A derelict pub, once one of the busiest in the city centre, will reopen this month.
City businessman Les Ojugbana has taken over the lease at Varsity, in Green Terrace, after the previous operators went into liquidation two years ago.
Though it occupies a prime position in the Galen Buildings, the 630-capacity pub has been empty ever since.
Now Les, who also took over the adjacent Basement earlier this year, is aiming to make it one of the city’s most popular pubs again.
The name has stayed the same, but £150,000 has been ploughed into giving it a new identity inside with a new bar, flooring, booths and decor. The downstairs will operate as a bar and bistro, while upstairs will be Casa Rio tapas restaurant.
Les, who owns Gbana security which looks after the doors at many of the city’s pubs, said: “I believe in Sunderland’s night life and I wouldn’t take this on if I didn’t think it was viable.
No city centre can afford to have a pub like this closed. People lose confidence in the night time economy if they see shutters downLes Ojugbana
“No city centre can afford to have a pub like this closed. People lose confidence in the night time economy if they see shutters down. Varsity was a very popular pub, it closed because the national company who owned it went into liquidation, not because there was a problem with the pub itself.”
Les has brought Mark Hardy on board to run the food side of the business after he previously ran Casa Rio at its former bases in The Ropery and West Sunniside.
“Initially I wanted to make it all a restaurant, but I got feedback from people when I’ve been on the doors and everyone said they wanted to see it back as Varsity,” said Les.
“I heard that Mark was looking for new premises so I brought him on board to run the restaurant element. This is a great part of town, we’re going for the more up-market, mature end of the market, but still with a chilled vibe.
“We want to bring back the match day crowd too and have an 18ft screen to show the games.”
Mark said: “When I got the phone call and heard it was Varsity I couldn’t wait to get in, it’s one of the best pubs in town.
“Upstairs will be traditional Spanish tapas seven nights a week from 5pm until 10pm. We’ll also serve food downstairs from noon until 2am, but that will be more of a grill and diner.”
Varsity will open for a VIP night on Thursday August 27, and will open to the public the following day in time for the Bank Holiday weekend creating 50 part-time and full-time jobs.