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Aberdeen beer tent Draft Project to be made permanent as part of neighbouring pub The Howff

The Draft Project in Langstane Place has been absorbed by the neighbouring Howff, on Union Street.
The Draft Project in Langstane Place has been absorbed by the neighbouring Howff, on Union Street.

A temporary Aberdeen beer tent which was mired in controversy late last year has been made permanent – being swallowed up by a neighbouring pub.

The Howff will now hold five times the people as it absorbs the Draft Project marquee within its licence.

This week its owners made a case for the nightspot to be allowed to open until midnight by arguing the 500-person tent was actually an indoor venue.

The small, traditional basement bar is run by PB Devco, which also erected the marquee in the footprint of the former Bruce Millers music shop during the pandemic.

Its owners faced backlash last November as jubilant football fans celebrated Scotland’s qualification for the European Championships, foregoing distancing rules introduced due to Covid.

The scenes at The Draft Project after Scotland's European Championship were addressed by Deputy First Minister John Swinney.
The scenes at The Draft Project after Scotland’s European Championship were addressed by Deputy First Minister John Swinney last November.

Originally marketed as ‘The Draft Project by Soul‘, the venue has been trading on an occasional, temporary licence throughout the pandemic – first being linked with another of firm’s businesses.

But the space – now referred to as The Howff Garden – is to be made permanent, adding to the 121-capacity pub down beneath Union Street.

Aberdeen Licensing Board has approved the plans, allowing the two venues to merge due to them being linked by a corridor, sharing a kitchen and staff.

PB Devco pushed for marquee to be treated like bricks and mortar to allow later trade

But PB Devco, run by Stuart Clarkson and his family, did not get everything their own way at the meeting – at odds with council licensing experts and police over whether the tent would be classed indoor or out.

Solicitor David Scott, of Ledingham Chalmers, had been pushing for the space to be classed the same as bricks and mortar buildings in order to allow trading beyond 10pm and amplified music and entertainment inside.

Stairs from Union Street lead down into The Howff, underneath former music shop Bruce Millers.
Stairs from Union Street lead down into The Howff, underneath former music shop Bruce Millers.

“Why should the terminal hour be restricted to 10pm just of the nature of the building itself, separate from the noise factor?” he asked.

“We are looking for the marquee to have the same operating as if it were indoors because it is fully enclosed.

“The owners would look to have amplified music, not for the sake of it being something that would emanate loudly beyond the premises but simply for music and sports to be shown indoors.”

After the football fury, the owners were barred from showing high profile sport – later agreeing to continue this in order to have their licence renewed.

Police stunned by bid to have tent declared permanent indoor venue

Currently, there is no clear rule within Aberdeen’s licensing set up as to what makes a space indoors or outside – though the definitions from the smoking laws were adopted while temporary flexibility was granted to an industry in crisis at the height of the pandemic.

However, Sergeant Gillian Flett said: “I am actually quite taken by surprise that an outdoor marquee is being considered as indoor premises. I think we should be very careful that we don’t merge what we have all gone through with coronavirus.

“We are of the view that the marquee is not indoor, it is not akin to a building which is entirely different to a marquee structure.

“If this comes down to opinion, the police’s opinion is this is a covered outdoor area.

“I think the clue is in the name: it is going to be called The Howff Garden – most gardens are outdoors.”

Licensing convener: Covid flexibility can only go so far

Councillor David Cameron, who eventually led the move to approve the merger of the premises, highlighted that Mr Scott had also twice “Freudianly” referred to the tent as being the “outside”.

Unanimously backed, he suggested The Draft Project be treated as an outdoor area of The Howff, meaning the garden will have to close at 10pm, have no amplified music or entertainment would be played there and be staffed at all times customers were there.

Customers will still be expected, in the main, to enter from Langstane Place at the rear.

Board convener Marie Boulton said: “All our licensed premises have gone through a very difficult time and we are very mindful of that and tried to be as flexible as possible.

“However as we move to a permanent solution it is important to apply the board’s policy.”

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