The historic building has been empty for more than 17 years

The shelter in the middle of a roundabout might have been immortalised in the song Penny Lane, but this long and winding road to recovery has been anything but blue suburban skies. The former tram shed and bus terminus on Smithdown Place, which for years housed the Sgt. Pepper’s bistro, has been unoccupied for more than 17 years. 

Imagine how many people passed through there over the years on the trams and buses

Now work has started on the building again, and we’ve all got our fingers crossed that this will be a happy ending for this culturally important site.

Way before the Beatles got together, Penny Lane was the location for a significant tram terminus. In 2016, historic tram tracks were uncovered by a major roadworks project on Smithdown Road - it’s thought that six of Liverpool's original tram routes met at this junction. In 1957, it was the end of the line for Liverpool's trams, and the site went on to become a bus shelter with toilets.

Penny Lane Bus Stop The Beatles Roundabout Sgt Pepper Bistro 2021
Work is back on - but the building has now been empty since 2003

In 1983, it was approved to turn the site into a cafe and souvenir shop. Peppers, or Sergeant Pepper's, closed in 2003, but the redevelopment of the building has since been blighted by all sorts of problems. 

A proposed first floor extension was declined in 2012 as it would obscure views of St Barnabus Church. Planning permission was granted in 2013 for a first floor circular glass extension, but work has been on-off ever since. It's also claimed that there were trademark issues with the name of the place.

In 2016, current owner Ray Maatook told Confidentials that he had found an occupier for the building, “a highly successful and respected family-owned restaurant business in Liverpool.”

In December 2020, the Liverpool ECHO reported that Mr Maatook was on the lookout for a big-name coffee chain to take over the iconic site.

Penny Lane Bus Stop The Beatles Roundabout Sgt Pepper Bistro
The shelter was immortalised by the Fab Four in the song 'Penny Lane'

It was a similar story last week when contractors were seen to be back on site and I got chatting to Ray outside the building. Ray says he's investing in work to do up the building and make it a “blank canvas” to attract prospective business tenants. Maybe a local independent though, hey?

The former owner of Caesar’s Palace restaurant in Renshaw Street, is hopeful that he will now find an occupier for the iconic building. The bistro is clearly very important to him and he says he will never sell it, even though it must now be something of an albatross around his neck.

The building has suffered from water damage and vandalism - Ray says at least two of the windows were “shot”. He even gave me a little guided tour of the two floors although he did ask me not to post any pictures online. Fair enough. Inside it’s deceptively large and really quite intriguing. 

Penny Lane Bus Stop The Beatles Roundabout Sgt Pepper Bistro Menus
Menus from Sgt Pepper's bistro

Imagine how many people passed through there over the years on the trams and buses? Imagine all those stories and all those memories. How did they pass the time waiting for the number 86 without a mobile phone to gawp at?

Ray also gave me a couple of old menus before I headed on my way home. I don’t know what year they date from, but I could definitely go for sausage, egg and chips for two quid and a chocolate gateaux for £1.25. Now that is a blast from the past. 

One of the menus has a list of Beatles-inspired dishes on it too - if you remember ordering the Octopus Garden pizza (£5), were a big fan of the Lady Madonna chicken kebab (£6.75) or used to sing the praises of the Long and Winding Road lasagne (£5.75) then let us know.

It would be great to hear your memories of the place. Sometimes, maybe, love is all you need...

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