The Brae: 26 Townfoot, Dreghorn, Irvine KA11 4EG
Take a quaint Ayrshire village with a shortage of eating out options, a boarded up pub with bags of of potential and an enthusiastic, dog-loving couple, and what do you get? The Brae, a new pub/restaurant opened by husband and wife team Emma and Iain Mason in Dreghorn, North Ayrshire, and quite possibly THE most dog-friendly hostelry in the territory. Iain and Emma don’t just have a rich history in the hospitality industry, you see, they’re also professional dog walkers, doing an impressive job of juggling that business (Ayrshire Dog Walking) with the pub and looking after their two-year-old son.
Emma told DRAM, “The pub is very dog-friendly. When you’ve got your own dog-walking business you definitely can’t say no to them! We’ve got a helper with the dog business, but we still give him a hand on the really busy days. We always make sure we’re finished by four o’clock though, so we can attend to the pub.”
The Brae is divided into two main areas, a larger one mainly designed for dining on the left and a smaller pub section on the right. The dining area blends dark patterned carpets with gleaming wooden floors. The bar running along the right wall faces towards booths with turquoise leather seating on the left wall, with blocks of tables for four or two diners sat in between and a centrepiece consisting of a faux fireplace sat on a little podium, replete with charred logs. Two chunks of brickwork act almost like gates ushering you into a further large section through the back that looks out towards the beer garden. Here the walls are painted cream, purple and blue and dotted with charming black and white photos of local landmarks –instead of the framed football tops that once adorned them. It’s one of many marked changes from the days when the premises were home to The Annick Tavern, changes overseen by Interior Designer Gillian Morris of DBP Architects and company partner Alan Baxter.
Gillian told DRAM, “It was really a case of working with what we had, nothing has been left untouched. Previously the walls were mock stone and it was very dated inside. The beer garden is also new, we had to strip out the previous one out and add new decking. There’s a bigger kitchen now – that’s probably what people don’t see but there’s been a lot of money spent on back of house. The two bars used to be completely separate but now there’s a passage so you can walk between them.”
Those in need of a functioning fireplace on cold days can find one through in the main bar, where tartan carpets and some vintage sports-themed artwork enhance the cosy feel. Large chalkboards advertise the gin and ale offerings and there’s a space set aside at the rear for a full-size pool table.
Emma and Iain met when they were both studying hotel management at university, and had always dreamt of running a pub together. Ian was a manager at several different local branches of Frankie and Benny’s whilst Emma worked front of house and reception at The Gailes Hotel in Irvine, before chance led them to drive through Dreghorn one day and spot that the premises were up for let. The process from there on in was a collaborative one between the Troon-based couple and Punch, with Emma and Iain able to insist on changes that reflected their vision of a classic country pub that doesn’t alienate former Annick Tavern regulars.
Emma continued, “Punch were really good, they’re always on the end of the phone. We had a lot of input. They (Punch) initially had a different idea for here and we changed it. We made it more of a rustic village pub, put the fireplaces in and stuff, made it a bit cosier. It is a village pub, so it can’t be too contemporary. Before it was the Annick it was The Commercial, although that’s going way back. There’s been quite a few regulars that drank here for years and years who’ve came in and been impressed. Irvine is massive now, so we’re trying to get people in from Irvine, but Troon and even Kilmarnock aren’t that far away. It’s a big area, and we’ve got golf tourism too.”
‘The Brae’ is the colloquial term used by people in the village to describe the street (Townfoot) the pub is on, but it was the power of social media that decided it would be the name of the new pub also.
Said Emma, “We did a Facebook poll; ‘The Brae’ had 300 and something votes and the others had 50 odd, so it won hands down.”
Emma has been delighted with the response from customers since the £288K refurbishment. “We’ve had something like 65 five-star reviews already.” She believes that the key to maintaining that success is striking the right balance between those classic local pub features and a willingness to embrace wider trends within the industry. The Brae has a jukebox, a pool table and TVs but it’s also got an extensive gin selection, good quality food and artwork that encapsulates the history and character of the local area. One of Dreghorn’s biggest claims to fame is the fact that John Boyd Dunlop, the originator of the Dunlop Tyres empire, was born there, and visitors can learn all about him simply by glancing at the wall in The Brae.
Emma stated, “We don’t just do beers, it’s not an old man’s pub. We’ve got a big range of gin, we’ve got craft beers and cask ales, a wide wine selection. And we’ve got loads of offers on – burger night, steak night, kids eat for free. The menu’s got everything we need on it, it’s not just pub grub, it’s proper hearty food. We’ve got quizzes on a Wednesday and a Sunday, and we do Fizzy Fridays. We’re going to start introducing things like live music once we’ve found our feet. We also do free pool Monday to Thursday.”
Lest we forget, there’s the beer garden, situated on a raised, roped off platform in a corner of the car park and bound to catch the sun – if and when it decides to make an appearance, that is. As Emma puts it, “This is the west of Scotland after all!”