Sunderland bar The Rabbit reopens and looks to future with £180,000 investment

One of Sunderland city centre’s largest bars has reopened and is hoping to create a socially distanced party vibe with its new measures.

Wednesday, 5th August 2020, 8:16 pm

Like many city centre bars, owners at The Rabbit in High Street West chose not to reopen on July 4, despite being able to do so under Government guidance as lockdown restrictions are eased.

As well as taking the extra time to look at safety measures, they completed refurbishment works including a revamped mezze bar area leading to the roof terrace.

Finishing touches were made in time for the Eat Out To Help Out scheme which began on August 3 and general manager Lee Smith said they’ve had a good response so far.

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The Rabbit bar reopens following a refurbishment. Bar managers from left Liam Duffield and Sam Bartlett

"Its only been a couple of days, but we and other bars been busy, especially for a Monday, and people have been really respectful of the measures in place,” he explained.

As well as track and trace, a one way system and sanitisation stations, the bar’s capacity has been reduced from 800 to 320 seated to help limit the spread of Covid-19..

The pub also benefits from a large roof terrace and, although people can’t stand as close as they once could, they’re hoping to create a party atmosphere in The Rabbit Garden with resident DJ Chris McLetchie playing classic music from the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s from 5pm every Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Other new additions include a new menu, which includes the popular Sunday lunch option, which is available for collection, as well as pub grub such as hunters chicken, Yorkshire wrap and fish and chips.

The Rabbit Garden beer terrace

David Guy, who co-owns the pub with Lee Robson, said it’s been great to welcome people back through the doors after four months.

"We had the small business grant during lockdown, which helped, but it’s been tough, we’ve still had bills to pay with no money coming in. “We just hope people will support the local businesses. This weekend, which will be our first weekend back open, will be a big test and it’s all a learning curve.”

Twenty eight staff are employed at the pub and although some are still on furlough, many have been brought back or have remained working, including manager Steven Irving and bar managers Sam Bartlett and Liam Duffield.

Moving forward, the bar is looking forward to a £180,000 grant it’s been awarded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, as part of the ongoing works in the Bishopwearmouth Townscape Heritage Scheme. The wider £1.9million project includes the creation of a new Town Park next to the Minster and aims to preserve the heritage of the area, whilst boosting its offering to the public.

The Rabbit is one of the city centre's largest bars

The Rabbit’s portion of the fund will be used to enhance the appearance of the building, including rendering, awnings and an area to the front of the bar as pavements are widened.

Over the years, the site has had many guises including being a hardware store, as SR1 bar, Dakota and Westminster before becoming The Rabbit in 2016.

David said: “One of the things that appealed to me and Lee about this bar is because we knew about all the developments happening in this area of the town. As well as the Townscape scheme, there’s the creation of the new civic centre, offices and houses on the old Vaux site, as well as the auditorium being built next to the Fire Station. It’s all great for footfall and will provide plenty to attract people to this area.”

The Government’s Eat Out To Help Out scheme runs until August 31, 2020, and means that you’ll get 50% off your food and non-alcoholic drinks up to a total value of £10 per person when you eat or drink out in participating bars and restaurants every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday within the time period.

The Rabbit bar reopens following a refurbishment. DJ Chris McLetchie

It comes as the Echo is running its #SupportLocal campaign to encourage people to use local businesses.

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The new look upstairs Mezze bar
Safety measures are in place
The new Mezze bar has been fitted with pumps, instead of being a bottle bar
One of the downstairs bar areas
Social distancing measures
The Rabbit bar reopens following a refurbishment