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Silver linings at the Fighting Cocks

Branch Chairman, Les Middlewood with Christo (left) and the branch award
Written by Tom Blakemore

South Hertfordshire Branch’s Pub of the Year Silver award for 2017 goes to the Olde Fighting Cocks in St.Albans, a pub that until 5 years ago was rarely mentioned in real ale circles.

One of Britain’s most famous pubs was then down on its luck – poor maintenance and a period of closure saw the pub looking forlorn and in need of attention but who, in the difficult times pubs were facing, would be up for the daunting task of restoring the pub to its former glory? In came Christo Tofalli and his family, full of vigour, enterprise and determination to rejuvenate the pub not just as a tourist destination but with a vision to reacquaint the pub with its community and the city.

Christo is well aware of the pub’s importance as a famous landmark – it purports to be the oldest pub in England and in part dates from the 8th century though the current building was completed in 1485. With its heavily timbered interior, its interesting nooks and crannies, fireplaces and unique internal character there comes a responsibility for the pub to be kept in a way that fits with its Grade II listing. But Christo also has a much wider sense of what the pub should be. He says “I am so proud to be running the pub. With its unique standing, I know the pub carries a special responsibility way beyond just being a business. But there is much more that the pub can be for the community. I want the city to be proud of us and what we are doing at the pub.” And progression is Christo’s bi-word. There have been responsible internal improvements, a rejuvenated and changing menu and a firm commitment to real ale that underscores everything that Christo and his team have been trying to achieve – so much so that he has plans to eventually have up to 16 handpumps. His latest project is to work towards the opening of a micro-brewery – but with a twist. The brewery will be a facility for all of the city’s amateur brewers – an opportunity for them to brew using the new state of the art equipment that will be installed.

South Herts Branch have watched and engaged as the new philosophy has turned into action – the pub now with a solid direction, offering a good range of ales, with eager and friendly staff and a growing local following.

On the CAMRA award Christo says “My team and I are really honoured to have been recognised for what we are doing. We thank the branch for their support. I can’t thank my team enough – Andie, my general manager, Martin, my pub manager, Chris, my right arm and Ian my head chef – most who have been with me for the full five-year journey to date – and, indeed, I thank all of the staff. They have all signed up for what we are trying to achieve, given great support and provided ideas and the continuity and strength that we continue to need as we move forward.”

It is good to see the “Fighters” up there with the branch’s very best pubs.

The Silver award was presented to Christo at the branch’s St.Albans Beer and Cider festival volunteers party which was held at the pub in an excellent Saturday afternoon event in May.

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