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, told The Washington Post 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.

With the omicron variant’s spread keeping people home, he said there wasn’t a strong enough surge of customers to make up the shortfall – even though the government in its December restrictions did not close pubs and carved out an exception to rules for wearing masks indoors for hospitality venues.

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.”

Tofalli announced the impending closure of the Ye Olde Fighting Cocks last week, making it one of hundreds of pubs throughout the United Kingdom to close since 2020. 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 Friday in a statement on Facebook 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 in a statement to the Post: “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.”

“We are currently exploring all opportunities for the site’s future and hope to reopen the pub under new management as soon as possible,” it said.

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

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. They may lose their jobs or retain them as part of a possible deal with the new owners, Tofalli said.

It’s not the first time the Ye Olde Fighting Cocks has been in a tough spot. When Tofalli took over its lease 10 years ago, it was in shoddy condition and had been closed for nine months, he said. Britain was experiencing the aftershocks of the 2008 global financial crisis.

It was “the worst time you could possibly buy a pub,” Tofalli said, but he told himself: “I’m going to turn it into one of the greatest pubs in the country.”

As he previously told the Post, when he took over, “it was a dump. … It stank.”

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 – titled “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.”

While negotiations over the pub’s future continue, Tofalli said he is confident the Ye Olde Fighting Cocks will have a long future. “Look, the pub’s not dead,” he said, describing the closure as “shutdown sleep.”

But he 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.”

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