Licensee of iconic LGBTQ+ pub celebrates 20 years

By Nikkie Thatcher

- Last updated on GMT

Milestone marked: Alan Nicholls is celebrating 20 years at the helm of the Regent in Edinburgh
Milestone marked: Alan Nicholls is celebrating 20 years at the helm of the Regent in Edinburgh

Related tags Punch Pubco + head office Edinburgh Tenanted + leased

The operator of an LGBTQ+ real ale pub in Edinburgh has celebrated two decades at the venue.

Alan Nicholls first took the Regent, which is a Punch Pubs & Co site, on in 2003 and has amassed a strong and loyal customer base throughout the years.

He originally began life in Edinburgh to study astronomy at university before deciding it wasn’t for him and then embarked on his hospitality career.

Alan said: “A friend of mine ran a café I the city but gave it up so I took it on and stayed there for several years.

“While doing that I got involved in the dance/club scene when raves started up in the late 80s and was running parties in the café before progressing to a venue.

“We hosted an LGBTQ+ club night, which then continued for 13 years, its popularity exploded! Although I loved being a DJ and club promoter, once I hit 40, it was time for me to explore another avenue.”

After regularly walking past the pub on his morning commute each day, Alan saw it was advertised, expressed his interest and was handed the keys on 1 May 2003.

Alan said taking on the Regent wasn’t completely planned as he hadn’t looked specifically for a pub but he spotted a gap in the market for an LGBTQ+ friendly bar that offered cask ale.

Flexibility key

He added: “I’ve been really fortunate to have a fantastically dedicated and loyal team around me and I’ve never felt alone. With the support from the team alongside my operations manager and everyone at Punch, I’ve always felt like there was somebody holding my hand.

“I would have hated to be in this industry alone so even during the most challenging times, I’ve always had a shoulder to lean on. Business isn’t the same as when it first opened, things develop and they change but you have to be open to that.

“In this business, you must be flexible, aware of what the trends are and how things are going. You couldn’t possibly please everybody and you can’t be all things to call people but as long as you know that, anybody could be successful in this industry.”

When comparing the trading landscape of 2003 to now, Alan stated the differences he has seen during that time.

"20 years has seen a lot of changes. I definitely do not miss having to empty ash trays every half an hour and you'd often find ice or chewing gum in them too," he said.

"We set up the Regent as an LGBTQ+ venue, lots of people said it wouldn't work but we stuck by our belief and it has been well worth it. There was a lot of discrimination towards our community 20 years ago and LGBTQ+ venues felt they had to keep a low profile to avoid trouble, now as our confidence has grown, we have a proud rainbow flag flying outside."

Alan highlighted how there have been many issues over the past two decades including inflation, banking crashes, recessions and the cost of living crisis however, the more challenging times also meant he had the opportunity to alter the business.

Biggest challenge

He added: "But I still maintain the biggest challenge of all was the sudden Covid lockdown and the very long, slow process to get back our lifestyles we all took for granted until March 2020.

"After the initial shock of lockdown died down, I realised I had a fantastic opportunity to look at the business from the ground up. Furniture and equipment were cleaned, fixed and refurbished.

"Jobs I had put off for years were now possible during the long period of closure. We also made changes to how we operate meaning the Regent emerged as a leaner, fighter and more manageable business."

The licensee outlined how his highlights so far have included being named the Campaign For Real Ale’s Edinburgh Pub of the Year 2008 – a first for an LGBTQ+ venue in Scotland – and being a Punch Publican of the Year finalist in 2022.

When looking back on his time at the Regent, Alan laid out two main lessons. He said: "The first is to keep a close eye on the accounts. It's easy to let things slip and think 'I'll get round to it next week' but you never do! 

"I now set aside certain days as my paperwork days. That way, I can keep on top of things and see exactly how the business is performing.

"The second and most important thing is – look after your team members. They are the life and soul of the business and if they are happy, the customers will be happy too."

The pub offers a relaxing space where people go for conversation and friendship as well as being host to a number of sporting groups, welcoming local LGBTQ+ badminton and running clubs alongside rugby and football teams who use the pub for pre and post-match days.

Alan kept his celebrations fairly low key as his anniversary was amid the Edinburgh Festival but he enjoyed a pint or two of his favourite cask ale, surrounded by his nearest and dearest.

Related topics Punch Pubs & Co

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