Pub plans threatening Belsize Park comedy club dubbed ‘cultural vandalism’

Martin Besseman at Monkey Business Comedy Club, upstairs at The Steeles. Picture: Polly Hancock

Martin Besseman at Monkey Business Comedy Club, upstairs at The Steeles. Picture: Polly Hancock - Credit: Archant

Stand-ups and comedy club regulars have accused a pub of “cultural vandalism” over plans to transform its function room into flats or a hotel.

Proposals to redevelop the upstairs of the Sir Richard Steele in Haverstock Hill – commonly known as The Steeles – would force the popular Monkey Business Comedy Club to seek a new home.

The weekly night has been running for 10 years in the first-floor room on Saturdays and has been graced by a litany of big name performers including Harry Hill, Russell Brand and Jimmy Carr.

The pub’s owners are seeking permission to change the use of the upstairs floors for two potential schemes, one to create four flats and the other for a 10-room hotel.

But a flurry of performers, fans and residents have written to the town hall to object.

Writer and comic James Veitch, a frequent performer at Monkey Business, said: “The Sir Richard Steele is a public house steeped in history, a vital meeting place for local residents, a hive of community activity and one of the few remaining authentic and beautiful pubs in an area that is increasingly losing them to flats and other financially-motivated ventures.

“If we downsize this gem of a pub – in their own words a ‘north London institution’ – we’ll have lost something truly precious.”

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The Camden Town resident added that the comedy night was a “haven for comics”.

Steven Hall, of Belsize Park, branded the project “an act of cultural vandalism”.

He said: “The pub is an important community resource, and the function room is vital for providing an entertainment space.

“The proposed residential conversion would hugely negatively impact upon the community.”

Martin Besserman, founder and promoter of Monkey Business, said it will be hard to find a similar setting nearby.

“It’s a very beautiful and historic room, it’s so unusual, with the ceiling panted like a sky,” he said.

“It would be such a shame as there’s nothing like it anywhere else – it’s got personality.

“The local community is going to be deprived of a very significant comedy club.”

The pub’s owners did not comment.

But Lynn Whiting, chairman of the Steele’s Village Business Association, backed the proposals.

She said: “I totally understand that they can’t keep [the function room] running just for a weekly gig, when the rest of the week it’s empty.

“I think it would be great to have a small hotel there.

“A little smart boutique hotel up there would be gorgeous.”

The planning application is set to be heard by Camden Council on Thursday, November 6.