It's one of Belfast's best known pubs – but there could soon be no-one behind the pumps.
A search has begun for a new operator for former Botanic Inns pub The Fly after the existing tenant surrendered his keys.
The Horatio Group has decided to walk away after it failed to reach agreement with representatives of the ultimate landlord for the south Belfast nightspot, the Republic's 'bad bank' Nama.
The Lower Crescent pub has long been a student favourite and one of the city's best known names.
It will now be put on the market but Horatio Group managing director Stephen Magorrian said it would have been interested in continuing to operate the bar.
He said: "We wanted to keep The Fly going under our management and were in negotiation before our lease runs out on February 12. We tried renegotiating with them but their terms were too onerous, so we made a commercial decision to walk away."
Horatio Group was established last year by Mr Magorrian shortly before the business he formerly led, Botanic Inns, went into administration.
A spokeswoman for accountants RSM McClure Watters, the landlord of the pub since it was appointed by Nama as fixed charge receiver two years ago, said: "The current tenant has served notice and will shortly vacate the premises. A new operator will continue the trade of the premises.
"The receiver now intends to place the property on the market for sale.
"The receiver envisages that the sales process will be completed within a number of months at which time the trade of The Fly will be transferred to the new owners."
Nama said it had no comment to make. But licensed trade adviser John Morgan of Panther Purchasing said recent sales and openings had shown there was strong interest in the sector.
Mr Morgan said: "The prices achieved for recent sales and the continued investment in the sector have clearly demonstrated there remains strong demand in the sector."
The Botanic Inns group also included Kurkova, a company which held seven pubs. The Downey brothers from Co Londonderry bought the seven for £4.3m last year – though four of them were immediately 'flipped' and sold on to two new owners.
Horatio Group was running six pubs – The Northern Whig, Madisons, The King's Head, The Elms, The Fly and the Botanic Inn – after reaching an agreement with Nama. The Elms pub has been sold to supermarket giant Tesco for more than £1m.
The Fly's owners are thought to have been a husband and wife team of property developers whose business interests were lost in the downturn.
STORY SO FAR
The administration last May of the Botanic Inns Group – made up of Botanic Inns Ltd and Kurkova Ltd – shocked the licensed trade. The seven pubs in Kurkova now have four separate owners. The Fly (above) had been run by Horatio Group. But Horatio Group is surrendering The Fly after failing to agree a new lease. The move follows a decision by Stephen and Kris Nixon, who ran city centre pub White's Tavern, to give up their keys after 12 years.