Oldham’s Tommyfield Market microbar wins Greater Manchester Pub of the Year award

A microbar inside Tommyfield Market Hall defied pandemic issues and beat the area’s top pubs to be Greater Manchester Pub of the Year.

Oldham’s Cob & Coal only opened in August 2019 and traded for six months before the first lockdown closed all pubs for months. The continued restrictions disrupted business again before they could finally accommodate drinkers in the cozy bar last May. Despite this short life, the judges chosen from among the members of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) largely voted the region’s newcomer Pub of the Year.

Owner Michelle Riley is no stranger to area pubs, with the White Lion in Delph and the Tandle Hill Tavern in Middleton among her previous rentals. But the vision of creating your own bar eventually led to a few vacant units inside the covered market and the transformation began.

Its commitment to real, well-maintained ale means six hand pumps serve a rotating choice, many of which come from breweries within a 25-mile radius. In recent weeks, beers from Pictish, Thirst Class, Wishbone and Durham have thrilled drinkers. Cider lovers are well catered for with a choice of up to eight, which is why Cob & Coal has won the Cider Pub of the Year award for the past two years. And in the center of the bar are three fonts handing out ABK lagers from the 700-year-old Bavarian brewery, the only outlet in Oldham.

But the judges are not limited to the choice and the quality of the drinks offered. CAMRA regional judge organizer Caz O’Donnell said: “Our judges come from all over the region, although the local is not involved at this level. They look for a commitment to the local community, and whether the sites reflect the broader goals of CAMRA. A friendly welcome and knowledgeable bar staff also feature prominently in their reviews.

“Pubs have had to adapt to changing social habits and spending, and Cob & Coal is one of the many microbars open in Greater Manchester markets. The judges described it as “a little gem”. They appreciated the cooperation with other traders in the market offering hot and cold food, as well as the larger shared space immediately adjacent to have meals and snacks with a beer. Although its opening hours must conform to the functioning of the Halle, it has managed to retain its customers in a relatively short and interrupted time. Locals and newcomers are also welcome. And of course the beer is great.

The name of the microbar reflects the tradition of the Oldham children singing ‘we came from a charcoal’ around Bonfire Night, but Michelle explained the additional reference to her Leicester roots. “What people call a bun differs from place to place – and can cause a lot of arguments – but I knew it like a cob,” she said. “So I try to combine my birthplace with an Oldham tradition – that worked just fine. And visitors have no doubts about Michelle’s allegiance to her favorite football team, Leicester City. Memories jostle for space with reminders of Oldham’s past and an impressive collection of clocks.

Michelle continued, “It was a rough start, with various pandemic measures signifying a trade halt and a lot of uncertainty. I always thought we could make Cob & Coal a great little pub. We were finalists for the Manchester Food and Drink Festival awards earlier this year, so I knew we were on the right track. But winning the 2021 regional title competing with other great pubs exceeded my expectations. It’s right up there with Leicester City winning the Premier League a few seasons ago!

CAMRA Regional Director Phil Moss was on hand on Friday November 26 to present the award to Michelle and her husband Chris. He said: “It is a pleasure to see how hard work, attention to detail and emphasis on quality made Cob & Coal a worthy winner. The hospitality industry has gone through the most difficult times. This pub is loved by its community and I’m sure winning this award will bring it an even bigger audience. I just hope they can all fit in!

Alongside the Cob & Coal, Michelle and Chris have redoubled their confidence in Oldham as a destination of choice for drinkers. Just twelve months ago, they opened the city’s newest pub and sister venue, The Fox & Pine on Greaves Street.

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