Refurbishment and the Narrative of Decline

The Star Inn, aka the Star Hotel, at the top of Market Jew Street in Penzance, has taken us on an emotional roller-coaster-ride over the last couple of years.

Its location ought to have made it successful: it sits where the four central roads (Green Market, Chapel Street, Causewayhead and Market Jew Street) converge in the very centre of town, around the grand late-Georgian domed market hall. On any week-night in the summer season, groups of hungry tourists can be observed there, looking for a decent but informal place for dinner; and out of season, it’s got plenty of passing trade from shoppers.

For a long time, however, the Star was not in a position to capitalise on its location, as it was a tatty-looking pubco property with peeling paint, grubby windows, dim-lighting, and a vaguely unwelcoming air. Tourists gave it a swerve, heading (often reluctantly, we sensed) into the nearby Wetherspoons, or one of the slightly posher restaurants on Chapel Street.

Then, last year, the Star shut down and was boarded up. We tend not to get over-emotional about pubs closing but this really was a sad sight, and bad news for a town which, from some angles, can look as if it is collapsing. The pubco began to advertise for tenants, promising a refurbishment, the computer-generated images of which were at odds with the hulking wreck upon which they were mounted.

Last winter’s storms didn’t help, either, battering and drenching a building which was already crumbling until its side wall began to bulge and emergency scaffolding had to be erected to prevent an outright collapse. We spent the whole summer expecting it to be demolished.

Then, to our surprise, the promised refurbishment actually got underway. The scaffolding came down revealing fresh plasterwork and repaired stone and brick-work. Hand-painted lettering appeared on the whitewash signalling an upgrade: this was to be a pub with aspirations. It was reborn — which doesn’t feel too strong a word — at the end of November.

It’s not, frankly, our kind of pub. For one thing, the beer is unexciting — Deuchar’s IPA, Caledonian 80′ and one guest ale, alongside the usual line-up of lagers/Guinness and their extra cold variants. The décor is also rather corporate and bland, reminding us of a Greene King pub we visited in Ipswich.

Nonetheless, it is just what the town centre needs, filling an otherwise dead spot with light and life, and giving off warm vibes.  It is welcoming, has a solid mainstream offer, and is run cheerfully and efficiently. We suspect it will do well, especially with families who are not otherwise especially well served in town.

It’s also an example of how the pubs here (we can’t speak for the rest of the country) resist the narrative of decline: we haven’t noticed a single pub close and stay closed. Instead, they come back cleaner, sturdier, and better equipped to serve the modern market.

NB. This Star Inn is not to be confused with the one at Crowlas, a village near Penzance, where we go to enjoy Potion 9 when we can scrape together the bus fare.

UPDATE 08/12/2014 10:00: we remembered one! The Peruvian Arms, a back-street pub, closed a couple of years ago and has, so far, stayed shut. There have been signs of a possible refurb in the last six months, though.

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