The sudden closure of Nottingham's historic former music hall is a sad loss to the city, says Director Steve Holland. Will this architectural gem re-open?
We were sorry to hear that The Malt Cross, one of Nottingham’s best-known establishments, closed at short notice this week. The recent over-supply of new eateries and restaurants in the city is well reported and the closure of weaker offerings shouldn’t be a shock perhaps. Equally, though, the fashion for ales and gins has allowed Nottingham to mirror (think Junkyard, Beerheadz, alongside some of the excellent Castle Rock establishments) and benefit from a vibrant, often regenerated social scene they encourage. Has that trend really dealt a killer blow to The Malt Cross? Surely it should be part of that scene?
One of the last remaining Victorian music halls
Built in 1877, the Grade II listed music hall is tucked away on St James’s Street and you’d be forgiven for walking past its relatively unassuming exterior. Yet this is one of Nottingham’s gems; one of very few remaining Victorian music halls in the country - and the only one that operates as its original design intended, providing food, drink and live music. It has a chequered and colourful history. After its early heyday of absinthe-fuelled Victorian extravaganzas, it lost its licence and closed in 1911. Since the 1980s, it has been run on a not-for-profit basis and was a base for the Street Pastors - volunteers who help those in the city centre who have enjoyed their beer a little too much at the weekend.
Spread over six levels, including below ground a basement and sub-basement (once home to the renowned restaurant Trattoria Conti and then the legendary Sapna, depending on your era) plus a cave beneath with a well, it has original glass block panels in the wooden floor and a self-supporting, arched, glazed and timber framed roof built without nails. Coupled with highly decorated cast iron stanchions, a gallery on three sides and the most intimate of stages it is impressive, interesting, characterful and memorable in equal measure.
Part of Nottingham's DNA
Associate Director Jack Ward in our retail team says, “It could never really decide what it was – a café, a pub, a restaurant, a bar, a community space – a bit of all of them?” For me, its broad and classless appeal was one of its strengths. Whether you were in there having a quiet pint or lunch with your mum, you could look around and see office workers, family friends, a girls’ night out, the Monday night football lads, new colleagues and, in the corner upstairs, that’s surely a tryst, isn’t it?
It’s a sad loss if the closure proves permanent. It’s part of Nottingham’s DNA. You can almost see Sillitoe’s Arthur Seaton propping the bar up on a Saturday night. Whenever I show off my city to friends or new colleagues, I follow a favourite early evening route taking in The Trip, Fothergills or The Castle, The Bell or The Dragon and, until recently, The Alley Café and certainly The Malt Cross. The last two are not currently trading. They need re-opening, preferably with a healthy dose of listing magazine Left Lion’s “defiant individualism” that makes Nottingham great.
Steve Holland runs the professional services department at Innes England. He loves Nottingham and beer