Pub with smallest bar in Europe slams ‘callous and cold’ rent approach

By Emily Hawkins contact

- Last updated on GMT

Spatial awareness: operator Barry Hayes has said he needs more flexibility on rent as his pub is too small for social distancing (image: David Dixon, Geograph)
Spatial awareness: operator Barry Hayes has said he needs more flexibility on rent as his pub is too small for social distancing (image: David Dixon, Geograph)

Related tags: coronavirus

The operator behind the Circus Tavern in Manchester – which boasts the smallest bar in Europe – has described the difficulty of reopening with social distancing measures in place.

Barry Hayes has said pub owner Star Pubs & Bars has been dismissive of his concerns about rent payments, with back-dated rent payments for the past three months due to be paid from next month.

He said: “With a two-metre [social distancing] rule, I’m only going to get eight people in and is it worth opening for that? I rely very heavily on the atmosphere in the pub, a good sing-song and it’s one of those pubs where you have to speak to somebody else.”

Small walkways, two tiny rooms and limited outside space means social distancing measures would be incredibly difficult to follow with more than a handful of people moving around the 500sq ft space at one time, the operator added. The bar in the upper room is the smallest in Europe, at just one metre long, and a table service system is already in operation to control busy crowds.

“We don’t know when we’re going to open again and, going forward, it’s all going to be a learning curve for everybody.”

Hayes said he felt the approach to rent from Star had been a “punishment” for the pub taking a market-rent-only (MRO) option lease three weeks prior to the lockdown. 

The operator proposed a nine-month rent-free period, effective from the end of March and added on to end of the lease with rent payments continuing as normal from January 2021. He asked for the deferred payments to be paid over the next nine years of his lease.

He said: “I can’t believe how callous they have been towards me. I’m not pleased with them one bit. I have offered something and they have just turned it away.”

The backdated rent totals around £17,000, according to the operator. Although the pub has received a grant from the Government, Hayes said this payment is not going to last long given the pub’s ongoing bills. The historic pub has also needed rewiring and refurbishments during this period, meaning a dilapidations cost of around £30,000.

Star Pubs & Bars said it was helping pubs on MRO leases by deferring the collection of rent while pubs are closed and giving operators a year to pay back this sum.

Star’s managing director Lawson Mountstevens said: “Those pubs that have chosen to operate their pubs on a market-rent-only (MRO) option lease basis make up a tiny proportion of pubs in our estate. Our arrangement with them is that of a conventional commercial landlord because they have chosen to take a greater risk than leased and tenanted pubs who receive more support from us.

“We are helping our pubs on an MRO lease by deferring collection of rent for three months, or until pubs reopen, and are providing an extended period to pay back that deferred rent until March 2021. 

“We are also moving from quarterly to monthly payments to help tenants with cash flow. Benchmarking shows the support we have put in place for them goes above and beyond that of other commercial landlords.”

Hayes has written to Lucy Powell MP for Manchester Central and is planning to set up a petition for his customers to support him.

The Government proposed this week that some hospitality venues may be able to reopen, if social distancing measures are followed, from 4 July at the earliest. 

Related topics: Star Pubs & Bars

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