What next for St Albans' Ye Olde Fighting Cocks?

Ye Olde Fighting Cocks landlord Christo Tofalli outside the pub.

"I have tried everything to keep the pub going." Ye Olde Fighting Cocks landlord Christo Tofalli revealed this week that the pub has gone into administration. - Credit: Archant

It has survived the Reformation, the Civil War and PETA, but this week the country's oldest pub fell victim to the economic consequences of the pandemic.

Landlord Christo Tofalli, who bought Ye Olde Fighting Cocks in 2012, revealed on social media that his beloved boozer has gone into administration.

"Along with my team, I have tried everything to keep the pub going. However, the past two years have been unprecedented for the hospitality industry, and have defeated all of us who have been trying our hardest to ensure this multi-award-winning pub could continue trading into the future.

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

Ye Olde Fighting Cocks.

Ye Olde Fighting Cocks. - Credit: Danny Loo

"However the pandemic was devastating and our already tight profit margins gave us no safety net. This resulted in us being unable to meet our financial obligations as they were due, creating periods of great uncertainty and stress for all who worked for, and with, the pub."

He went on: "It goes without saying I am heartbroken: this pub has been so much more than just a business to me, and I feel honoured to have played even a small part in its history. I am even more heartbroken for my incredible team and the wider Fighting Cocks family.

"I would like to thank my loyal staff, all the visitors to the pub, particularly the regulars, but also those from all over the world, the suppliers, the bands and musicians who have played here, the St Albans community and my friends and my family, for all their love and support for the last ten years.

A model of the refurbishments planned for Ye Olde Fighting Cocks.

A model of the refurbishments planned for Ye Olde Fighting Cocks. - Credit: Archant

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"I am currently working with the brewery, Mitchell and Butler, to lessen the impact of the closure of Ye Olde Fighting Cocks as we go into administration. I would like to thank them for their help and support throughout this process; they have been amazing. Every time I had an idea they supported me. I know it may seem strange but I have zero complaints. I am sorry to let them down too."

Although a crowdfunding appeal was swiftly launched by customer James Reeves, Christo said he couldn't accept any donations: "To save my dream we need a fairy godmother with a few quid doing nothing who simply wants the pub to survive for future generations. Make it and keep it one of the greatest pubs in the country was the plan. Nice and simple. Sadly philanthropic people like me are a rare breed.

Ye Olde Fighting Cocks by V Picton

Ye Olde Fighting Cocks by V Picton - Credit: Archant

"I haven’t found one with a spare £3m in 10 years so it’s unlikely. I am humbled by the messages of joy and pain, including this amazing idea to try and do the best for the pub."

Speaking to the Herts Ad last year, Christo, who always described himself as a custodian of YOFC, said: "The pub was closed not long before I bought it and when I took over it was in the worst condition you could possibly imagine. I knew the day I bought it that that was it. Everything went into it. It still is everything and more."

In July 2020 he launched a fundraising drive to ensure the long-term future of the Abbey Mill Lane venue, aiming for a target of £1.75m to achieve his dream of a major expansion project.

The expansion would have added 68 seated covers inside and 120 outside, along with additional space for standing. There would have been full disabled access to every part of the pub as well as a Changing Places facility, featuring full disabled toilet facilities with bench and hoist.

When he originally announced the project, back in 2018, Christo warned that unless they would make a profit by accommodating the increasing number of customers flooding into the lakeside restaurant every year, the business was unlikely to survive in its current state.

Ye Olde Fighting Cocks in St Albans.

Ye Olde Fighting Cocks in St Albans. - Credit: Archant

“Even the brewery said I’m the only person in the last 50 years to put anything into it, and you know what I’ve put into it? Everything. And we’re still putting everything into it.”

And that was before Covid, which had a huge impact on the business, with the pub mothballed for months, and even when it eventually reopened, the continuation of restrictions meant they could not welcome as many customers for the Euros football tournament.

Christo said at the time: "It was a shame restrictions didn’t ease as it would have helped enormously with the debt we have taken in during the pandemic, losing 1,200 tickets plus the drink sales added up to £100,000."

So what now? Christo added: "I have a lot to say but now is not the time. More updates to follow.

"I would really appreciate that my staff and I are given the respect and privacy we need at this very difficult time."