After seven years, it’s the return of the famous Magdala Tavern
Ruth Ellis link is a 'conversation starter'
13 May, 2021 — By Harry Taylor
Dick Morgan outside the Magdala
WITH just days to go until its reopening, the Magdala Tavern in South Hill Park is a hive of activity.
Chairs and tables are stacked in the bars, boxes of crisps and drinks waiting to be put away are stacked high, and the sound of drilling can be heard in the background.
Workmen and staff mill about, while owner Dick Morgan’s business partner, operations manager Jacques Pretorius has found a quiet corner at the back of the pub to finish off the last few stages of planning.
“It’s been a long two-and-a-half years,” he told the New Journal. “You can’t believe the amount of work this has taken, but it’s all running to schedule and we’re good for Monday.”
The pub, which was closed in 2014, was initially set to open last month for takeaway beer until Mr Morgan decided to hold off with fears that punters would be drinking on the pavement outside, potentially upsetting neighbours.
He’s a man in demand when he arrives, avoiding the organised chaos of boxes and potted plants that have been moved to allow the windows to be washed, before answering questions from the chef, his business partner, and decorators working on the bathrooms downstairs.
His phone rings off the hook, as people look to him to make final decisions or give directions.
However the 70-year-old still finds the time to size up where to put a painting of some red flowers above the door from the dining bar, trying to get the pub looking right before it welcomes in customers.
“It’s really important it feels right. We’ve tried to do a combination of the old Magdala that people remember with the new, some modern facilities and the kitchen,” he said.
“We’ve tried to bring out the stained glass windows with these dividers, which have that old fashioned feeling, and the plants are going to provide a bit more of a barrier between inside the pub and outside.”
Eagle-eyed drinkers may spot the nod to the decade for which the Magdala is the most notorious, the 1950s where Ruth Ellis shot her boyfriend outside, and became the last woman to be hung in Britain for his murder.
Almost ready: Rob Chappell behind the bar
Pictures of 1940s and 1950s film stars are the subtle reference to the era.
“We wanted it to not be too ‘in your face’, but it’s what everyone associates with the pub but we want it to be modern and not just rooted in the past,” said new bar manager Rob Chappell.
“It’s a conversation starter as well and will hopefully get people talking.”
Mr Chappell, the laid back and easy-going manager, previously ran The Grafton in Kentish Town and the Smugglers Tavern in Warren Street.
He was approached by Mr Morgan’s son, James, when discussions first started between his firm and the building’s owner Ori Calif in 2018.
It was only when Mr Chappell walked past in January and saw that there had been movement that he got back in touch about whether the job was still going.
The pub will be open from midday on Monday, before getting into a pattern of 11am openings during the week and 8am on a Sunday for tea and coffee, until people can buy a pint from midday.
The initial menu is high-end traditional British pub food menu, including fish and chips battered with Mr Morgan’s son’s brewery’s beer, Big Smoke Brewery.
“Is there demand for it? Well I hope so, or else my bank manager will be on to me,” chuckles Mr Morgan. “I think there is a big demand for quality pubs. We’ve had a really good month at the other pubs we run where we’ve got beer gardens, and I think people just want to be out and enjoying themselves. There is that pent up demand from people.”
It has more than 100 bookings for the first week, with spaces still available. They are also keeping some space back for “walk-ins”, which he believes is part of being a community pub.
“It’s what I’ve missed, that community aspect. Having spent the last week chatting to the people live up the road there is a real interest in it, and being involved with them is going to be such a good thing. I was outside for about 2-3 hours on Friday because people were walking past an asking questions on the doorstep, and I’m really thankful that everyone’s so excited.”
He added: “A good pub should be an extension of your living room. You’re always welcome there, you can work there, come in and read the newspaper or do some work, or come in with friends, as long as you’re not imposing on anyone else. It’s a place to be comfortable. That’s what we’re hoping the Magdala will be.”