Round of applause goes up as theatre pub saved

A KENTISH Town pub patronised by Downton Abbey star Hugh Bonneville has been saved from closure.

The Lion and Unicorn in Gaisford Street was threatened after owner Pubs ‘n’ Bars Plc went into receivership in December 2009.

But now the pub, which has its own resident theatre company, Giant Olive, has been bought for by brewery Geronimo Inns.

The new owner has already launched a major revamp, which includes the installation of a restaurant and improvements to its theatre space.

Giant Olive founder and artistic director George Sallis admits that the financial problems have been a worry but says he is confident the pub will bounce back.

“We were slightly concerned but the receivers saw that the pub was doing well because the theatre was there – so they decided to keep it open,” he said.

The pub originally opened more than 20 years ago. It was known as the Royale in the 1980s before changing its name to the Lion and Unicorn. It turned its first floor into a theatre in 1995 and Giant Olive, with Mr Bonneville as its patron, took up residence in 2008. The company quickly developed a respected reputation for the diversity of its productions, which have included classical plays, dance and new writing.

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The Lion and Unicorn closed for refurbishment at the end of January and is expected to reopen around May.

But before shutting up shop, Giant Olive held a “closing gala” to celebrate the fact it could remain in Kentish Town. Geronimo has handed the theatre company a three-year rolling contract.

Mr Sallis said: “It’s a very good match. They’re a very good company and they suit our theatre culture very well and they’ve been very supportive. So when we reopen, it will be business as usual – but with an added sparkle.”

The pub sale was handled by Christie & Co. Its director Simon Chaplin said: “We are delighted to have been able to secure such a high-class operator, such as Geronimo Inns, for the Lion and Unicorn. We are also delighted that the theatre group will continue to play an important role in the fabric of this unique business.”