Regulars fear for future of Bell as pub goes up for sale
One of Bath's most distinctive pubs is being put up for sale by its owner of 23 years.
Now regulars at the Bell Inn in Walcot Street are being urged to consider buying the pub, which is on the market for £925,000, themselves.
Owner Ian Wood says his heart is no longer in running the Bell, but he says he will not sell "the best pub in the world" to someone who will run it in a "soulless corporate way".
The Bell developed out of an 18th-century coaching inn and has a regional reputation for its real ales, live music and independent spirit.
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Staff were told by Mr Wood last week that he was selling up, and in a message on Facebook, he said: "I am very proud of the eclectic team of people who make this pub so special. There is such a great feeling of community and such humour, I will really miss the place, it is by far the best pub in the world. It is an institution, thank you all for making it so special.
"Owning a pub like this has been the fulfilment of a dream, but this dream I was having many years ago. I now have new dreams and a new direction, and my heart is not in it any more."
This week, he posted a second message in a bid to reassure customers worried that the pub's unique character could be threatened.
He said there had been a lot of interest from "sympathetic people" and pledged: "I'm not going to sell up to someone I believe is going to run the pub in that soulless corporate way we know sucks, but having said that when I have sold up it is out of my hands."
He added one option was for the customers to buy it, with a limited company owning the freehold, shares sold and a salaried director to run the pub.
"That all sounds easy but it would really need someone with some energy and balls to stand up and to organise it. Someone with the skills needed for herding cats would be good, it would be quite an achievement."
The three-storey pub is being marketed by city firm James A Baker, which says it expects "significant interest".
A spokesman said: "The Bell Inn offers a rare and exciting opportunity to purchase a popular freehold pub in the centre of Bath."
Meanwhile, another city pub is under new management.
The New Westhall in Upper Bristol Road has been taken over by Banwell House, which also owns pubs in Trowbridge, Chapsmanlade and Holcombe, and manages two others.
It has been rebranded as the Victoria Pub and Kitchen and will reopen next Friday.
Banwell House boss Toby Brett said: "The New Westhall is a great-sized site in a great location. It just needed to direct itself towards the target demographic of the area."
The bar has been moved and a "theatre kitchen" installed, allowing customers to see their food being prepared.
Mr Brett said he was aware that other pubs in the city had the name Victoria in their titles but still felt it was the right choice.