The Rotary Club of Oldmeldrum welcomed Pat Ross as guest speaker at their most recent meeting.
A former businesswoman and publican, Pat spoke of her experiences running one of Aberdeen’s most famous public houses – the Crown and Anchor at the city’s Regent Quay.
In an entertaining and lively talk, Pat explained that after taking a law degree and enjoying a successful business career, she had decided to seek a new challenge. When the opportunity arose to take over at the Crown & Anchor, despite having “never poured a drink before”, it was one which she had grabbed with both hands.
After becoming the licensee, she decided to make her mark on the pub straight away. Determined to have a respectable and well-run establishment so as to set the tone for future clientele, one of her first tasks had been to tactfully move on a ‘professional’ lady who was using the bar as a base from which to look for potential clients.
Pat’s friendly but no-nonsense approach soon won a strong following, particularly amongst those who valued the pub’s reputation as a place where their custom would be welcomed, and where they could enjoy a quiet drink without encountering trouble.
As the pub’s reputation spread, it became popular with sailors on shore leave, who would often have a large amount of money put behind the bar by their ship owners to allow them to have a good drink.
However, learning the foibles and preferences of individual customers could take time – pouring her very first Gin and Tonic and garnishing it with a slice of lime, she was surprised to be admonished by the customer with the reprimand of “Lassie, tak the veggies oot o’ ma drink!”
When Pat first became the licensee, pubs could only be open for 13 hours each day from 11am until 12 midnight. However, as a lawyer, she knew from the Licencing Act that these hours could be altered in special circumstances. In order to better cater for her customers, she submitted an application to have the licence extended to 1 am. Although the initial application was rejected, she asked and was allowed to re-apply three months later, this time successfully, making the Crown & Anchor amongst the first pubs in Scotland to offer a 1am closing time.
Pat went on to explain how the pub began to take on a unique character. Given the multitude of different nationalities which came to the Crown & Anchor, Pat quickly took the decision to accept payment in all currencies which could be converted. Exchange rates were posted behind the bar and a deal made with a local bureau de change to exchange monies taken over the bar into Sterling. The pub also became something of an informal labour exchange as well as an import-export hub, on one occasion helping to assist in the export of 500 double-bed mattresses to Murmansk.
She concluded with a tale about one regular, an American deep sea diver, who had worked long hours in order to be able to afford a house back in the USA.
While in Aberdeen, his wife had left him and taken the house, which led to him drowning his sorrows in the pub. Worried that he would miss his ship later that night and therefore risk losing his job on top of his other worries, Pat took him back down to the quayside and had him bundled on board. Only later did she learn that he had just come off the ship that day to begin four weeks of leave!
On his return, however, the diver thanked Pat as the four weeks away had, he said, allowed him to sort out his thoughts and plans for the future. Human stories like that, Pat said, had made her time in the trade such great fun.
As well as being a fantastic business opportunity, it had revealed a great deal to her about human nature, and was something which she would encourage others to get involved in if they had the chance.