Keel Tavern, Sunderland – England

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The tavern is located beneath a newly constructed Holiday Inn Hotel at the new Keel Square in Sunderland. The square holds its place at the heart of the Riverside Sunderland regeneration programme, spear heading the investment by Sunderland City Council and its partners to develop and build a future on and around the former Vaux Breweries site on the south side of the River Wear.
With the venue’s location being so close to the former Vaux Brewery site, it seemed a logical decision to ‘tip a cap’ in that direction when designing the interior of this ‘tavern’. It would be easy to create a Vaux ‘museum’, there is such a fondness for the brewery and its legacy in the city that finding memorabilia wouldn’t be too difficult. Instead, the design studio leaned towards the design elements that were common around Vaux public houses themselves. The panelling on the walls and friezes comprises a corner detail of the traditional signage around a Vaux pub exterior. The barrel staves and hops gathered on another wall hark back to when the city centre would occasionally smell of fresh hops being boiled in the brewery. Other accents like the giant ‘still top’ lights and a wonderful steel ‘sculpture’ of barrels, crates and a drayman’s bowler hat and gloves sit proudly on the upper mezzanine viewing balcony.
The balustrading around the gangways and balconies are a version of the great football ground architect; Archibald Lietch’s famous lattice work at Roker Park, the former ground of Sunderland AFC where Vaux had a long running sponsorship and bond with the club, it’s fans and the wider community. The tiles on the walls are an element to reflect the ‘factory’ environment of the ‘Bottling Hall’ at the brewery.
All the while, this ‘history’ needs to be relevant in a city centre bar in 2024. Certainly, you could be present in the venue with no knowledge or even any interest in its design threads, so long as you can find a comfortable space to enjoy the food and drinks on offer. Enjoy a business lunch, a pre- or post-match pint, or just a night out with friends. Booth seating, alongside high-level social tables and cosy niches offer a mix of comfort to experience.
The bar counter itself has the biggest and boldest suggestion that there are some great craft beers on sale here. There is no doubt
what this place is all about when a huge, hand crafted, copper Bavarian Font is there for all to see! Made in Germany by skilled coppersmiths, this font is the only one in the world with eighteen taps, nine either side of the giant ‘kettle’ in the centre.
The lighting is key to creating the warmth of the ‘tavern’ environment. The amber glow from the giant ‘still top’ pendants. These shapes were bespoke manufactured using fibreglass and housing a ring pendant to create these domineering and ‘talking point’ features. The Jielde angle poise wall lights and the beautiful Felix reeded glass pendants and table lamps ensure the quality and ambience are tuned into the right settings depending on the time of day or night.
Starting with a very tall concrete box with a huge west facing glazed façade, Pulp Studios Design House were responsible for the space planning to incorporate all the back of house areas to include kitchen, cellar, plant rooms, staff office and facilities etc. Without having a huge footprint, the design studio used the three-storey height of the unit to its maximum by incorporating the public washroom facilities onto a lower mezzanine and, climbing a few more treads, up to the upper viewing mezzanine where patrons can enjoy their own cosy booth whilst watching Keel Square below.
The entire space is beautifully filled, just enough, without clutter to create this wonderful environment for patrons to enjoy, relax and have fun.

Photographer: Elliot Nichol Photography
Interior Designer: Pulp Studios Design House
Main Contractor: The Abbey Group

Keel Tavern
Keel Square, Sunderland SR1 3DW, England
Phone: +44 191 707 0150


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