Coach & Horses opposes 'vanilla managed makeover'

By Emily Hawkins

- Last updated on GMT

Push back: Fuller's will not renew the current lease on the famous Coach & Horses pub in Soho (image: Ewan Munro, Flickr)
Push back: Fuller's will not renew the current lease on the famous Coach & Horses pub in Soho (image: Ewan Munro, Flickr)

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The licensee behind the famous Coach & Horses pub in Soho has pushed back against Fuller’s intentions to take over the lease, saying regulars “don’t want or need a vanilla managed makeover”.

Fuller’s has decided not renew the lease for Alistair Choat, who has run the pub for almost 13 years, in order to instead bring the site under its managed estate.

Keith Waterhouse set his 1989 play Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell​ at the pub, after the eponymous journalist who used to drink vodka sodas at the bar rather than write his satirical ‘low life’ column for the Spectator​.

Previous landlord Norman Balon, known for his self-proclaimed title of "London's rudest landlord", handed the pub over to Choat in 2006 after 63 years.

Famous patrons

Satirical magazine Private Eye​ has hosted its regular lunches for sources and notable politicos at the pub for half a century, and the site was London’s first vegan and vegetarian pub.

Choat would like to buy the freehold of the pub.

A petition​ to Fuller’s to reconsider has garnered more than 3,000 signatures and urges the pub to be kept “as we know it”.

The petition calls for legislative changes “to protect our heritage and our pubs that we all call a home from home”.

Choat explained to The Morning Advertiser​ he would like to see pubcos and breweries with under 500 pubs subject to the same guidelines as larger pubcos.

“You can't have one set of guidelines in an industry for the bigger boys and another set for the smaller boys,” he said.

He added: “It is crazy for small business people like ourselves who take on pubs, commit all of our soul, heart and finances to creating great businesses, that the landlords can just go 'that's a really good business, we'll have that' and take it back.

“We are an incredibly progressive and innovative pub, probably the most innovative pub on the Fuller’s estate, and probably in London,” he said.

The Soho pub has a long history (image: Mike Quinn, Geograph)
The Soho pub has a long history (image: Mike Quinn, Geograph)

'Village pub'

In its current form, the pub had been able to balance its role as a London boozer and a “village pub for Soho”, Choat said.

'Soho Pam' was an “extraordinary woman” who lived on the streets and was known by staff and regulars at the pub, the licensee explained.

After Pam died from cancer in 2012, Choat helped to arrange for her funeral service to be held in Finchley, and more than 150 people attended her wake at the pub.

The pub has organised local events such as a First World War memorial in which images of wartime individuals were projected onto neighbouring buildings, and a surprise birthday party for former landlord Balon.

“All these things would not have happened if Fuller's had taken over,” Choat said.

The pubco said preserving the heritage of establishments was critical to its ethos, and that it would be investing into the site.

'One of the gems'

A spokesperson for Fuller, Smith & Turner, 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 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.”

Fuller's announced it would sell its brewing business​ to Asahi for £250m last week.

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