England’s Oldest Pub, Possibly 1,229 Years Old, Shuts Its Doors

From a Washington Post story by Annabelle Timsit headlined “England’s oldest pub, possibly 1,229 years old, shuts doors do to coronavirus hardships”:

LONDON – The Ye Olde Fighting Cocks pub in St. Albans, England, has seen it all: Since its first brick was laid, possibly as early as 793, near the ruins of an ancient Roman city well before the United Kingdom was formed, the drinking house has survived civil and world wars, famine and the spread of the bubonic plague.

But hardships brought on by the coronavirus pandemic mean the pub — which Guinness World Records has reportedly called England’s oldest, though others contest that title — is shutting its doors.

Christo Tofalli, who took over the lease of the heavily beamed pub in 2012, said that the pandemic and the government’s public health restrictions squeezed his business until he couldn’t meet its financial obligations.

Its insolvency leaves Mitchells & Butlers, which owns the pub, open to seeking new management of the possibly more-than-1,200-year-old business.

The Christmas season, Tofalli said, was his “last chance” to rescue the Ye Olde Fighting Cocks, which, like much of the hospitality industry, was hit particularly hard by lockdowns, social distancing and capacity restrictions imposed by the government to stop the spread of the virus….

Before the pandemic, “we weren’t exactly flush — but I don’t think anybody was,” Tofalli said. But he and his staff fought to make it a success. “It was a great, award-winning pub; it’s the oldest pub in the country. … I tried everything. I’m still trying.”…

Many other pubs — staples of British society that were experiencing a decline in number even before the coronavirus — have been forced to lay off or furlough staff.

“Before the pandemic hit, the escalating business rates and taxations we were managing meant trading conditions were extremely tough,” Tofalli wrote in announcing the news, “but we were able to survive and were following an exciting five-year plan and were hopeful for the future.”

“However the Covid-19 pandemic was devastating and our already tight profit margins gave us no safety net,” he wrote.

Mitchells & Butlers, one of the largest operators of restaurants, bars and pubs in Britain, said: “We can confirm that sadly our tenants at Ye Old Fighting Cocks have appointed administrators [for the insolvency process] but can reassure locals that this is not the end for the pub.”…

Tofalli said he has about 10 full-time employees. In the summers, as many as 25 people work at the Ye Olde Fighting Cocks.

Those people are part of the history of the pub, he says; the head chef’s dad celebrated his birthday with drinks at the Ye Olde Fighting Cocks, and the general manager moved to St. Albans just to work there….

While Tofalli sees himself as a “glass half full” kind of guy, he acknowledged the sadness that comes with giving up his beloved pub. “I lost my dream. I’ve been a bit sad. I’m allowed.”

Tofalli said he has been humbled by an outpouring of messages of support from local patrons and others in recent days. “The first thing people do is they’re either crying — they’re gutted personally for me or the pub or the dream or the heritage or the history — then … there’s that little pause and they all say, ‘But do you remember that time … ?’ ”

Tofalli said, “I don’t know whether to laugh or cry, but to be fair, I’ve been doing both.”

A fundraiser for the pub on GoFundMe had raised 1,390 pounds, or about $1,877, by Monday afternoon. A description of the campaign — entitled “Save Ye Olde Fighting Cocks!” — read: “I’ve spent countless nights here with friends, family and even met my fiancé here. It’s an irreplaceable piece of history that must be saved.”

But Tofalli said it needs a benefactor to invest in it for the long run, making it accessible for people with disabilities and upgrading the structure, for example, so that it survives “for the next thousand years.”

Annabelle Timsit is a breaking news reporter for The Washington Post’s London hub, covering news as it unfolds in the United States and around the world during the early morning hours in Washington.

Comments

  1. John "Corcoroni the Magnificent" Corcoran says

    Regarding the closing of the 1200 plus year old English Pub, I’m reminded of evenings I spent long ago at the Air Force Officer’s Club Langley AFB, VA.. As I recall drinks were half price during “Happy Hour” (5-6PM). For thirsty young junior officers like myself and friends, no one wanted to stop drinking at 6PM.
    Fortunately, club policy allowed you to order in advance. Hence if we got in an order of a handful of cocktails at 5:55 PM , the lower rate applied. At the witching hour you’d see tables full of lieutenants with 20-30 drinks in front of them,
    As for the English pub, had they planned ahead, regular customers could have ordered enough cocktails in advance to keep the joint afloat and open until the new owners could take over. As for menthes early drinking habits helped me become a writer and not once was there ever a successful enemy attack on the base during happy hour.

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