When Sunderland’s Wild West bar was a great place to fall off the wagon

The ABC - where the Painted Wagon was once based.
The ABC - where the Painted Wagon was once based.
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Wearside’s cowboys and girls used to mosey on down to a western-themed pub in the 1970s – the Painted Wagon Saloon.

“Wagon wheels decorated the walls and ceilings, and there was even a wooden carriage called the Butterfield Overland Stage,” recalls Sunderland Echo photographic archivist Susan Swinney.

Holmeside August 1963. The ABC cinema is on the right.

Holmeside August 1963. The ABC cinema is on the right.

“It used to sell great platters of Western-style food, with huge heapings of chips, but I don’t think many Wearsiders dressed up in western gear when they visited the place.”

The Painted Wagon had its roots in Hollywood, rather than cowboy country, as it was built within Sunderland’s Holmeside ABC cinema in 1974 as part of an ‘entertainment centre’.

“Originally the cinema opened as the Ritz in 1937 and was run by Union Cinemas,” said Susan.

“It was then taken over by Associated British Cinema and renamed the ABC in 1961, but it was all change for the picture-house in 1974, when the former circle became a 534-seat screen, with the front stalls being converted into a second screen seating 212 people.

“Wagon wheels decorated the walls and ceilings, and there was even a wooden carriage called the Butterfield Overland Stage.”

Susan Swinney, photographic archivist for the Echo

“A third change saw the rear stalls converted into a pub – the Painted Wagon.

“Sadly, the £130,000 conversion destroyed much of the original art deco interior of the old auditorium.”

Civic dignitaries and business leaders gathered to mark the opening of the revamped cinema and new pub on August 12, 1974, and the Painted Wagon soon became a favourite among city drinkers.

“I know a great many people have fond memories of the saloon, but it has now faded into history, as has the ABC cinema, which sadly closed its doors in April 1999,” said Susan.

This is believed to be the Painted Wagon when it first opened. Photo courtesy of Allan Tutty.

This is believed to be the Painted Wagon when it first opened. Photo courtesy of Allan Tutty.

“But at least these old photos should bring back a few smiles.

“It was certainly a different type of pub to Sunderland’s usual watering holes. Not many others had stagecoaches!”

l Do you have old photos to share of Wearside’s bygone nightlife? Email your pictures to susan.swinney@jpress.co.uk

Painted Wagon saloon in Holmeside in August 1974.

Painted Wagon saloon in Holmeside in August 1974.

Painted Wagon saloon in Holmeside in August 1974.

Painted Wagon saloon in Holmeside in August 1974.

Painted Wagon saloon in Holmeside in August 1974.

Painted Wagon saloon in Holmeside in August 1974.

Painted Wagon saloon in Holmeside in August 1974.

Painted Wagon saloon in Holmeside in August 1974.