Garden-inn: the delightful world of pub sheds bars and nightclubs

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Search the term ‘history of the pub shed’ on the internet, and you will likely be disappointed. This is not surprising, given the pub shed has held a rather niche status in the past. But the humble pub has long been held in the hearts of the British public. They have been the meeting houses of famed writers, politicians and philanderers. Likely your local pub will have a tale or two about notable figures who once graced its chairs.

And, likely, your interest was piqued at the very term: Pub Shed. 'You mean, I don’t have to go out into the cold, head down to the local and pay over the odds for a pint to rub shoulders with people I don’t know or like'?!

Yes, pubs are wonderful places to meet new and old friendly faces, but with the onset of the first lockdown back in 2020, and the subsequent social setbacks we have faced, more and more people have turned to hosting their own private parties.

And this is where the shed comes in! Whether you have a build that requires renovation, or a space in your yard that could fit such a structure, vast numbers of the British public have set sights on a private pub of their very own!

Ash Turner
Ashley and Matt of Two Fat Blokes sign writers. Credit:

"We believe there’s about half a million structures like this in the UK", notes Ashley Turner, owner of pub shed sign writers Two Fat Blokes, and a judge of the Pub Shed of the Year competition.

And the beauty is, you don’t even need a license if your pub is only for private enjoyment, and not open to the public

Back in 2013, George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces featured ‘Trev’s Bar’, a pub shed in Exeter renovated from a hundred year old garden structure! Owner and renovator Trevor Morris created this 12 x 8-foot space in a few months, spending around £800 on cladding, re-roofing and picking up bits and pieces from charity shops and boot sales to create his nautical-themed pub. The result is the "best free pub in Devon", according to his mates.

Today, there is no end to the inspirational styles of builds: from sleek modern-day wine bar and nightclub looks, to the traditional pubs of yore. So, join us as we take a tour of some inspirational designs, charting the pleasures and pitfalls of the build!

As well as some top tips from those in the know, we will also show you the competition winner of Pub Shed of the Year 2021. Plus, plenty of liquid courage to get your very own build off the ground!

Bar Twenty Six
Bar Twenty Six is the pub shed project of Clyde Birkby. Credit: Clyde Birkby.

I Get Locked Down, But I Get Pub Again

Sure, this heading might have made your eyes roll, but you probably need to get another pint in. It helps the pun go down! Ok, moving on…

As you might have guessed, the rise in pub sheds, bars and nightclubs has been impacted greatly by covid restrictions and several lockdowns. With nowhere to go but their own homes, many felt it was time to add a bit of panache to their garden shed or patch of grass.

The Harford Arms
Interior of the The Harford Arms, the exterior of which can be seen in the photo at the top of the page. Credit: Dan Harford.

"Because of lockdown, a few of my mates were building bars in their back garden”, says Dan Harford, owner of the Harford Arms, finished at the end of 2021. He was able to use his carpentry skills to build his structure, calling on friends in the trade to help with plumbing and electrics.

"I loved the old-style pub look, so I did it super traditional. The decor is done like a traditional pub, I sourced some pub carpet, I built the bar traditionally. It’s what you would expect to see in a pub about 30 years ago."

Similarly, Michelle Wood and her husband, owners of the Cock In Cider (an inspired name!) had their pub shed built because they were unable to take their usual holidays within the year. This space gave them the ability to entertain guests and get that holiday feeling!

"Every time we have a party its good. It’s just nice and relaxed, nobody can ever remember getting home!"

Having their pub-shed built professionally, with and insulated interior, double glazed windows and doors, and modern fixtures and fittings, the costs were admittedly higher than a structure like Trevor’s in Exeter. However, the benefits of adding these build features can be seen in year-round use and comfort for owners and guests! It’s hard to enjoy a Gin & Tonic in mid-winter with your coat on and your teeth chattering against the ice!

Cock In Cider
Interior of the The Cock In Cider. Credit: Michelle Wood.

The social aspect of having a pub/bar at home cannot be flouted. Friends and family can join together in smaller circles, without fear of picking up the nasty virus from your local. But as interest has spiked, the online community is still pouring! Cast your eyes around Facebook and Instagram, and you will find a number of groups dedicated to building, maintaining and enjoying home pubs, bars and nightclubs.

There is even a Pub Shed Radio station, a not-for-profit online channel for public enjoyment. You don’t even need to have your own pub shed!

"It started three years ago with two guys. Now, there are seven or eight regular DJs and another 20-30 who do guest spots", notes Ashley Turner. "On a Saturday night there is now 10,000 listeners".

The community based Pub Shed Radio station gives people the opportunity to talk direct to the DJs through the dedicated ‘Shoutbox’ on the Pub Shed Radio Facebook group, and has been a lynchpin to the Pub Shed of the Year competition. As well as helping to pick the winner, the show-runners also had a special hand in heralding the news.

"[The winner] was announced live on radio. We had three [finalists], all expecting a knock on the door, and I went and knocked on the door of the winner" says Ashley. But don’t get ahead of yourselves! The winner won’t be unveiled ‘til the end of this article.

As the proud owner of a pub shed, and one half of Two Fat Blokes sign writers, Turner has seen the pub shed go from strength to strength. Creating professional, personalised signs for the British public has also seen him through the difficult Covid years, as this company was the fruit of lockdown!

"We know that we are better than anyone else on the market. We are the only signage company that has the extensive designs we have. And we do those designs ourselves".

The Waterworth Inn Bar Sign
Just one of a myriad of customised bar signs designed by Two Fat Blokes. Credit:

Pub-head to Pub-shed: Laying the Groundwork

The benefits of creating your own pub shed or bar at home are many! And it is clear you can design and build your very own structure for as much or as little as you want. However, there are some non-negotiables to consider prior to building.

Having discussed the highs and lows of structural design with many of those in the know, boy do we have some top tips for you!

Firstly, when embarking on any project of this size, the buzzword is research! Materials, interior and exterior design and protecting your structure from the elements, animals, and of course, thieves. Whilst you can get great advice from the online social groups, it is always wise to seek the professional opinion of someone you trust. A professional taking a look at the space can also foresee any difficulties you might have throughout the build.

Using tanalised timber, a specially treated wood impregnated with a preservative, will greatly improve the last of your structure. This is fairly standard practice, but worth thinking about when choosing materials.

Bar Twenty Sixn
Bar Twenty Six truly comes alive when the lights go down. Credit: Clyde Birkby.

In the same vein, it is important to think ‘insulation and ventilation’ when choosing your structure. Clyde Birkby, proud owner of the sleek ‘Bar Twenty Six’ since 2020, extols the virtues of this research. He used his knowledge to future-proof his own structure.

"We ended up putting plywood on the outside, then doing the breathable membrane, then shiplap and cladding, to give it security, soundproofing and insulation. Same on the inside, so that was fully [plywood]."

He also warns that, when it comes to placing your structure, access is everything:

"You’ve got to think of where you are building it and maintenance. I’ve seen a lot of people have built their structures tight up against walls and fences. And they’ve done everything with timber, which needs maintenance on a yearly basis. People just need to do a little bit of research on how a timber structure works, and how it should ventilated, insulated, and protected, so that it can breathe… Technically [the timber] sweats, and you can end up with damp, moisture, ingress and all sorts of other things."

Insulation will also result in a habitable space year-round, making your pub, bar or nightclub perfect for all those wonderful winter parties! This is likely to add a considerable amount to the budget, but will pay dividends in heating costs when it matters most.

Harford Arms Exterior
The palatial Harford Arms is quite literally pushing the boundaries of what can be considered a Pub 'Shed'. Credit: Dan Harford.

To ensure the heat stays where you want it, Clyde notes it’s wise to fit your build with secure doors and windows, as well as decent cladding. "We have French doors on the front of it… we have high security UPVC windows and doors which you’d normally fit in a property anyway... It’s all fully enclosed, heated, and has full electrics"

With this in mind, we can see it is super important to pre-plan the size, shape and spacing for your structure, before laying the groundwork. Another top tip from us! Aside from helping with insulation and ventilation, this also has another benefit. Making you aware of requirements for planning permission.

Pub Shed Build Tips

  1. Do your research on materials and interior and exterior build
  2. Think ventilation and insulation
  3. Pre-plan the size, shape and location of your structure
  4. Think logistics! Wiring and plumbing
  5. Theme and décor
  6. Budget!

Don’t panic! Most sheds and small garden structures don’t require any legalities, though it is important to understand that builds over a certain height size can require application approval from your local council. A one storey structure no taller than 2.5 meters will not require planning permission. However, if your structure exceeds this, or covers more than 15m2 of ground space, you will have to discuss this with local authorities.

Added to this, Clyde notes that "if it's over a certain size or height, you need to start looking at distance from boundaries, such as fences and walls and adjoining properties." So keep this in mind when designing your own pub shed!

Wiring and plumbing is also likely to create some major headaches if you do not think about this in the early planning stages. As always, it helps to know a professional in the business, and think carefully before you attempt it yourself! As with insulation, these features create a great environment for year-round use.

Plumbing, however, is not essential if you are close to the kitchen! Seek professional help, and gauge whether this is an important feature to have in your structure.

The next important thing to plan is your décor! Casting your eyes over the inspiring builds on the social groups will prove that a theme for your pub is as important as anything else. Plus, a little pre-planning and digging through charity shops, car boot sales and the like could save you money! You might also want to invest in a personalised hanging sign. We have it on good authority that Two Fat Blokes signs are built to last.

"They’re on an aluminium composite system. It's aluminium faced with a composite interior. So they are waterproof, weather proofed, UV proof and guaranteed for five years"

So, you’ll probably need a killer catchy name too!

All of this points to our final top tip: creating (and sticking to) your very own budget!


Shed-ing Some Pounds: Managing Your Budget!

There’s no doubt about it, creating your prefect pub can be costly. From granite work tops and beer pumps, to electrics, heating, plumbing and insulating the space, your mod-cons are likely to pack on the pounds. But, it can often be recouped by time spent socialising at home, rather than out at your local! Plus, you cannot put a price on enjoying your own space.

But there are ways of saving money, and having a solid budget in mind will always help with those runaway spends! Of course, it helps to have a background knowledge in trade industries. A number of people we spoke to were able to create their own pubs, bars and nightclubs at a fraction of the cost through their own skill and connection. But not everyone is afforded that luxury.

But there is a budget for everyone, and a structure to suit!

As Ash Turner muses, there are “three styles; brick built, fully enclosed; sheds which are wooden summer houses which are completely closed, or you’ve got open bars. Maybe half closed and an open section which they will put a cover over”.

Tony Watson Outdoor Bar
Tony Watson created an outdoor bar that could be closed off from the elements using custom sized clear covers supplied by Credit: Tony Watson.

Thinking long and hard about when you will be using your structure will prove valuable. If you are fair-weather folk, having a cheaper, open sided structure for summer use — as's own customer Tony Watson did in the above photo — can reduce the strain on the budget considerably. There are a range of protective covers available that can protect from the elements in the winter and this is something that can assist with — for more information take a look at our custom tarpaulin cover quote tool and be sure to check out our customer reviews for inspiration.

However, there are inventive ways of building your structure with protective materials. Michelle of ‘The Cock in Cider’ had a frank conversation with a professional, and came to an interesting conclusion.

“Our joiner said do not use plaster as the wood will move and it will crack the plaster. So we said ‘what about the shower boards?’. We did it all out in them. It’s not cheap, but there is no maintenance in it.”

Whilst they had help from professional friends, their build still exceeded £10,000. However with the mod-cons, heating, glazed windows and doors and electrics, they felt it was worth the extra money for their Christmas and new years parties!

Whilst there is no hard and fast guide to how much you can spend, it is worth noting that higher quality materials and structural elements will give you better peace of mind, longer use, and less maintenance over all. Protection from the elements, animals and thieves will always future-proof your pub, giving you a space to enjoy for years to come!

Cosy view of The Garden Inn
As cosy as they come at The Garden Inn. Credit: Paul Smith

"If you Build it, They Will Come": The Pleasures of Creating Your Own Pub Shed, Bar or Nightclub

If you embark on your own build, pouring love and care into its structure, you’d best believe your friends and family will be there to enjoy the spoils of your labour!

So be prepared to be social!

Darts at The Garden Inn
Anyone for darts at The Garden Inn? Credit: Paul Smith

Whether it be birthdays, anniversaries, or Christmas parties, or just the odd summer BBQ, you can be sure your pub, bar or nightclub will create some lasting memories, and without the need to step out of your own house!

And the legend of the pub shed is going from strength to strength. With online communities giving advice and inspiration to many (plus a healthy dose of vicarious living to some!), we can see that more pub sheds will be popping up around the country as the years continue. Which is great news for the guys who run Pub Shed of the Year!

With 482 entries for the prize title in 2021, the first year of the competition, the judges had a hard time selecting between them. But when it comes to deciding factors, Ashley Turner says its all down to "style, individuality, comfort, and unusual features. It had to have things like a bar in there, it has to have seating, and we like to see a sound system. Then it’s really personal choice."

Well, there was certainly lots of style and flair in the winning entry: ‘Weety’s Bar’ in Weymouth. Yes, the Gulf War veteran Iain Weetman created a buzz with his traditional build, complete with beer taps that served with him on the HMS Ark Royal!

Weety’s Bar Weymouth
The interior of Weety’s Bar in Weymouth, winner of Pub Shed of the Year 2021. Credit: Iain Weetman.

A notable finalist was also ‘The Garden Inn’, a beautiful open, sided structure build to look and feel like a potting shed! This just goes to show that it isn’t about modern-structures and sleek interiors.

The Garden Inn
Paul Smith's open sided structure of The Garden Inn was highly commended by judges of Pub Shed of the Year 2021. Credit: Paul Smith

So, what do the judges have planned for the competition in 2022?

“We're going to go bigger this year, we are going to call it ‘Take the Party’. We’re going to have a DJ, a few slabs of beer, some bottles of booze, and each bar selected in the final will have to have a party going on. Then, we’re going to knock on the door of the winner, and bring the DJ and we go live on the station there and then!”

Definitely worth tuning into Pub Shed radio for that then!

Whilst lockdowns and covid restrictions have had many drawbacks, this can be seen as one positive. It’s safe to say, when it comes to pub sheds, bars and nightclubs the igniting of imagination in the British public is has been second to none!

If you have a pub shed, bar or nightclub in your garden, we would love to see it!


Thank you

If you got this far then crack open a beer because you're done! This article was written and researched by our fiercely talented roving reporter Clementine Lloyd; someone who will happily come and prop up your garden bar in pursuit of a good pub shed story.

Read more of Clem's wonderful work in our blog, Tales from the Woodshed.

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