventually we were told that they had chosen the other couple. We were absolutely heartbroken. I was in tears. We’d put so much sweat, blood and tears into it.

 

Will
But word spread around that we hadn’t got the pub. The community somehow found out who to contact at Fuller’s and they essentially got bombarded with e-mails.

 

Caroline
(Laughing) All from the locals – nothing to do with us.

 

Will
Just everyone! Word spread really quickly, far and wide. Lo and behold, two days later we got a call from the guy at Fuller’s saying, “My boss has had a lot of e-mails… (laughter) and he can’t ignore the groundswell of emotion that you two have caused. He would like to come down and meet you personally.”
So he came down; but the whole time we were just thinking, we haven’t got the pub, they might offer us somewhere else. But we won’t get here.

 

Caroline
But in that time we redid our business plan. We scrapped the template and started again.

 

Will
So he came down for the meeting, and we explained that we just wanted a chance to fight our corner, we weren’t going to give up without a fight.

 

Will
The next day he phoned to say “I want a formal meeting with you both in a week’s time.” (Big sigh) So we carried on running the pub. The kitchen was open again – thankfully the chef was willing to carry on, even though we just didn’t know what was happening from week to week.
The next meeting was more formal, a kind of interview with him. It took two or three hours, and he scrutinised our business plan.

 

Caroline
We took him through the finances.

 

Will
We told him about our actual experience – we were more than capable, which he clearly hadn’t heard before – and in the end he said “I think you’ll be very happy here. I’d like to offer you the pub.”
So phew, what a relief! But we hadn’t ordered any booze, because we thought we’d be leaving, so we needed to get emergency orders in. Everyone was really happy. We threw a big party.

 

Caroline
Yeah, to say a big thank you to the locals.

 

Will
So we built the pub up to a really good point. It was busy, we had live music, quizzes, Sunday roasts, staff in, almost to the point we were considering taking a day off…

 

Caroline
And then COVID!! (Laughter)


Wow, an epic journey to this point. Apart from the prolonged application process, what are the practical steps in running a pub?

Caroline
The building is owned by Fuller’s, we set up a business and pay a rent, deposit and service charge, and order all our wet stock from them.

 

Will
You can buy the fixtures and fittings from the brewery or you can rent them. We rent, which means they’ll fix and replace.
If you were going to be somewhere for ten years or more you might buy them but that makes your start-up costs greater. But we have a three-year lease, and as we don’t know what might happen we decided to rent.


What is it about this pub in particular that made you want to run it?

Will
It was our local. We already had a love for it. It’s very hard to explain, and I think a lot of people who have been drinking here all their adult life would say the same. They all love it.
I think it’s the people that come in that make it. We did a lot of cleaning and improvements, especially in the garden, but really it’s the people.

 

Caroline
It is, but it’s also a beautiful building as well. You can find pictures on the internet from when it was built years and years and years ago. We’ve still got the exposed brick,  the fireplace that works in the winter, and it’s so cosy.

 

Will
Also because it’s just out of town we get a really relaxed crowd. There are never people doing shots at the bar. It’s just not that kind of place.


Are there any good stories or old gossip about this pub? 

Caroline
Ghosts!

 

Will
There’s an old landlord who died here, we’ve got the death certificate.

 

Caroline
Yeah. Of pneumonia.

 

Will
We didn’t know about this at first, but someone told us the pub is on the ghost walk of Brighton. We didn’t really believe them… but then we were decorating the back room and I put loads of pictures up. One particular picture I didn’t get round to putting up, and when we went in there the next day the landlord’s death certificate was framed and on the wall. I definitely did not put that up. I didn’t even realise what it was. I didn’t put it up. Did you, Caroline?

 

Caroline
No, and there are other things. Like we’ve cleaned down the night before and then come back in and the nozzle is on the Amstel. So unless our chef is sleep drinking… (Laughter) But it’s not scary.

 

Will
He’s a friendly ghost, isn’t he?


What does the Prestonville offer people? Why should they come and visit?

Caroline
We really want it to feel like an extension of your living room, so we want people to come with their dogs and their kids.

 

Will
Yeah, it’s not formal, it’s relaxed.

 

Caroline
You can get good food here – feed your kids – get a lovely meal with a couple of drinks.

 

Will
We like to think it’s the epitome of a traditional pub, done well.

 

Caroline
And when the masking tape comes up and the carpets go down in winter, and the fire is on, it’s going to be just lovely.

 

Will
Then there’s the regular quiz, last Thursday of every month. Before lockdown we had live music every Saturday, six-piece funk bands and the like.

 

Caroline
We are going to bring live music back, but it’ll probably just be a duo acoustic thing so that it doesn’t make people get up and dance too much. Music has always been important to us – we always wanted to have live music on. We’re in Brighton for Christ’s sake, the birthplace of so much fantastic music. There’s not as much access to free live music as you’d think in Brighton, and people love it, so it’s definitely something we’ll push a lot more when we can.

 

Will
We’ve spent some time making our own personal playlists for the pub as well.

 

Caroline
Additionally we like to do things around themes, like Halloween or Easter, things like Pride or Wimbledon or the European Championships (which we were going to do BBQs for) and get TVs in. If people don’t want to go into town or sit home on their own, we want people to know they can come here and have fun.

 

Why does this area need a really local pub?

Will
There are a lot of houses, and generally they aren’t rented – people own these houses. Anywhere like that needs a local community pub, and Brighton is quite a community-focused place.
One of the locals was in tears when the pub was closing before. She had spent most of her adult life coming here, she’d had lots of experiences here and she was really genuinely upset.

 

Caroline
Also some of the people around here are living on their own. One lady says her own goodnight to the pub when the lights turn off at night, and it’s just very sweet to know the pub is a place for people to feel together.

 

Will
It’s a shame at the moment because those people come here to socialise and meet people, and they can’t really at the moment. So we set up a bench for them across from the bar, so they can be socially distanced and still chat and talk to us as well, which they like to do.

 

And if the Prestonville wasn’t your local, what other pub in Brighton would you want as your local?

Will
Ohhh… One pub I’ve always loved, which is in town but without attracting that ‘in town’ crowd, is the Hop Poles. They’ve extended the garden, which is nice. It’s hard to put your finger on what’s special about it, but it just attracts good people.

 

Caroline
It’s the kind of place that only the locals seem to know is there – you don’t seem to get that passing crowd that just want to get tanked.

 

Will
It’s a place you can sit for a while with mates and have a few beers, which is what we like about pubs anyway.

 

If you could sum up the Prestonville Arms in three words what would they be?

Caroline
Second living room! (Laughter)

 

Will
Sorted.

1 Comment

  1. B Mortimer

    Hahaha, that was weird, the laugh had been pre-prompted by “the ghost”. The ghost is real, possibly, but the beer is real, definitely, and we would recommend

    Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published.