Pub/Bar of the Month January 2010: The Fat Cat
The Fat Cat, Norwich, UK
Twice CAMRA National Pub of the Year, four times Good Pub Guide Beer Pub of the Year. With trophies like that on The Fat Cat’s mantelpiece, there’s almost no need for further recommendation.
But, of course, awards don’t win themselves and a few words to explain the success will not go amiss.
Let’s take you back 18 years. Down a sidestreet on the western fringe of Norwich city centre there stood a pub called The New Inn. Built in 1877 by local brewer Steward & Patteson, to slake the thirst of locals involved in the shoe trade, it later became a Watney’s outlet (like virtually every pub for miles around).
It then turned into a Courage house, following a Government-enforced pub swap of national brewers’ houses aimed at bringing more competition to the local market. Clearly, the move didn’t succeed as, by the time local publican Colin Keatley took a look at the business, it was in a very poor state.
Fortunately, Colin was not deterred by its rough appearance and even rougher clientele. Recognizing its potential, he snapped up the freehold.
Inspired by the success of The Fat Cat pub in Sheffield, he decided to turn The New Inn into a real ale oasis, even renaming it after its Yorkshire inspiration.
After shutting the pub for five months, to refurbish and re-launch to a new customer base, Colin installed four handpumps on the bar and things built from there.
Today, The Fat Cat features no fewer than 12 handpumps and also has a tap room where another 13 beers are available by gravity dispense. You can see them racked up through a window from the bar.
Regular offerings include Woodforde’s Wherry, Adnams Bitter, Greene King Abbot Ale, Fuller’s ESB, Hop Back Summer Lightning and Pale Rider, from the Fat Cat in Sheffield’s own brewery, Kelham Island.
The décor is simple and functional, joyfully free of electronic distractions and ideal for engagement in conversation and the supping of ale. The one long room is wider at the front, creating a L-shape effect.
Black and white chequered flooring here gives way to bare boards and eventually red brick as you make your way past the bar and on to the end of the pub. There’s nothing over-elaborate or fancy here.
Brewery memorabilia abounds, recalling great names of local brewing past – Bullards, Morgans and, of course, Steward & Patteson – and blackboards are chalked with the names of beers currently tapped.
There are imported beers, too. Liefmans and Timmermans fruit beers are among the Belgian brews on draught and a printed list of a ‘Foreign Fifty’ bottled beers stands on each table, listing offerings such as Eggenberg Urbock, Weltenberger Asam Bock, Coopers Best Extra Stout and Schneider Aventinus.
Norwich’s Fat Cat is not the only pub in East Anglia with that name. There’s one in Ipswich that Colin opened and then sold to his brother, while his son also operates a Fat Cat in Colchester. The format of all three is similar but, as each is a separate entity, it’s not what you’d call a chain.
Colin does, however, run another pub in Norwich. It’s a music venue known as The Cidershed and it is here that he installed The Fat Cat brewery, calling on the expertise of Ray Ashworth, founder of Woodforde’s brewery. Fat Cat beers – including the clean, quaffable Fat Cat Bitter and the strong and full-bodied Marmalade Cat – now grace the bar in both Colin’s pubs.
Without ignoring all the hard work that has been channelled into establishing The Fat Cat and making sure it runs like clockwork, on the face of it the formula is simple: a good choice of quality beers in a simple, friendly environment.
If only more pubs followed the same pattern, then perhaps The Fat Cat wouldn’t find it so easy to – deservedly – keep winning awards.
The Fat Cat, 49 West End Street, Norwich, UK
Tel. (01603) 624364
Opening Hours: 12–11 (11–11 Sat)