GALA'S longest serving landlady has just celebrated 30 years behind the bar.

Niki Fitzgerald took over the former Balmoral Bar in the spring of 1988.

And after six months of renovations she pulled her first pint in the renamed Niki's Bar at the start of the November.

Over the next three decades the former bakery manageress and her loyal team have kept generations of customers both entertained and happy.

Last weekend many of those regulars from the past returned to the Balmoral Road pub to raise a glass to the 71-year-old host.

Niki admits using up her aunt's inheritance money to go into partnership with her former boss was a risk.

But she's quick to add that it was the best decision she ever made.

Niki told us: "I was manager at Melrose's bakers in Bank Street but I'd always wanted a bar of my own.

"When the chance came along I took it.

"I'd worked in the Railway for many years at weekend which prepared me well.

"The Balmoral wasn't a nice pub - there were more dogs in the place than people. It only had two optics and the place was covered in cobwebs.

"I wanted to change the place completely and, along with my former boss and new business partner, John Melrose, we stripped the place back to a shell.

"We had a great partnership - John was good at bookkeeping and I was good with people.

"We had to give the bar a new name and, well, Niki's Bar seemed the right name.

"I was a wee bit worried nobody would come when we finally had our opening night but there was a queue at the door."

Niki's Bar was only intended to be a five-year project with the new landlady having her long-term sights set on her own restaurant.

Niki continued: "Once the five years were up I couldn't leave - we were like one big family in the bar.

"When John wanted out after the seventh year I bought his share and the bar was all mine.

"It was a family-run pub from the start and I looked after my customers."

Niki's Bar has remained one of the busiest pubs in Galashiels, if not the Borders, over the three decades.

From hosting out-of-hours children's discos and the pub's own social club for trips and events, Niki's Bar continued to beat at the heart of the Balmoral community.

And even today the pub is home to three darts teams, two dominoes teams and a pool team.

Thousands of pounds are raised every year for charity by collections and events in the bar.

Thursday afternoons are given over to service users of a disability centre for games of pool and music.

And it's often standing room only for the regular quiz nights.

As well as creating wonderful memories for the landlady and countless new friends, the Balmoral Road pub also led to Niki meeting her late husband, Rich.

She continued: "Someone said they knew someone who was looking for a shift or two behind the bar.

"Rich worked at a local garage and from starting with the occasional shifts he soon became a firm fixture of Niki's Bar.

"We were together for 24 years before Rich died last year.

"He'd been asking me to marry him for years but we never had the time - then 12 years ago we made the time.

"Rich did everything at the bar - there wasn't anything he couldn't do and he's sorely missed by a lot of people."

In tribute to her late husband, Niki has a Richard Fitzgerald Charity Bottle placed on the bar which continues to raise hundreds of pounds every few months for worthy causes.

While the past 18 months have been tainted with sadness for widowed Niki, her 30th anniversary party a fortnight ago certainly brought a smile.

And the occasion also allowed her to make sure Niki's Bar stays in the family for many more years to come.

Niki added: "I knew we were having a little party but I didn't expect so many people to come - some I hadn't seen for years - and all of them dressed in 1980s clothes.

"During the evening I gifted half of the bar to my son, Norman. He works hard and is really good behind the bar - Norman will be the future of Niki's Bar."

And if Norman is anything like his mum, it will be standing room only at Niki's Bar in another 30 years time.