The Alpine Gasthof in Rochdale is something of a mystery. Why is there a replica of a German building in Lancashire? When was it built? And who designed it?
We wrote the first version of this post in 2017 when we were researching an article about German Bierkellers in English towns – a major trend in the 1970s.
The Gasthof, without doubt one of the UK’s weirdest pubs, became a side quest.
We’ve still never been, and might have missed our window, as it seems to have been closed for several years.
Instead, we had to rely on sources such as Tandleman’s post after a visit in 2017:
Perhaps the oddest of Sam Smith’s pubs is its take-off of a German local pub, uprooted it seems, in looks if nothing else, from Garmisch or some other Alpine resort. Only it is in Rochdale. Not only is it in Rochdale, but it is on a busy main road, which if you follow it for not too long, will take you to Bacup. This is the Land that Time Forgot. Don’t do that… Not only is it incongruously in Rochdale, but it is in a less than salubrious part of town… The pub has the usual German style high sloping roof and inside is, well, a sort of pastiche of a German pub, but done, unusually for Sam’s, sort of on the cheap.
Although there were lots of photos, and though everyone seemed quite fascinated by the place, there didn’t seem to be many concrete facts.
We didn’t hold out great hopes for any information from the brewery which is notoriously tight-lipped but did get this, which is a start:
The Alpine Gasthof was built in the 1970s (don’t have the exact date to hand) because the previous pub we had on that site had to be demolished for road widening. To have a bit of fun we decided to build a pub modelled on the Brauerei Gasthof Hotel in Aying, Germany because at that time we were brewing Ayinger beer under licence.
(OK, this is embarrassing, though – we can’t find our source for that information. The way we worded this in 2017 make sit sound as if we did get some kind of communication from the brewery, which doesn’t seem likely.)
We can well imagine Sam Smith’s execs going to Aying during licence negotiations and being charmed by the original, pictured here in a shot taken from the gallery on the hotel website.
Although, oddly, the pastiche doesn’t look that much like it. Here it is photographed in 2013, via Ian S on Geograph.org.uk under a Creative Commons Licence:
With a bit more to go on we reckon we can guess that the date of its construction was around 1972, at the tail-end of the theme pub craze (Further reading: Chapter 5 in 20th Century Pub) and just as the German Bierkeller trend was kicking in.
But we were awful short on actual evidence. We thought this might be something…
…but there are two problems.
First, though Google Books has the date of publication as 1972 the particular issue referencing the Alpine Gasthof might be from, say, 1978.
We’ve come across this problem in the past. It’s hard to know until you have the journal in front of you, fully readable. Secondly… It says Wetherby, Yorkshire.
Surely some mistake? But, no, apparently not — there is at least one other (slightly odd) reference to an Alpine Gasthaus in Wetherby, giving the address as Boroughbridge Road, LS22 5HH.
That led us to this local news story about the burning down in 2005 of the Alpine Lodge, a two-storey chalet-style building in Kirk Deighton (Wetherby).
There are various other bits out there including this interview with the couple who ran it for several decades and a teasingly indistinct photo taken from a moving car in bright sunlight on this Facebook nostalgia website.
We’ve taken the liberty of reproducing it here, with some tweaks — hopefully no-one will mind.
What a bizarre building to find there on the side of the A1.
And that leaves us with two Alpine-style Sam Smith’s pubs to be puzzled about.
So, do drop us a line if you know anything concrete about the origins of either pub (that is, not reckonings or guesses); have friends or family members who might have drunk in them; or live near either Rochdale or Wetherby and fancy popping to your local library to look at newspapers for 1972.
An update for 2023
Six years later, we’ve come back to this post with a little fresh information.
Neil Whittaker got in touch earlier this year with this nugget of information on the Alpine Gasthof, with some minor edits for clarity:
My dad was the architect. He was Donald Whittaker of Whittaker Design in Oldham.
He passed sadly in 1999 but the business is alive and has just celebrated 50 years.
He visited Garmisch in Bavaria to do his research.
He was away for weeks, obviously needing to accurately sample the beer Kellers unique atmosphere.
I missed him as I was only 10 but he brought me some lovely model cars back so it was worth it.
He did a lot of work for Sam Smith’s, including the unique Pullman carriage attached to the Yew Tree in Thornham, Rochdale, which was the restaraunt in the 1970s and 80s. It is sadly long gone, although the pub remains.
He was also responsible for a J.W. Lees pub in the ski resort of Flaine in France, bringing their terrible tulip lager to the alps in around 1978!
Thanks to new additions to the British Newspaper Archive we’ve also been able to get closer to pinning down the date of Gasthof’s opening.
A promotional article in The Rochdale Observer for 7 March 1979 refers to the pub as having been open for “a little over four years”, allowing us to pin it down to late 1974 or early 1975.
The article also gives us a glimpse of its operation at the time:
Since last September it has been under the management of Stephen and Lesley Fagan, who have put it on the map for more than just its excellent food… When the Gasthof was opened the owners, Samuel Smith’s Brewery, went to great pains to bring an authentic atmosphere. They imported antique furnishings and modern pineware from Bavaria… It has a strong flavour of Bavaria in its menu, with Austrian dishes alongside English favourites… For example, among the appetisers is Kartoffelpuffer, which are potato pancakes… Fish with sauerkraut is another delicacy… Among the sweets, the Bavarian style hot cherries are delicious.
One observation we’ve often made about theme pubs, however, is that they usually strayed from the original concept after only a few years.
The Gasthof was built with food as its primary offer, and lager as the focus. By 1979, the Fagans were downplaying food, eager to get more drinkers in. The menu had gained more traditional English dishes. And, in keeping with the trends of the time, had started serving real ale “from the wood”.