Botanic Inns - which employs 600 people across 14 pubs, hotels and restaurants - has gone into administration.
The chain had only last month emphasised that it was business as usual at its pubs — despite a winding up order over one of its companies.
Botanic Inns Limited, which operates five pub businesses and an off-licence out of 14 venues in the group, was facing a debt of more than £60,000 for its Belfast HQ.
Almost all the other venues are under the ownership of sister company Kurkova Limited.
But now administrators KPMG are seeking a buyer for both Botanic Inns and Kurkova, as the beleaguered businesses have fallen victim to the economic downturn.
As revealed in the Belfast Telegraph, John and Helen Miskelly, the landlord of the company’s Ormeau Road headquarters, had in April lodged a winding-up petition against Botanic Inns Ltd over a debt of £60,615.
The company vacated the office and was using an office above its Horatio Todd’s venue in east Belfast as it headquarters.
As news of the administration spread across social media sites this afternoon (Tuesday) the company tweeted: "Hi all so you've heard the news! All of our bars are open and it's business as usual. Please support your local pub and your local economy!"
Laura Hyde was one of many who expressed sadness, tweeting: "So many memories. Pretty much lived in the bot for my entire year out. #savethebot"
Originally a family owned company, Botanic Inns has been trading since 1857 through its first outlet and flagship brand, the Botanic Inn.
It grew into Northern Ireland's biggest chain under former owner Jaz Mooney.
It now runs 14 venues in and around Belfast - The Apartment, Horatio Todds, Denvir's, The Globe, The King's Head, The Kitchen Bar, Madison's Hotel, McHughs, Molly Browns, The Northern Whig, The Parador, Ryan's, The Taphouse, Scratch Nightclub - as well as off licence chain Dr:nk.