Longstanding pub closes down

Members of the community hoping to pay patronage to their neighborhood pub, The Star, for England’s final RBS Six Nations rugby match on March 21, would have found themselves bitterly disappointed. That morning the pub had been vacated and locked up, with banners reading Champion Estates in place of the pub’s logo. 

The pub was sold to West End Investments in December 2013 for £2.1 million. The company proceeded to attempt to turn the property into a private residence, however planning permission was denied by the Westminster City Council. They were, however, able to find a loophole as the Council’s decision simply stated that they could not change the way the building looks, which allowed them to lease the property to Champion Estates, a real estate agency.

The 200-year-old pub is protected as an Asset of Community Value. Conservative MP candidate for the area, Lindsey Hall, has also been working with the City Council since the closure to try to reinstate the property as a pub.

The news has upset both students and faculty alike, who often enjoyed The Star’s hospitality. “The Star was a place where ASL students felt comfortable, unwinding after a hard day or week of school. It was convenient to get to and Mary [the former landlady and manager] always welcomed ASL students warmly,” Will Conway (’14) said. “I think we totally took The Star for granted.”

Performing Arts Teacher Gordon Graham was also attracted to The Star due to the warm nature of both the pub itself and its landlady, along with the fact that it was the only pub in St. John’s Wood to serve real ale. “We got to know [Mary] and she has been there for a long number of years. I’ve gotten to know her and she was very friendly. That was her career and job,” he said.

His colleague, Performing Arts Teacher David Papenhagen, soundly agreed. “I mostly go to the Elgin [a pub in Maida Vale] but I would pop over [to The Star] every once in awhile and say ‘hi’ to Mary. I feel that it is absolutely a community-valued asset and the fact that it’s gone away is a huge loss,” he said.

Tarush Gupta (’15) is another student who will look back on time spent at The Star fondly. “I feel like The Star was a real hub for ASL students, everyone just went there and had a good time. It really did bring the ASL community together, it was a good place to bond,” he said. He also acknowledged the impact the pub had on the school community. “A little piece of ASL has gone away this year,” he said.

Graham didn’t mind the fact that students also went to The Star, and thinks it helped epitomize the community-building nature of the establishment. “We would bump into students occasionally and I didn’t find it embarrassing. It was nice to see students in a civilized setting outside of school,” he said. “St. John’s Wood is quite a schizophrenic place with a huge wealth gap between some residents, with huge mansions here and then council housing there. That pub brought these people together.”

Social Studies Teacher Becky Mason (’95), also a former student at ASL, faced a similar predicament during her senior year, as the pub she and other students frequently used, The Marlborough Tavern (now the Pizza Express on Blenheim Terrace), closed down. It was during this time that The Star become the local pub for ASL students. “I never went to The Star during high school because it didn’t become an ASL place until after I graduated,” she said. “However, it did become a place where ASL alumni went to meet once they had left, so I went a few times.”

Knowing this information, Gupta sees a silver lining in all of this. “I will miss [The Star], but London has a rich history with a lot of pubs, so I’ll enjoy finding the next pub for ASL students to go to as those before us found The Star for us,” he said.