Gary Murphy, High Barnet's most celebrated licensee of recent times, has given up his lease after having spent the last 13 years establishing The Mitre as a public house recognised across North London for its real ales and craft beers.
Brewers Greene King made what Mr Murphy said was an offer he could not refuse to buy back the remaining five years of his lease.
His departure from the High Street will mean the loss of a powerful voice for publicans across the country who have admired his determination to take on the brewers as well as the government.
In recent months Mr Murphy has been a frequent critic of the way lockdown and then social distancing rules have damaged the pub trade and he is not hopeful of a rapid bounce back for the licensed trade.
“Given the re-sale value of the remainder of my lease it was more profitable for me to hand it back and less risky than running the pub for the next five years.
“I have no doubt I have made the right decision given the way the government is handling the Covid.19 pandemic.”
He understands that the incoming Greene King tenant (from 31.7.2021) intends to keep The Mitre very much as it is at present -- “an historic, old-style drinking house.”
In his 13 years at The Mitre, Mr Murphy enlarged the floor area by expanding into the former stables at the rear of the pub and by enlarging the garden.
“I tried to broaden the appeal of the pub and it has become quite a community asset for High Barnet.
“The Mitre is known across North London, and in much of the country, as an original pub offering a wide range of real ales and craft beers.”
He acknowledged that buying out the remainder of the lease made commercial sense for Greene King as subsequent tenants would be on less favourable terms than he had managed to secure.
Mr Murphy gained national prominence for the campaigns he has waged. At the height of the lockdown closures in April 2020 – when The Mitre had to close its doors – he attracted widespread publicity for his campaign to force pub owners to agree a rent holiday.
After attracting over 400,000 views for his tweet, “No Pub, No Rent”, he was interviewed extensively in the press and on radio and television.
In the first five weeks he clocked up a debt of almost £10,000. Real ale and other beers worth £6,000 went to waste in The Mitre’s cellars.
With the gradual easing of lockdown, he was forced like other licensees to battle on amid continuing confusion over the restrictions.
Initially High Barnet’s nine public houses faced a 10pm curfew and no socialising inside. Social groups – up to a permitted six – could only sit together outside.
With the further loosening of the rules, he reconfigured The Mitre’s floor area to allow for a variety of seating so that people could sit separately as required by law but still feel they were in a community pub.
In 2019 Mr Muprhy, led an equally high-profile campaign to force pub owners to give publicans of tied houses a fair deal on rents and beer prices.
In successfully challenging the ruling of the pub code adjudicator, he earned a special award from the Enfield and Barnet Campaign for Real Ale.
Mr Murphy raised £11,000 in a national crowd funding appeal to fight exploitation by the pub companies.
Having made a success of The Mitre, which was loss making when he took it over, and having won concessions from Greene King, he made it his mission to try to help 15,000 tied landlords across the country who were struggling because of exorbitant rents and additional beer charges.
Mr Murphy, who is moving to his house in Norfolk, clearly has mixed emotions about leaving The Mitre where he became something of an institution among his regular clientele.
Perhaps the most memorable dust up was a couple of years ago with a customer who insisted on bringing along his pet parrot.
“We are a dog friendly pub and the owner kept on insisting his parrot was cleaner than my dog.
“Yes, I replied, but my dog is unlikely to poo on my customers’ heads. So, I had to ban the parrot.”