With so many pubs closing – around 500 in 2023 – it was a rare pleasure to open a revived one. Andrei Lussmann, whose award-winning and five-strong restaurant group started in Heritage Close, St Albans, has restored an historic pub in Berkhamsted that closed 150 years ago.

The Five Bells at 163 High Street now has a “front of house” bar, with a large restaurant area behind it.

The pub will be very different to the 19h century inn where landlord Stephen Holloway in the 1860s refused to help the police with their enquiries “on the occasion of a lot of navvies making a disturbance”, according to a local newspaper report at the time.

The pub was also a venue for the brutal sport of bare-knuckle fighting. The fighters didn’t wear gloves and could inflict terrible injuries on their opponents.

The restored Five Bells joins a large number of pubs and inns along Berkhamsted High Street that still stand today. They reflect the history of the town that stands on a former Roman road that linked St Albans to Cirencester.

In later years it became a major coaching route and passengers would stop to refresh themselves at the inns while horses were changed.

Then an army of navvies arrived in the area in the 18th century to dig the Grand Union Canal that, when completed in the 19th century, linked London to Birmingham.

More navvies poured into the town in Victorian times to dig the railway that offered a new, faster link from London to the Midlands.

These were big, powerful men who worked up prodigious thirsts and who drank the Five Bells and other pubs dry.

When the work on the canal and the railway ended, the navvies moved on and the Five Bells fell on hard times. Since it closed, the premises have been a corn merchants, a dairy, a coal merchants, an electrician’s and a tailor’s shop.

Now it’s a pub once more and Andrei Lussmann has a cheering message for pub lovers: “I want customers to leave the worries of the world at the door and appreciate a proper pint and tuck into some really good food.”

The beers come from the Mad Squirrel Brewery. Lussman’s and the brewery are neighbours in St Albans, with the Mad Squirrel Taproom next to the restaurant.

Now the relationship has been cemented with Mad Squirrel beers on the bar of the Five Bells.

The beers include pale ale, American pale ale, stout and a Pilsner-style lager. It would have been a different beer offer in the 19th century when mild ale was the most popular beer style and was quaffed in large quantities. You wonder what the navvies would have made of American pale ale and lager!

The beers are served in a small and comfortable bar area but it will be possible to enjoy them in a large beer garden in warmer weather.

While a full menu is on offer in the main restaurant, the bar has halloumi sticks, chorizo, soup, toasties, casseroles, burgers and fish pie.

All the food meets Andrei Lussmann’s criteria of sustainability, with ingredients sourced from the best suppliers and with a strict limit on distance in order to reduce carbon footprints.

The policy extends to the beer, as Mad Squirrel is just a mile or two away at Potten End. The beers are modern “craft keg” ones.

Andrei would like to serve cask-conditioned real ale but he is restrained by the small size of his cellar. He will monitor the turnover of beer, as cask ale has to be served within two or three days, but don’t rule out real ale arriving at some time.

In the meantime, let’s toast the revival of an historic pub.