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Thousands back landlord in pub chain takeover battle

Loss of iconic Coach and Horses would be ‘disastrous for Soho’s soul’

31 January, 2019 — By Samantha Booth

Alistair Choat (right) outside the Coach and Horses with daughter Hollie and Norman Balon

THE landlord of a famous watering hole has warned that a pub chain takeover plan will be “disastrous for the soul of Soho”.

Nearly 2,000 punters have backed an online petition to “save” the Coach and Horses which Fuller’s wants to bring into its “managed estate” portfolio.

Fuller’s say they want to “restore” the pub to its “former glory” while retaining its features.

But Alistair Choat, who took over from “London’s rudest landlord” Norman Balon in 2006, said: “I’m devastated. It’s not just about my livelihood, it’s also about my dedication to the Coach and the people of Soho in keeping it not only as it was in terms of it integrity, but also maintaining the progress of the pub, such as the sing-alongs which have been running for 10 years.

“The movement in Soho at the moment is about the whole social environment. I think this will be disastrous for the soul of Soho.”

He added: “It’s a local pub that, while retaining its DNA, has changed slowly and organically. They [Fuller’s] don’t know any of the customers, they don’t know any of its customs.

“What is the ‘former glory’? Norman was here for 63 years and I know everything he did with the pub, so what do they mean?” Pianist Luke Meredith, who goes by the stage name Mister Meredith, has played at the twice-weekly sing-alongs for nearly 11 years.

He said: “I don’t think a managed pub has the same feel as a tenant pub. A landlord invests not just financially but with character.

“If you rip out the heart of Soho, people will simply stop coming and spending money.”

Mr Balon – who still pops in each week – ran the Greek Street pub from 1943 until 2006 when Mr Choat took charge. It is famous for previously hosting fortnightly Private Eye lunches, and was the setting for the Keith Waterhouse play Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell. It became the capital’s first vegetarian pub in 2012.

If the takeover cannot be halted, the current set-up would end in June. Mr Choat, whose daughter Hollie also works at the pub, said the firm had not engaged in a discussion with them about their plans.

He said: “We could have worked together – the social benefit of that would have been huge for Fuller’s rather than it becoming a battle.

“It’s important people understand I’m not here just to fight with Fuller’s, I’m here to protect the integrity of the Coach and Horses.”

A Fuller’s statement said: “The Coach & Horses is an amazing and historic pub in Soho and it should be one of the gems of our estate. As a result, we will be bringing it into our managed estate and we will be making a significant financial investment in this fantastic site.

“We will be restoring it to its former glory and retaining all of the features that have made it such a famous pub.

“The restoration work will bring it up to a very high standard and we will be reopening it as soon as possible as a welcoming pub for Soho literati and tourists alike. We have a history of preserving iconic pubs – and this will be no exception.”

To view the petition, visit www.change.org/p/save-coach-soho

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