Nosemonkey's EUtopia

In search of a European identity

The end of an era

Norman Balon, landlord of the infamous Coach & Horses in Soho, has retired.

Shame. Shame, I say. For those unfamiliar:

“Mr Balon, 79, has told more people to drink up and leave than Jeffrey Bernard drank large vodka-ice-and-sodas at his barside during the decades he wrote Low Life, his celebrated Spectator column… [Bernard] had to compete in conversation with, among others, the unshameable Daniel Farson; Tom Baker, popping in from a voice-over; Conan Nicholas, the man who invented cat-racing; or with David Wright, the poet…”Norman Balon was really invented by Richard Ingrams, when editor of Private Eye, from which William Rushton and Peter Cook and the rest came over the road for lunch each day… For 40 years, Private Eye has held its fortnightly lunches for informants and prominent people in a chill room upstairs… Immortality came in 1989 with Keith Waterhouse‘s play Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell, a sell-out with Peter O’Toole in title role and the pub interior as the set.”

The Coach has been the hub of some of the most fascinating fringe characters of journalism and the arts for decades – there can be few who have aspired to a bohemian lifestyle who have not drunk there during Norman’s tenure. Me? Yep, I aspired. I went for a job there once while I was a student – was offered a pint during the interview with Norman, but nerves were such that I spilled it all over his suit. He was, shall we say, unimpressed. I left forthwith, and didn’t dare return for three years…


  1. I drank there once, and once only. Ordering a low-alcohol beer from the friendly barmaid, Norman fixed me with a stare and muttered, "You're not my sort of customer."

    He didn't throw me out, though. Apparently I'm supposed to be disappointed by this.

  2. Low-alcohol beer? I doubt you're anyone's sort of customer… Heh…

    End of an era indeed – as soon as the smoking ban comes in the pubs'll be overrun by non-drinkers cluttering the place up and nursing their diet cokes (with ice and a slice of lemon, please). If you're running a pub, you want chain-smokers (who buy more booze to keep their throats moist) and alcoholics. All other customers are merely wasting space and time. FACT.

  3. It was closed for cleaning at lunchtime (I usually have lunch next door), and all the bottles were lined up on the bar.
    Can't claim to be anything approaching a proper regular, and rarely ventured out of the Shallow End, but I used to wander in a lot before going home. The new chap has allegedly promised to change as little as possible.

  4. I got thrown out for reading a copy of The Economist at the bar. Bet it wouldn�t have happened if it had been The Spectator or Private Eye.

  5. They would have to be rich bohos.

    It is one of the most expensive pubs in London – a pint has cost well over �3 in there for some time.

    I prefer to head off to the Dog and Duck or the Pillars of Hercules, where the prieces don't make your eyes water.