First look inside Keel Tavern at Sunderland's Keel Square

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It's one of the most-anticipated new openings in the city.

The first of the new bars at Keel Square finally opens its doors this week - and we've been for a first look around.

The bar is an impressive addition to Sunderland The bar is an impressive addition to Sunderland
The bar is an impressive addition to Sunderland | Sunderland Echo

One of the four units at the bottom of The Holiday Inn has been given plenty of charm and character to become Keel Tavern.

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Brought to the city by North East hospitality group, Vaulkhard Group, it very much has a local flavour.

The Keel Tavern opens on November 16 from 12noonThe Keel Tavern opens on November 16 from 12noon
The Keel Tavern opens on November 16 from 12noon | Sunderland Echo

Its name is taken from its location in Keel Square.

Meanwhile, the inside of the bar is inspired by the city's brewing heritage. The original Vaux Brewery once dominated the skyline on the land opposite Keel Square - and Vaux and Maxim are amongst its beer offering.

Other nods to brewing include barrel features, including a barrel sculpture by Ray Lonsdale who crafted the nearby Vaux statue, huge lighting features shaped like brew stills, a hops logo and dried hops on the wall.

Features include a beer barrel sculpture by Ray LonsdaleFeatures include a beer barrel sculpture by Ray Lonsdale
Features include a beer barrel sculpture by Ray Lonsdale | Sunderland Echo

There's also subtle nods to the old Roker Park, with balustrades inspired by the beloved former SAFC ground.

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Vaulkhard Group has had great success in Newcastle, where it owns some of Tyneside's most-popular bars, including Barluga, The Town Wall, The Bridge Tavern, Redhouse and more.

The bar specialises in craft beersThe bar specialises in craft beers
The bar specialises in craft beers | Sunderland Echo

Keel Tavern is the group's first bar south of the Tyne and owner Ollie Vaulkhard says it's fantastic to be a part of the regeneration of Sunderland as it really gathers speed.

"The council has such vision for this city and it's exciting to be a part of that," said the businessman. "Every time I drive over the bridge and into the city, I learn something new.

"People can see all the regeneration coming out of the ground - and it's all quality stuff, too."

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Speaking about Keel Tavern, he said: "The designers here have created a really special bar.

A gallery level overlooks Keel SquareA gallery level overlooks Keel Square
A gallery level overlooks Keel Square | Sunderland Echo

"It's got enough intimacy without being small and it's got a great connection to the area."

Ollie says he's looking forward to Sunderland's reaction to its newest bar.

"A pub becomes a pub when people start to make memories here and it becomes part of their lives. We've already had so much positive feedback from people passing when work has been taking place, asking us when we're opening. We've also had a lot of support from the other businesses in the area.

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It's named after its location in Keel SquareIt's named after its location in Keel Square
It's named after its location in Keel Square | sn

"This square will really come into its own when the other bars open, you're going to have a great route with the bars around the Fire Station and The Peacock."

The bar pays tribute to Sunderland's brewing historyThe bar pays tribute to Sunderland's brewing history
The bar pays tribute to Sunderland's brewing history | sn

Working on the aesthetic of the bar has been a passion project for Sunderland-born Gerard Mcelvenny of award-winning North East interior design specialist Pulp Studios Design House.

"There's so much pride in this project for me," he said. "There's so much excitement around this bar and me and my pals certainly can't wait to drink here.

"The pace of regeneration of Sunderland is something I've never seen before and it's incredible for the city."

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Food-wise, there's options such as Double Maxim Welsh rarebit, platters, burgers, flatbread, vegan sausage and mash, chicken schnitzel and more.

Craft beer is the bar's speciality, with 18 beer taps and six hand pulls, with 12 of the beers on rotation. Spirits and wines are also available.

The outdoor furniture has already been bought and will be installed, dependent on weather and demand, in the coming weeks.

Opening day

It's one of four venues beneath The Holiday InnIt's one of four venues beneath The Holiday Inn
It's one of four venues beneath The Holiday Inn | Sunderland Echo

Opening to the public at 12noon on Thursday, November 16, serving its full food and drink menu, the opening of the bar really cements Keel Square as a new public square for the city.

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Keel Tavern will be joined by neighbour The Botanist in the new year, and both have been granted outdoor seating licences which will really add to the atmosphere of the square.

Meanwhile, The Muddler, a pan Asian restaurant announced this week it will open in the corner unit of the development next year.

The fourth unit, which faces onto High Street West, is expected to be another bar, but no announcements have been made.

In 2025, Keel Square will also welcome Culture House, which will house a new city centre library, as well as offering immersive exhibitions and creative space.  It complements the existing businesses in the area, including the historic Peacock pub, which dates back to 1901, and The Yard, office space which has opened in the former Gilbridge Police Station.

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The new bar will be open seven days a weekThe new bar will be open seven days a week
The new bar will be open seven days a week | Sunderland echo

Opening hours

Keel Tavern will be open seven days a week from 12pm, serving food and drinks throughout the day. Initial closing time will be 11pm, but it has a licence for later.

It's dog-friendly, both inside and out.

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