Sunderland club gets £250k makeover – and will relax male-only bar rules

The Gunners Club, Mary Street.
The Gunners Club, Mary Street.
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A traditional Sunderland club has undergone a £250,000 makeover as it enters a new chapter in its history.

The Royal Artillery Club, the only city centre club to still have a male-only bar area, is aiming to adopt a more relaxed approach to attract more people through its doors.

After closing for three weeks for a complete renovation, it’s almost unrecognisable from its former guise which hadn’t changed since it opened in Mary Street 22 years ago.

Alex Bonallie, club steward, said: “We were trying to combine a lot of things with the makeover. With this being a military club, we wanted to commemorate 100 years of the Great War, so we went with a theme of how a club would be when they went to war.

“So we have traditional wood flooring, and vintage-style lamps like gas mantles. It’s like a traditional gentleman’s club.”

Though the club still retains its core membership, non-members can also use the bar, lounge and function room.

The days of clubs are dying and you have to change or go to the wall.

Aklex Bonallie, RA Club steward

“It’s the last bastion of male-only bars in the city centre, but that’s changing, it has to.” said Alex. “Originally, not many women at all would come in, but many use it now. They tend to sit in the lounge, but there’s no reason why women shouldn’t use the bar. The days of clubs are dying and you have to change or go to the wall.”

He added: “We’re not aiming for the 18-30s. We’re a traditional place where people can call in for a pint after work. We want it to be welcoming, so people feel comfortable bringing their wives and girlfriends.”

As well as being a members club, the function room is used by many associations and unions.

“We’ve been called Sunderland’s best-kept secret,” explained Alex. “Because many people still don’t even realise we’re here.”

The club was formed in the late ‘40s in Norfolk Street, before moving to Silksworth Row in the ‘60s and then its current base in the ‘90s.

Though it’s moving forward, the club still retains its proud military history.

Past and present members have been incorporated into the decor and military and regimental colours have been adopted into the colour scheme.

Alex said: “All the craftsmen used are based here because we wanted to keep the money in Sunderland. They have done a fantastic job. The feedback so far has been great, 98 per cent positive.

“We couldn’t do too much with the exterior because the building is Grade II-listed, but we think people will be really impressed by what we’ve done inside.”