Wetherspoon's buys Belfast building for £3.25m but Revolucion Cuba is staying put
Pub giant Wetherspoon's has snapped up the former Cafe Vaudeville venue in Belfast in a £3.25m deal - but will allow the present occupant to continue to trade.
The Arthur Street bar, which is housed in a former bank building, has been home to Revolucion de Cuba for two years following its sale by former owner Pat McCormack.
Wetherspoon's chairman Tim Martin confirmed reports in the Irish News that his chain has now bought the property, which had been operated by Mr McCormack as Cafe Vaudeville.
Mr Martin, who spent part of his childhood in Northern Ireland, told the Belfast Telegraph: "We have bought the freehold of Revolucion de Cuba but it's a long-term investment - Revolucion has a long time left on its lease."
He said that Revolucion de Cuba - part of UK-wide Revolution Group - had 23 years left on its lease. And he said Wetherspoon's was "highly unlikely" to seek to trade from the building itself during that period. "They are keen to stay," he added.
It comes after Wetherspoon's withdrew its application for a licence to trade from a converted Methodist Church on University Road.
Mr Martin, a prominent backer of Brexit, said he had "baulked" at the licensing costs.
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The application had attracted objections from other bars trading in the area.
And he said licensing costs included "payments overseen by lawyers in return for withdrawing, or not making, objections".
But he said he did not know what the company would do next with the University Road venue.
"We haven't made a decision about our next move there yet," he said.
He said it was unusual for Wetherspoon's to become a pub landlord rather than operate its own sites. "It's not common though we own a handful of very good central sites," he added.
Last year the company was refused a licence for a proposed bar at an old JJB Sports store on Royal Avenue.
Speaking at the time, James Griffiths, of law firm Pinsent Masons, explained that a new liquor licence cannot be granted unless a subsisting licence is surrendered at the same time.
"It is effectively a 'one in, one out' system. This is self-evidently restrictive for businesses wishing to open new premises in Northern Ireland, as they have to incur the time and cost of obtaining an existing licence to surrender to the court prior to even making the application for a new licence. The choice of which subsisting licence to acquire is therefore of paramount importance," he said.
In the Wetherspoon's case, the judge found that the licence the pub chain was looking to surrender was actually invalid, because unauthorised alterations had been made to those licensed premises in the past.
Wetherspoon's formerly ran nine bars in Northern Ireland. However, three years ago it sold five of them to the Granny Annie's Group. But last week Mr Martin said it was planning up to 30 more pubs in the Republic. It currently has seven there.